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(LAURA LEYSHON)
(LAURA LEYSHON)

At the Top

Out of retirement, into the fray Add to ...

So you were homeless as a boy, and now you're giving this book to today's boys?

I was only homeless when I was 15 or 16, the last couple or three years of high school. For a long time, I never really thought of myself as homeless, but, in truth, I didn't really have a home. My father used to bounce in and out of beer parlours and construction camps and my brother and I would bounce in and out of rooming houses, staying there for a week at most, other times for a couple of days. It was not a lot of fun.

Not the classic CEO upbringing.

No, but it's kind of interesting. My two grandsons are in a private school and I remember one night over dinner, my daughter-in-law said: "Mr. S., you've had a great career, but just imagine if you had the upbringing your grandchildren have, with all this encouragement and opportunity. You would have probably gone a lot further."

And I said, "No, I'd probably not gone as far." My blessing was my upbringing, I never knew exactly where I was going - I just knew I was going away from where I was, as fast and as far as I could get.

Your father played NHL hockey?

My father, Frank, played for Detroit in the 1920s and then he played quite a few years for Tulsa Oilers [American Hockey Association] In 1927, they struck oil in Oklahoma and the new team owner wanted a championship team so he brought my father down from Detroit. He was given a car as player of the year for the team. He was pretty good.

Did he find it hard after hockey?

I felt awfully guilty about my father's drinking, but over the years I came to realize it happens to a lot of guys who come out of hockey. He had a Grade Three education and while he was playing hockey, he was moving around a lot. When the hockey stops, it's a different world.

Does it motivate you that, having known poverty, you have people's livelihoods in your hands now?

I take that responsibility very seriously. I just finished doing interviews with top management to stay in touch and make sure my feet are on the ground. I get feedback on the company's management style, and to make sure it really is a fun place to work - as much fun as there can be in this kind of market.

The fun of management is where you are given leeway and opportunity to make mistakes and learn, and then to really achieve whatever goals are agreed to. I try to create a climate where people feel they are empowered and appreciated. I think that's all I can do.

What's the story with your once-shuttered mill in Quesnel, B.C.?

We've been very aggressive in China. The market potential is immense. We managed to secure a market for a product out of Quesnel, cutting it at metric widths, thicknesses and lengths. It will be un-planed, but it's lumber. There is an appetite for that kind of a product in China. That enabled us to start Quesnel back up, and that product is pretty much sold out for the first six months.

What are the wider benefits?

A lot of that product we used to ship to the United States. None of that production is going to the U.S. now, and now that volume is taken off the North American market for the foreseeable future.

So it is a good thing. The recent lumber recovery wasn't because of demand, but because of the shrinkage of supply with sawmills going down and cutting back, and people like ourselves redirecting our product.

When I started at Canfor three years ago, 82 per cent of our product went to U.S.; in December, we were down below 60 per cent. We've been moving deliberately to have less dependence on the US., and it takes pressure off the market.

What do you think of Chinese wood-processing?

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