Brian Frank, CEO, TimberWest Forest Corp.

As the recently appointed CEO of TimberWest Forest Corp., Brian Frank focuses on a forestry industry that must become sustainable.

Brian Frank, CEO TimberWest Forest Corp | BCBusiness

As the recently appointed CEO of TimberWest Forest Corp., Brian Frank focuses on a forestry industry that must become sustainable.

Oil and trees are about as strange as bedfellows get, but Brian Frank, the recently appointed CEO of B.C. forestry titan TimberWest, has bridged the gap to bring his professional expertise to both industries. Formerly the CEO of BP Canada Energy Co. and most recently the chief executive of Global Oil Europe and Finance for BP PLC in London, England, these days Frank is focusing on the future of forestry in B.C., a future he sees as entirely dependent on our ability to become immediately sustainable.

Approximately 85 per cent of the wood logged by TimberWest is from second-growth trees. Is that typical of the industry?
Yes. Most of the harvesting activity is currently second growth. There’s still some old growth, but we are focused on second growth. Our private lands on the east coast of Vancouver Island were among the first harvested on the B.C. coast in the late 1800s and early 1900s. So they’re now primarily ready for harvesting second growth. In some areas, as we harvest second growth, we’re planting third growth. The third growth probably won’t be ready for another 20 or 30 years. Our rotation is, on average, 60 years. It’s a long life cycle.

TimberWest went from being a publicly owned company to a private one in 2011. What does this change mean from your perspective?
We were purchased by two pension funds, which have long-term pension liabilities that go out 50 to 60 years. Fifty or 60 years from now we should have the same inventory in the forest that we have today. So it’s a long-term sustainable business if it’s properly managed. We now have private owners looking to us as a vehicle for growth.

TimberWest has many partnerships with non-profit conservation organizations, like the Nature Trust of B.C. and the Pacific Salmon Foundation. What are the benefits from these sorts of relationships?
There are several. Even though they’re private lands, we do have a social license to operate. And I think our neighbouring communities value our lands for their environmental, social and economic importance. We are very focused on managing goals around wildlife and habitat, water quality, biodiversity and sustainability. As a company we have an obligation to ensure that we’re supporting the causes that are aligned with our causes. It’s just a social investment that we think is important for a company to make as part of doing business.

Forestry and related services have seen a decline in recent years, now representing 15 per cent of B.C.’s GDP, down from almost 25 per cent in 2006. Is that downward trend worrisome for TimberWest and the industry?
There are a variety of factors that have contributed to that decline, and some of the factors are very complex. From a competitiveness perspective, certain segments of the industry – especially in the conservation sector – are having challenges competing globally. Our ability to have a long-term competitive and sustainable forestry industry is challenging because there’s a lot of new investment going into countries like China, Brazil and New Zealand that we need to compete against. A lot of our industry has its roots going back 30, 40, 50 years, and it’s difficult to compete against new sources of supply and new investment in parts of the world that are state-of-the-art.

How can we be competitive against those emerging markets?
I think the B.C. government and the industry have been wrestling with that. We have high operating costs, high labour costs and elements of our infrastructure that are less efficient in terms of global competitiveness. So it’s a very difficult issue to address, and it’s a very political issue. Forestry is an industry that’s been in decline and has had some pretty devastating issues, like the mountain pine beetle. And there are some questions around the cuts that have happened historically and whether they’ve been sustainable. So there are a variety of factors.

TimberWest also has a real estate operation, Couverdon. How does that business fit into the overall picture of the company?
Well, we have the ability to develop our land based on whatever the highest and best use of that land is. Given the location of some of our land, there is real estate potential because the real estate value is higher than the land’s timber value. Where the opportunity exists, we do develop projects to try and get higher value for our property. There’s market demand that would support the development of our lands into real estate; the path’s certainly one we’ve focused on.

You left the energy industry to come over to forestry – an interesting transition. How did that come about?
I wasn’t really looking to move into the forestry industry; that wasn’t on my list of objectives when I made the career change. I moved back to Canada, as I’ve been international for the last six years – most recently in London and also in Houston. I was exploring options for my career, including long-term retirement, but decided I wanted to go back to work. Then this opportunity came along and what got me excited about the opportunity is the ownership [of the company], the growth agenda and B.C.; it’s probably the most beautiful place in the world.

Have you settled in Vancouver yet?
At the moment, I’m commuting between Vancouver and Calgary. I’ve got three boys; I dragged my youngest son to Houston, then London, then came back to Calgary. I asked him what he wanted to do and he wanted to stay in Calgary. I couldn’t drag him to another location so I’m going to let him finish high school there.