BTB 50: Earned Respect
Published on: Saturday 15th June 2019
– Samantha Paul
THERE ARE HIGHER PRIORITIES AND THAT IS THE EXAMPLE I AM TRYING TO SET.
– Whitney Souers, vice president, Treeline, Inc.
Treeline Inc. The next generation
Based in Lincoln, Maine and owned by Brian Souers, Treeline, Inc. is a diversified company with its core business rooted in Maine’s forestry industry. The company is involved in harvesting, forest management, timber buying, real estate, truck servicing and parts supply, as well as hauling and transportation services. Treeline also manages one wood yard for Verso and operates one of its own as well. Brian’s daughter Whitney started out with the business at a young age. In eighth grade she was regularly cleaning the shop. After high school she worked in the parts store, stocking shelves and helping with paperwork. Whitney also operated a skidder for several months and really enjoyed being out in the woods.
Lincoln is a small town in the heart of the Maine Highlands. The town is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped frontier land. Countless peaks, more than 200 waterfalls and thousands of miles of trails to explore on foot, snowmobile, or ATV. The forests are ripe for wildlife watching and hunting and there are numerous lakes, rivers and streams to paddle or fish. It is the perfect location for outdoor adventure. The Maine Highlands’ lakes, forests and mountains are home to a rich variety of wildlife including snowshoe hare, gray fox, moose and black bear.
Before completing a four-year business degree at Indiana Wesleyan University, Whitney took a year off to travel and have fun with friends. At the end of her fourth year, Whitney told her Dad she was going to come back home and help him with the business. Brian was thrilled and started on a job description for her.
Whitney started full time at Treeline in 2013. Her father’s job description started off with sales, “Anything and everything,” he said. It also included job costing, managing and promoting Treeline’s Making A Difference Fund, and sourcing and installing a new surveillance system for the entire property.
By 2015, Whitney knew she would be sticking around for the long haul. “That is when Dad and I decided to make a plan for Treeline in case anything ever happened to him.” They put succession planning in place and Brian promoted Whitney to vice president so she could have control over company decisions.
Whitney earned the respect of the other employees early on, and her promotion to vice president hasn’t changed that. “Even now, I don’t mind doing the crap jobs,” she says. Whitney still loads the fuel trucks and cleans off the fuel station. “It’s super messy at times, and no one wants to or has time to do it, but it’s got to be done.”
Two years into the job, Whitney was offered a company vehicle. However, she turned it down. She felt it was an unnecessary expense and she didn’t want the other employees to think she was getting special treatment. “Plus, we are still in a period where I have to say we’re only going to buy the necessities. We’re only going to repair what we have to. There are a lot of expensive repairs that we have to do,” she explains. “There are higher priorities and that is the example I am trying to set.”
Currently, there are 90 people on Treeline’s payroll. The company manages to keep a low turnover. Many of the staff have been with the company for 25 years or more.
Treeline operates out of a large property with two shop facilities. One is used primarily to service the company’s own equipment fleet and the other is used mostly for outside services. Attached to this service bay is a retail parts supply store. Also on the property is a wood yard to merchandise and inventory bought timber and logs. This yard, and the other yard managed for Verso, each have a Tigercat 234 loader equipped with a live heel and mounted on an AC16 self-propelled carrier.
Service contracts make up about half of the harvesting activities and the other half occurs on purchased land or purchased timber. Treeline is always looking to the future – when the timber quality on purchased land is marginal, the crews perform selective thinning to maximize long-term value. Real estate is a big part of the business. Treeline has been steadily acquiring land and is now up to 15,000 acres.
Frank Martin Sons Inc. (FMS) out of Fort Kent is the Tigercat dealer in Maine. Keith Michaud, FMS sales specialist, has a great relationship with Treeline. “Keith is awesome. He is always helping us out. He will always bring us parts when he is coming through the area,” says Whitney.
Treeline started with Tigercat equipment in 2011. “We would put out emails when we were looking for certain equipment. Keith was right on it,” says Whitney, “He would email us back right away.” Keith informed Treeline about the 822C model and how it would be a perfect fit for the operations. “So we purchased one, then we got a second, then we got a third, all in one year,” Whitney says, “We still have the first 822C. It probably has 14,000 hours on it. We have had phenomenal luck with it.”
