High Growth Harvester
BC contractor Jason Madden has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years, working with Weyerhaeuser as it ups mechanical harvesting on the coast.
By Paul MacDonald
In the last year British Columbia’s Jason Madden has gone from operating a feller processor himself to being a manager of equipment operators, thanks to the extremely rapid growth of his company, Tymatt Contracting. One of the big challenges he’s faced has been how to handle the fast growth of his company over such a short period of time. But you won’t hear Madden complaining—he’s happy to have the additional work, and the challenges that come with it.
This year, he expects to do close to a million cubic metres of harvesting between Tymatt and associated company Madden Enterprises, which he owns with his father, Dave Madden. “We’ve just finished our third year as a company and we’ve expanded quite a bit in that time,” says Madden. “We’ve gone from one machine to 16 machines in our third year of operation.”
He cut his teeth, so to speak, in the 1990s as an operator on machines such as a Case 1187 with a Rotosaw head and a 445 Timbco with a 33” bar saw. Madden has spent his share of time in the cab, with more than 25,000 operating hours under his belt. When he first set up Tymatt Contracting, Madden’s first job was for Olympic Forest Products, a coastal logging company that oversees about 500,000 cubic metres of harvesting a year.
The harvesting they do for Olympic is still an integral part of their work, but it’s the contracts for Weyerhaeuser Canada in the last 18 months that have really ramped up production for Tymatt. Timing, as the saying goes, can be everything in business. And Tymatt has certainly benefited from that. Having a reputation as an efficient and well-run contracting operation also played in its favour with Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser has announced that it intends to move into mechanical harvesting in a big way on the BC coast, in an effort to improve safety and cut costs.
The BC coast has traditionally been harvested with hand fallers, who faced some of the most difficult—and dangerous—working conditions in Canada. They take down the giant trees of the coastal rainforests, often on very steep slopes. Safety in the coastal industry is of huge concern to the companies and the province’s Workers’ Compensation Board.
While some mechanical harvesting is done on the coast—feller bunchers and processors are more heavily used in the BC Interior—the move by Weyerhaeuser illustrates the recent advances the equipment has made in operating in steep and tough ground conditions. Tymatt started out doing bunching work for the Menzies Bay operation of Weyerhaeuser on Vancouver Island, and has since also moved into processing. “It’s worked out really well,” says Madden. “We’re going to cut somewhere around 600,000 cubic metres at Menzies this year.”
Besides improvements in safety with the move to mechanical harvesting, Weyerhaeuser has also seen benefits in increased prime lengths and increased productivity—60 per cent—of hoe chuckers. Roadbuilding productivity has also increased. “When the equipment goes in, it falls for the road, processing it and stacking over to the side so the roadbuilders don’t have to touch the wood—they can do what they need to do.” The business has grown quickly since Menzies Bay. Growing fast quickly is a feat in itself, but Madden has also been able to do it in a prudent way.
Madden gives his wife, Lori, full credit for taking care of the financial side of things. “We’ve worked hard and all the money we’ve made has gone back into the company.” Madden says having a timely and predictable cash flow—meaning getting paid promptly—has been instrumental in being able to carry the financing and payroll. Just as they have a system in place on the financial side, there is also a solid system at work in the bush.
The machines operate seven days a week, with operators working four days on, four days off. Support comes from three field service trucks that also go seven days a week. Systems, says Madden, are key to his success. “The biggest thing for us when we’ve expanded like this is to be able to keep everything going and keep current. You have to have systems in place and do things in an organized way. As we have grown, we have stuck to our guns in how we do things. We do things the same way, in terms of keeping track of equipment and taking care of equipment, now with 16 machines as we did when we had one machine.”
Contractors sometimes find it easy to let maintenance or servicing go a bit when they’re growing quickly, or when they’re busy. The hard part, which Madden seems to have been able to implement, is in sticking to the discipline of making sure equipment is serviced and maintained properly, week in, week out. The same type of discipline applies to customer service.
They make sure that a consistent level of high service is delivered to all the companies they harvest for. “We treat our customers the same, whether they are Weyerhaeuser or a small operation. We give them the same service.” With such rapid expansion, Madden admits another challenge has been to find the right people to operate and service all the equipment.
But he feels having the properly trained people on board is essential to the long term success of the company. And they have made sure that people really are needed before they are hired, rather than getting additional work and just hiring for growth’s sake. “We haven’t gone out and hired a bunch of people,” he explains. “We’ve carried the workload, and carried the workload until we know for sure we need more people.”
Madden also notes that their operators have a good, and wide, variety of skills. “They have different areas of expertise, so we can move people around to tackle things like steep slopes. “We try to tailor the work to the operators. They are all good equipment operators, but some are stronger in some areas, such as operating in very steep slopes, than others.”
Madden’s bush foreman, Derrick Tucker, makes a point of keeping in touch with everyone in the bush, with regular safety meetings held at their shop to make sure the safety message is driven home. “We strive for high quality and productivity, but we also really want our guys who are out there every day to feel that they have a safe work environment.” In many situations, they have taken the work and safety regulations of their biggest customer, Weyerhaeuser, and meshed them with their own.
In fact, new employees are required to go through an orientation session with Weyerhaeuser on what the company expects from operators and safety is high on the list of priorities for both Weyerhaeuser and Tymatt. “Put it this way,” says Madden, “you could be really good at what you do, but if you are not safety conscious, you are not going to be working very long with us. We make it real clear that safety is very important.” Even though potential employees go through a screening and interview process, the test is still in what they do out in the bush.
And, Madden says, even though operators are on a three month probation, sometimes it’s clear within three hours that they aren’t going to work out. “They don’t fit our safety program and the mindset isn’t there. “We tailor our operations to guys that want to work steady. I don’t want ramrods out there that are going 100 miles an hour. We want guys that understand the equipment, take pride in what they do and work steady.
I don’t want a guy out there who tries to do 1,000 cubic metres a day and in the process knocks the machine over.” At this point in the business, managing people is just as important as managing the equipment properly, says Madden. Giving them the right direction is his number one priority. The employees are the people who manage and operate the equipment on a hands-on basis. “If you want to be successful and be good at what you do, the workforce has to have the right direction.
If there is not clear direction, you won’t get there.” Direction is something he knows something about. Even when he was an operator back in the early 1990s, Madden was making plans to set up on his own. He took notes of what he looked for as an operator, and how things could be run better, and has now implemented his own approach—with its strong focus on safety. In terms of setting up and running the business, Madden is quick to give credit to people who have been of great help along the way, from his wife, Lori, and his employees, to his father, with his many years of experience with mechanical harvesting in the BC Interior.
People on the supplier end, he says, such as Bob Stewart of Cat dealer Finning, and Guido Claudepierre at Waratah, have helped the company make good equipment decisions, and their respective companies have backed up the equipment with solid service. While there has been rapid growth for the company in the last year, Madden would like to continue to expand, as required, to meet the growing mechanized harvesting needs of customers like Weyerhaeuser. “I’d like to keep improving on what we do and stay focused on looking after our customers.”
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Thursday, October 07, 2004