Michael Ainsworth


One month after the Ainsworth family was forced out of Ainsworth Lumber Co. Ltd. by shareholders, Michael Ainsworth found himself a new job. Once a vice-president listed among B.C.’s best-paid executives, he’s now selling gadgets to fire departments as the new CEO of Ara Safety. But to hear him talk about his new job, which entails marketing cartridges of fire-suppressing chemicals that can be tossed into a blaze to slow a fire, he couldn’t be having more fun. How did you first hear about Ara? I had been exposed to Ara years ago concerning additives to wood products that would give them fire retardancy. When the transition came, a friend of mine realized that my skill set might be what Ara was looking for. So, in a funny kind of way, it landed in my lap. It’s not like I went out and did a whole bunch of research; it’s one of those things in life that just seems to happen. What attracted you to this company? The thing that intrigued me most was that this company was focused on protecting lives and property, and I get to come in at a time when you can really make a difference. We just started sales of the product earlier this year – maybe 100 fire departments have bought the product so far – and the challenge is to get the other 35,000 fire departments in North America to do the same. We’re not profitable yet, but I can see a point at which I can count in the number of quarters where I think we will be. Once Ainsworth Lumber was behind you, how did you approach that transition? I had a month off, and that was enough, quite frankly. I missed being a part of something where you could feel like you could make a difference every day. So once I made the decision to jump in, it was a welcome change. I tell you though, take a little time off for the first time in your life and it takes a while to get your brain moving again – and then you get thrown into the deep end of the pool. But the transition went very well. I was fortunate, quite frankly, to be able to stumble onto this. What’s it like moving to a smaller operation? It doesn’t seem so different. No matter what you do when you manage a business like this, there’s a core of dedicated people, but it’s not the number of people you have that’s important; it’s that sense of teamwork you have. At the end of the day, you have all the same business issues here. It sounds like quite a shift going from an executive position to more of an entrepreneurial role. Not at all. Actually, when I joined the family business full time, we hadn’t done anything other than lumber and plywood, but we saw oriented strand board products as the future. I was part of the effort to take the company public and do the same thing as I’m doing now: identify what the business was going to look like and build a team to get focused on it. I think people have a perspective that I joined this very large company and just helped it grow. And while that’s true, my focus was to grow the oriented strand board side of the business, which we took from zero to about a billion dollars in sales in about 15 years. So a lot of what I’m doing right now has a very similar feel. Not a lot of people would recognize that I’ve been there and done that before. I’m looking forward to doing it again; it’s an exciting time. It’s not every day you can start with something fresh like this and contribute in a way that you can look back on and see the growth that happened.