This year’s Lumberman of the Year is humble yet confident. Optimistic and passionate about everything he does, his optimism comes from the self-confidence created by hard work, determination and core values that have never let him down.
A native Oregonian, born in the heart of the Willamette Valley, he grew up in the great outdoors learning to hunt and fish and to love all the things Oregon has to offer. His father and grandfather not only taught him how to hunt and fish, but also important life lessons.
It was always about the hunt and never the kill…success required patience, hard work, learning from your failures and never losing sight of your goal. They instilled in him the values he would carry with him for the rest of his life. Lessons he learned well and eventually apply in his own career.
He grew up in a small family with one older brother. He was the baby and always had to work harder to keep up with his big brother. The two of them would compete at everything, as brothers often do. He wanted to be the best, and his competitive spirit grew strong.
His father and grandfather both worked in the plywood veneer business. He loved and respected his grandfather, and as a boy, he would often tag along with him to the veneer mill. As they walked through the mill, he observed the respect with which his grandfather treated each of his employees. He knew each of their names, asked about their families, and truly cared about each of them. His Grandfather taught him to care about people, the importance of relationships, and to look for the gold hidden inside of everyone.
By the time he went to High school, sports became the outlet for his competitiveness. He was a good all-around athlete, but baseball was his real passion, and like his father had drilled into him; if you are going to do something, be the best that you can be. He liked being part of a team, and he liked winning.
During his junior year of high school his family moved to Lake Oswego, but he wanted to finish out his senior year with his team and his coach, so he stayed in Eugene and lived with his grandfather. His baseball coach was a mentor and teacher to him; and from him he learned the importance of team building, empowerment and harnessing the full potential of each member of the team… another life lesson he never forgot.
After high school, he attended Western Oregon University. He loved the outdoors, so thought Geology might be a good field to check out. He studied the sciences, but it’s probably more accurate to say he majored in hunting and fishing.
He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, so he had to work his way through school framing houses and pulling green chain at a mill in Philomath, OR…. an experience that reminded him, even though he wasn’t afraid to work hard, he’d rather be in sales, working with people as part of a team. So, after he graduated, that’s what he set out to do.
He took his college degree, got some resumes printed up and started knocking on the doors of forest products companies in the Willamette Valley, hoping to apply for a sales position. He was genuine and unpretentious; a likeable, confident young man that people seemed to trust. But he also had no sales experience, so the job offers for a high paying sales job never materialized.
But he didn’t quit. He remembered what he had learned from his grandfather, and still preaches to this day. “Every failure is an opportunity to learn, and every challenge an opportunity to grow”. So, he went to one more lumber company in McMinnville, OR.
The crusty old sales manager looked at him from behind his desk, glanced at his resume, and told him, “I don’t need any more salesmen, but I’ll give you a job” and he tossed him a pair of leather work gloves, showed him where the broom was, and our Lumberman of the year had his first job out of college; a humble start to his career in the lumber industry.
Hunting and fishing had taught him to be patient, work hard, and never lose sight of his goal; and his competitive nature and determination would drive him to succeed. He applied those lessons as he continued to listen and learn and worked his way up in the company.
It didn’t take long until he became the yard manager, but he was determined to get into sales, so after his shift he would go into the office to help out the sales guys, take on extra work and learn what he could about sales. Not long after that, he was promoted to the sales staff.
While, he has always been driven to succeed, it turns out that part of his motivation to work in the office may have been the sharp young lady that worked there as a sales assistant. It turns out he was good at building relationships, and the best relationship he ever built was with her. They eventually got married in the year 2000, had 4 children together, and today are still an inspiration to many.
He had a knack for building strong teams and creating lasting relationships that he has been able to build on throughout his career.
He was motivated to succeed and looked for opportunities to improve himself. So he got involved with the PWLA, to network and learn, and served as President in the late 90’s.
However, after about 6 years of working for someone else, learning all he could, he realized he needed to follow his own vision for the future, and venture out on his own. He went to work for his father’s veneer sales company for a short time. There he set up a new lumber sales division, which he spun off in 2001 to create the forest products company we know today.
It started as a two-man company, with he and his partner doing everything from answering the phones, to driving the forklift. Often having to turn off the forklift so they could hear the customer on the cell phone waiting to get a quote. He wasn’t always sure where this path would lead, but he always had the confidence that he’d find his way.
He's been described as incredibly driven, able to outwork and out hustle anybody. That’s what got his company through the first couple years.
He was a perfect example of the saying “You can sleep when you’re dead”. But through it all he never lost sight of his priorities. While he was dedicated to his new company, he was also dedicated to family, and refused to sacrifice one for the other. He would work all day, then go home to spend time with his young family, play catch with the kids, and put them to bed, before heading back to the office to enter orders and pay bills. Burning the candle at both ends and surviving on 2-3 hours of sleep for the first a couple years. He built his company on a foundation of hard work, determination and “going the extra mile”.
Our lumberman of the year knew that the key to success was building a team that understood the value of relationships with both customers and vendors, and positioning his company to provide a valuable service to both…and that’s what he did.
He had the vision to find a niche as a secondary remanufacturer, helping move Doug Fir fiber from sawmills and converting it into the finished products his customers needed. As he described it, it wasn’t a flashy business; it was more important to have a blue-collar mentality, of hard work, solid values, and integrity.
The company enjoyed steady growth and demand for their products. Investors eventually saw the potential and a partnership with an Idaho lumber company was formed in 2007. It provided the company with capital needed to grow, and left them well positioned when the Great Recession hit.
The downturn created opportunity, as well as hardship. Other companies curtailed product lines or went out of business leaving customers in need, while our Lumberman of the Year was determined to out-hustle and outwork the others to win the trust and loyalty of those customers.
Experienced wood products veterans also became available to hire, and he had the vision to see the potential in everyone who joined his team. Just like his baseball team in high school, he had assembled an All-Star team of lumber experts.
He built a people centric company that thrived under his leadership as he empowered those around him and created a culture where each could reach their full potential.
Like the infield of his high school baseball team, his all-star team remained nimble, agile and able to react quickly. They found a way to thrive through the recession and beyond, servicing a niche market and finding new ones.
He’s created a culture that allows people to fail as they seek out opportunity, make decisions and share ideas. They are not afraid to fail, because they know they will grow from it and the rest of the team will support them…and encourage each other’s success.
A man of honor and integrity, he nurtured and protected his relationships with his suppliers over the years, and in return their trust and loyalty to him allowed his company to succeed during the recent Pandemic, while others struggled as demand outstripped supply.
From a two-man company in 2001, he navigated through the recession, Covid, and all the other challenges in between, to see his company grow to a 90-person team, with 20 million bf of inventory and loyal customers in over 40 states. And while he’s not quite finished yet, he’s charted a path into the future for the next generation, and for those who share his core values and want to carry on the tradition.
His honesty and work ethic are the foundation upon which he built his career… and he learned a few things from his grandfather. He cares deeply about people, and they care about him.
He’s a humble guy who had the vision, integrity, generosity, and determination to make his company, his community and our industry a better place.
…and I am honored to call Brett Slaughter, President of Elk Creek Forest Products,
the 2021 Lumberman of the year!