Aug, 2001

 

 

 

 

Troops to Timber

John Manz uses military experience to be 
an effective timber consultant

By Diane Mettler

John Manz started out in forestry,
but he took a detour along the way
that placed him above the forest as
a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine
Corps. On a tour in Vietnam, he flew
the F8E Crusader and was well on his
way to making military aviation and
the Marine Corps his career.
Ironically, it was high performance
aircraft that changed the course of his
life. In 1967 John sustained serious
injuries when he ejected from his RF4B
Phantom II reconnaissance plane. The
injuries were bad enough to require
numerous surgeries and force him to
give up the armed forces.
"I didn't want to spend my life collecting
disability," says John. "As a
forestry student in college I had
logged for the Brown Co. in Maine,
and numerous contractors around the
United States, as well as working for
the U.S. Forest Service on the Mt.
Baker National Forest in Washington.
After graduating from the University
of Montana I worked in the woods for
Potlatch Forests, Inc. in Idaho before
enlisting in the Marine Corps as an
officer candidate one quick step in
front of my draft notice. So in 1968,
after my disability retirement from the
Marines, I headed right back to the
woods."
The Weyerhaeuser Company
offered John a woods foreman's position
in the Pacific Northwest. John
jumped at the opportunity and spent
the next 32 years with Weyerhaeuser
Company blending his military skills
with his work in the timber industry.

Leadership
It didn't take long for Weyerhaeuser
to notice the leadership skills John had
honed in the Marine Corps. They
decided to put them to good use, and
in 1972 made him logging superintendent
and one year later the woodlands
manager for the Oklahoma Region -
managing 967,000 acres of small
growth timber while producing 400-
500 truckloads a day.
John doesn't regret for a second
being taken away from the "big log"
logging. He calls the opportunity to go
south his "lucky break".
"It was in an area people didn't
want to be in, but small logs were the
future and it was fun," says John.
"With the help of my team we figured
out how to make them profitable -
increasing speed and efficiency. You
had to learn how to become more efficient
because you weren't going to be
running to any big trees to make up
the difference."

Technology
During his career at Weyerhaeuser
John got a taste of the "global market"
before it was a household term. He
visited over 40 countries, and analyzed
numerous harvesting methods
and the machinery involved.
"My military background continued
to give me a huge competitive
advantage," says John. "The aviation
technology they were using in the
planes I flew is what they use in harvesting
equipment today - high performance
hydraulics, high performance
computer systems and simulators
for training."
John laughs at how far he's come
since logging as a kid up in Maine.
"Back in '56 I thought I was quite a
logger. If a new machine came out, I
was right there. I found out later that
the others let me work the machinery
because they didn't think I was bright
enough to handle the horses."
If they only knew a half-century later
John would be using his military background
and forestry experience to consult
for timber industry professionals.
We asked John, as a consultant,
where he saw big changes in the timber
industry and where the suggested
focus be made in the future. Three
areas came to mind quickly: performance
requirements, rising energy
costs and education.

Peak Performance
"To continue to be competitive, I
believe we will need to focus on lowering
our costs without reducing our
performance requirements," says John.
He points to Sweden as an example:
"They did it by changing their
processes. They reduced their cost
base and are now competitive with the
U.S. South. I believe we need to pay
significant attention to performance
requirements rather than strict, prescriptive
rules. Let the innovators
innovate and lead us into the future."
"It's a changing, global industry,"
John adds. "Those who ignore that
simple fact will have a hard time staying
in business."

Energy Efficient
Nobody, however, can ignore that
soaring energy costs are quickly
changing North American forestry.
"In the past we've had big timber
and low cost fuel. That was our competitive
advantage, but it isn't any
longer. Unfortunately, costs will continue
to rise - they aren't going back
down," says John.
When John speaks one can almost
hear the commander trying to gather
his troops to battle: "We need to be
doing everything to understand and
build energy efficient systems. Focus
on lower energy consumption in all
areas. Energy won't continue to be
there in abundance. Other countries
have had to deal with the high costs
for years."
Again he uses Sweden as an example:
"The country has close to 400
sawmills with individual mill production
equal to or greater than 50,000
sawn cubic meters per year and zero
domestic reserves of gas and fuel and
they manage stay competitive. If they
found and answer, so can we."

Education a Crucial Tool
But cutting costs isn't the entire
answer. For companies to operate efficiently
and cost effectively, education
will play a major role.
"With top rate employees, companies
can eliminate redundant people
checking on other people," says John.
John sees the industry already
beginning to acknowledge the importance
of education, noting the seminars
and training sessions at the recent
Oregon Logging Conference. "Those
conferences were just a side attraction
in the past. But now, seminars
designed for 60 had 150 individuals.
"It's not the strength of the logger
but his skills. The industry has to be on
the leading edge, using site specific, cost
effective treatments - the people who
provide for the real work of keeping the
forests healthy. Loggers have to become
known as surgeons - not butchers - to
help provide for the health of the biological
entity we call a forest."
And hand in hand with education
comes communication. "To be successful
we must learn to deal with people,"
says John. "We all have strengths. You
can't tap the knowledge of others if
you don't know how to talk." Not surprisingly,
he uses the military as an example: "As
a leader of troops I better
check with the guy in the foxhole to
make sure he has the same view as
myself. We're all driving at the same
ends with different methods and we
can change. The challenge is how to
work together. We are beginning to see
activism long overdue in this business."

Generals of Tomorrow
Any industry is as good as its leaders.
And John believes great leaders
are molded, not born. His suggestions
for creating the great leaders of tomorrow
include:

  • Continued study. Never stop
    reading. As much can be learned from
    Kipling as a textbook on forestry.

  • Travel and learn about other cultures.
    "I can tell you that traveling to
    41 countries has been a real leveler of
    my own ego - and you're talking to a
    fighter pilot," chuckles John.
    John adds, "We need leaders who
    will walk with other cultures, not
    dominate them. Domination eliminates
    conversation.

  • High Touch Versus High
    Technology. No one will argue that
    technology has taken the timber
    industry to the next level and cut
    down on the wear and tear of the
    average logger. But future leaders
    will need to be cautious and not let
    technology take the place of human
    contact and thus fall into the trap of
    losing touch with customers,
    employees, producers, and all of the
    other members of the "external"
    world.


"If we don't allow for the social
side, we will miss real opportunities,"
says John.

Fighting Urban-Rural Gap
As for today, he is cautiously optimistic
that new opportunities will
present themselves with a new president
and administration. But even if
there are changes afoot, the election
did demonstrate a fierce gap between
rural and urban individuals. John,
always the fighter pilot, sees this as a
wake-up call to the forestry industry
- dare we say a "call to arms."
"People who work in this industry
will have to learn to leverage
resources and get heard and understood,"
says John. "Urban is very dominant
- rural has to become politically
active and assertive .
And I believe it will help us
to create performance based processes."
John adds, "To be successful we
will need to be smart and shrewd and
look at what our competitive advantages
will be. We will also need to look
at the big picture and understand it -
looking at the whole process from
beginning to the end consumer and
optimize it."
Not bad advice from a fighter pilot.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004