It made sense for the company to have one brand for feller bunchers and harvesters. “Not every component is the same but for the most part, having as much commonality as possible is a huge advantage. And dealing with one dealer rather than five works out a lot better,” Whitney adds.
A day in the life
Whitney makes an effort to say good morning to all staff members when she arrives at the office. Her next order of business is responding to emails and phone calls.
All paperwork gets turned over to Whitney to look over. This includes parts orders, invoices and billing. Whitney takes a lot of phone calls throughout the day, answering questions, approving staff requests and confirming large repair costs. During winter, she takes a lot of firewood orders and often helps with deliveries as well. “It doesn’t sound like much, but I stay very busy,” she laughs.
Whitney also markets used machines, oversees land sales and helps on the operations side, conducting productivity studies, and working to build efficiencies and reduce costs. Managing the sales and marketing side of the real estate business used to be part of Whitney’s responsibilities. This has now been taken over by Whitney’s current roommate and good friend, Lacey, who recently joined the Treeline team.
Outside of work, Whitney stays very busy. She is a youth leader at the local church in Lincoln. When asked if she has children, she laughs and responds, “Yes, I have twenty teenagers.” The youth group meets every Sunday night for games and fellowship. Several times per year they plan special events. Last weekend the youth group went snowboarding at Bigrock Mountain. “This Sunday, we actually have a three-on-three basketball tournament planned. Co-ed, age thirteen and up. We will probably have about twelve teams,” she says. Whitney is hosting the tournament on her family’s property, inside the front of her parent’s house where they have a basketball court and a lounge area with couches. In the summer, Whitney will take the youth group on their family boat to go tubing and wake surfing.
WHITNEY’S DAD GAVE HER A VERY CUTE GIFT THIS PAST CHRISTMAS.
IT WAS A BAG OF LIFESAVER CANDIES, AND HE SAID TO HER,
“YOU’RE MY LIFE SAVER.”
A father-daughter bond
One of the main reasons Whitney wanted to come back home after college and work for Treeline was to help her Dad out. “I know how hard he has worked over the years. And gosh, I don’t want to see him work that hard for the rest of his life. I want to help him out,” she explains. “My Dad works in his sleep. He’ll wake up and send emails to himself whenever he thinks of something. Even on vacation, he’s sitting poolside on his laptop,” says Whitney.
She would love to see her Dad not have to come into work every day. The Souers family has a cabin on a nearby island on West Grand Lake. They have their family cabin and three additional cabins they rent out. Whitney thinks it would be great if her father could retire from the forestry side of the business and instead take over the cabin rentals. “He would love to stay at the island and show people around the lake. That would be the dream,” she says.
Whitney’s father gave her a very cute gift this past Christmas. It was a bag of Lifesaver candies, and he said to her, “You’re my life saver.”
Treeline’s Making A Difference FUND
Treeline supports its local, national and global communities. The company recognizes the good that so many organizations are doing throughout the world, and is happy to stand alongside them. In 2011 Treeline decided to organize its outreach efforts and empower people to accomplish more by creating the Treeline Making a Difference Fund. The fund allows Treeline’s employees and clients to contribute to any of the programs it supports and then Treeline commits to match those contributions. A few organizations and missions that the company supports are House in the Woods, Legacy International, Linda Gove Ministries, and Community Kids.
Visit www.treelineinc.biz/make-a-difference.html to learn more.
Interested in reading more about Treeline Inc.? Read more from our archives: Common Ground, BTB 41, November 2015. (found under related articles).
Samantha Paul begins a new series on women in logging with hopes to inspire young women to consider logging as a career. First up, an interview with BC based operator, Hannah Dehoog that explores how she got into the logging industry, what life is like for a woman in logging camps and what she loves about being an operator.
Samantha Paul continues with her second installment in the new Between the Branches Feature, Women in Logging. Samantha profiles Wendy Fennell, CEO of Fennell Forestry, headquartered in Mount Gambier, South Australia.
From conducting safety audits to running forwarders to sourcing parts, Theresa is hands-on when it comes to the family business.
Treeline’s Brian Souers talks about business, changing equipment requirements and his quest for parts commonality.