Ken Baker, CEO, Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd.

Ken Baker, CEO, Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd. | BCBusiness

From the 2013 Influencer Index: The former deputy chief forester has helped make inroads to sell B.C. lumber to China 

Within the past decade, lumber exports to China have gone from near zero to more than $1 billion. Forestry-sector experts point to one man behind the success story: Ken Baker, head of Forestry Innovation Investment Ltd. The Crown corporation was founded in 2003 and in that year established an office in Shanghai with the goal of building a demand for B.C. wood. Prior to taking top position at the Crown corporation in 2004, Baker had been the province’s deputy chief forester for four years, and since 1985 held key positions in the forest ministry, like running the province’s timber-pricing system and negotiating settlements in the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.

As Baker recounts, his first couple of years in Shanghai involved many networking dinners and drinking a lot of a potent spirit called baijiu. “All we were doing over there was getting to know who are the decision-makers in the system, how do they interrelate, who do you really have to get to?”

The breakthrough came around 2006, when government officials agreed to give B.C. lumber the opportunity to replace traditional steel-supported flat roofs in Shanghai with wood truss-supported sloped roofs. Then, following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, China allowed B.C. to showcase wood-frame structures in reconstruction efforts.

Wood-frame construction has still made only minuscule inroads in China, Baker explains, with 80 per cent of B.C.’s lumber exports to the country still being used for concrete forms. However, with relationships now well established, he believes the market is primed for the private sector to step in and capitalize on the momentum. “We’re not donating anything anymore,” he says proudly. “We don’t need to; commercial interests are picking it up.”