Lunch with Ric Slaco

Ric Slaco, Interfor | BCBusiness

With new sawmills, the Asian market on the upswing and B.C.’s Wood First Act in effect, Interfor’s Ric Slaco isn’t just excited about the future of forestry—he’s downright bullish

Ric Slaco is tieless when we meet for lunch. There’s nothing that unusual about a B.C. businessman forgoing this sartorial extra, but he proffers an intriguing reason for dropping it some 15 years ago.

“It’s when we started to make money again,” International Forest Products Ltd.’s vice-president says, laughing. He credits the one-liner to CEO Duncan Davies, who delivered it in the late recessionary ’90s, some six years after Interfor bought Fletcher Challenge, the company Slaco worked for. (Before that, Slaco had spent 15 years with Fletcher and B.C. Forest Products Ltd. in woodland operations.) “Now it’s very rare that I wear one and I’m happy about that,” says the 57-year-old over a salad niçoise at Market by Jean-Georges at the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver near his office.

Though the global economic melee dented the lumber market, Interfor recently announced its $80-million purchase of three sawmills in Georgia. Poised for a U.S. housing recovery, the company now has 12 sawmills in B.C. and the U.S. Northwest and Southeast.

“The recession was obviously the lowest point during my 34 years in the industry and it brought much change,” he says of the 2006–10 period. “For some it was having to do things to survive or, in our case, to be opportunistic both in buying and building assets to grow the company.”

It’s not the only uptick that has Vancouver-born Slaco believing wood is entering a “golden era.” Beyond the increase in demand from Asia—from China buying much of the low-grade product to Japan’s “steady-eddy” interest in B.C.’s higher-quality stock—conversations about the bio-economy and potential new products from wood biomass excite him. Add into the mix the B.C. government’s 2009 Wood First Act, where lumber is considered for municipal buildings such as the Richmond Oval, as well as the change in legislation allowing up to six storeys of wood (from four), and he sees big opportunities. With a nod to Vancouver architect Michael Green’s drive to build even taller wooden skyscrapers made with cross-laminated timber (Interfor now supplies lumber for this new product) Slaco says, “You start to think, ‘Wow, where better than British Columbia to be able to service the world’s needs?’” He adds, “I’m very bullish of the future.”

His gusto makes you feel that he has sawdust in his veins, but Slaco flirted with the idea of following his older brother into commercial fishing—until he fell seasick working as a deckhand on a trip off Kyuquot on Vancouver Island. The float plane journey there and back over the surrounding firs, however, inspired him to pursue a forestry degree at UBC. “Forestry was a natural fit for my interest in biology. I’m involved in numbers and policy, but the real grounding for that is the stuff that happens in the field—going into camps, dealing with contractors and seeing what nature surprises you with,” he says.

Outside of the woods, Ric and his wife Debbie are robust travellers and frequently leave their Tsawwassen home (where they raised their now grown-up son and daughter) for myriad countries in Europe and South America. The couple are keen year-round tennis players, too, and Slaco points to Interfor’s former chairman, the late Bill Sauder, as a mentor in the sport.

“He was a wonderful strength of character who had three passions in life: family, work and tennis,” Slaco says. “It’s good to make time for all three every day.” 

Ric Slaco’s favourites

1. “For after-work drinks, I like a bit of outdoor space like at Joey Bentall One in downtown Vancouver (507 Burrard St., Vancouver; I usually order a glass of Argentinean wine such as a Malbec, which I learnt about on a trip to South America with my wife.”

2. “The best spot for a working lunch has to be somewhere really near the office, and Kamei Royale (1030 W. Georgia St., Vancouver; in downtown Vancouver works well. I love all Japanese food, so I always go for a bento box so I can taste a variety of dishes.”

3. “My favourite burgers are the tried-and-true Triple-0s at White Spot—I don’t even look at the menu when we go in. But for something a little more exotic, I recently discovered a delicious one with applewood cheddar at the Oakwood Canadian Bistro (2741 W. Fourth Ave., Vancouver; in Kitsilano.”