|Hire Good People|
When you first meet David Ainsworth of 100 Mile House in British Columbia's cariboo country, it's difficult picturing him as head of a corporate conglomerate. Nevertheless, sales in 1990 of Ainsworth Lumber Co. Ltd. reached $100 million.
"When we started up our portable sawmill outside 100 Mile House in the 1950's, we had six people working for us, including my wife, Susan. Today we employ directly or indirectly about 1,500.
"Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I remember a remark that was attributed to Lord Martin Cecil (until his death a few years ago, the leader of the Emissaries, a Christian sect very strong in 100 Mile House and area) who founded this community, that he did each day what needed to be done. Simple advice, but I guess that's what we've done."
Any secrets to pass on to entrepreneurs just starting out or thinking of starting a business or a new career?
"I think if we did anything different that might have contributed to our
success is that we were fortunate enough to find good people to work with
us. I say work with us, not for us. That's the big difference.
"It wasn't all rosy. There were times when Susan and I felt like chucking it but we couldn't chuck it. We probably wanted to give up but we weren't able to!
"If you want to be a success today, you have to be able to stick. And you have to go for it. Take a chance. First of all, you have to have the ability to feel that you can take a chance. There's just as many opportunities today perhaps more-than ever before. There doesn't appear to be, and you may have to look for them, but if you are the right sort of person, you'll find them."
After 40 years, Ainsworth Lumber has grown from that one small sawmill to become five lumber mills and several related companies. In addition, in 1990 Ainsworth landed a 25 year contract to harvest up to 330,000 cubic meters of pulpwood annually to supply a proposed $60 million oriented strandboard plant. The timber was to be logged off crown land with the plant creating 500 direct and indirect jobs. So David Ainsworth's little sawmill operation continues to grow. Only recently, however, did the company move into the world of computers.
"We resisted it for as long as we could for the sake of what we saw as simplicity and hands-on communication. But like everything else, it just grew on us. Computerized management is a fact of life and we've just had to learn it. Some of us can't understand it very well but when I think of how we used to have to order parts for the mill, it's worth it.
"When we first came to 100 Mile House I had to go down in the evening and sit in the little old phone office and wait for my turn to make a call. Today we have a computer system that connects all our operations in Vancouver, Lillooet, Savona, Abbotsford, 100 Mile and Clinton. There's a great difference, no doubt about it. Businesses are family-run. If you can get a team to work together as well as this family has done, you have done well. I certainly can't take the credit for what we've done. I think my wife Susan should have most of the credit for all the suffering, privations and long hours she has put in.
"There were many months at the beginning where we didn't pay ourselves any salary, just took out enough to pay the bills and buy groceries. We didn't suffer, but there were lots of times we were a little bit desperate to pay the bills.
"People ask me if I had the chance to do it over would I do it differently. If we'd had more capital we might have done it differently but we didn't so I guess we'd do what we did then. We were fortunate in that we had the cooperation of the Federal Business Development Bank. We've had some form of
F.B.D.B. loan now for over 30 years. Our first loan was for $60,000. Today that would be the interest for a week! We still deal with them, that's a
relationship we are proud of as well.
"I guess that's important if you are going into business today, just as it was yesterday. We have kept most of our employees and our suppliers. We treat each other with respect. If we could rely on them 30 years ago, they are probably the kind of company and people you can rely on today. We had people like A. J. Forsythe in the steel business who supported us when we needed them. There were times when he had to go to them and say we couldn't pay the bill that month. We told them the reason why: maybe the loan hadn't come through from F.B.D.B., or whatever. And they would say they'd ship it anyway and if the bill went too long they might have to charge us interest.
"It's been a mutual support system. Those kind of people deserve our support too and I hope that we have been good customers as they have been good to us."
Corporations the size of Ainsworth Lumber who are situated in small communities like 100 Mile House are fair game for everyone who needs a handout or charity. How does a home-based industry cope with all the request for funds?
"That's a difficult decision to make and one we must make all the time. Requests for donations increase every year and we have had to draw the line somewhere. We allow the use of our company helicopter for crisis use. As for donations, we try to stay with anything that deals with children. If it's for kids, we'll look at it. If it's for adults, we may not be able to look at it. The community always thinks you are big and available and we try to be, but it is not always possible."
Hiring good people and working with good suppliers is part of David Ainsworth's formula for success. Personal integrity, hard work and the willingness to take a chance are other factors. It's helped one man who used to cut trees down with an axe to become head of a conglomerate. And he says the chances of repeating his story are better than ever today! And when David Ainsworth tells you that, you've got to believe him!
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