Article by Jessica Johnson
Noted British author K. J. Parker once wrote, “To hunt successfully, you must know your ground, your pack and your quarry.” Now, I won’t pretend to be a hunter—but every few Saturdays at about 4:00 a.m. my husband will find himself sitting in a tree stand waiting on “the big one.” He knows the land like the back of his hand, and the pack he hunts with has been together since they were knee high to a grasshopper. Because of this, every few Saturdays he comes home with a new rack for his office.
Our 29th Person of the Year is no stranger to the scenario my husband finds himself in regularly. Tim Biewer is a big game hunter, as was his late father. The headquarters of Biewer Lumber is decorated with a vast array of scenes from Biewer hunts throughout the years. If you can think of big game in the world, chances are Biewer has tried to hunt one. Though when I asked him what he prefers, he said he honestly couldn’t say, he just liked being outside.
But Biewer’s hunting acumen isn’t what landed him on our cover. No, his ability to translate just what Parker was saying about hunting: knowing the land, the pack and the quarry, to running a multi-location lumber company is.
Biewer Lumber is in the startup phase of perhaps the most technologically advanced mill in the U.S. In rural Newton, Miss., a mere 946 miles from Biewer’s home base of St. Clair, Mich., the company chose to invest (and diversify) into SYP from red pine. Biewer told me the distance wasn’t a problem for him. Why? Because as a core principle he strongly believes in trusting the people he’s hired to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Many times over during my sit-down with him shortly before Christmas, he told me that his employees work hard, he trusts them, and often he feels like they work as if it’s their names on the door—not his. “To hunt successfully, you must know your pack.”
He takes it even one step further, saying that he doesn’t have cameras in any of his mills, something I thought typical for multi-location operations. Instead he elects to say he doesn’t micromanage his people like that, trusting they will operate the facilities just as if he were watching.
Now, according to Parker, to hunt successfully you must also know the ground. And diversifying into SYP from the red pine forests in Michigan is a bit of a leap, but Biewer says thanks to Project Manager Dan Bowen, a graduate forester from Mississippi State working with Biewer Lumber, knowing the land is under control.
Biewer Lumber will more than double its production capacity when the Newton facility comes fully on-line, jumping from 250MMBF to 550MMBF. I might not be a hunter, but that seems like the ultimate big one.