May 22, 2018 - With 25 pieces of equipment and 80 employees, Fennell Forestry is one of the largest logging contractors in South Australia. Siblings, Wendy and Barry Fennell purchased Fennell Forestry from their parents five years ago. As CEO, Wendy Fennell manages the day-to-day operations and brother Barry works on new business development.
Like many young people, Wendy didn’t know what she wanted to do for a career when she was deciding on a university program. “I like money so I went into accounting and thought I would see where that went,” she says. At the age of seventeen, just before going to university, she worked alongside her father, travelling to job sites and helping him in the workshop. The following year Wendy went to the University of South Australia to study accounting but arranged her days so she only had lectures on Monday and Wednesday, allowing her to drive back home to work in the family business.
While attending university, Wendy got her B-Double truck licence. “We only had two trucks then and Dad and I would do night shift. We had drivers on during the day, and for some extra capacity, we’d jump in at night,” explains Wendy.
Wendy wanted to be more involved in the family forestry business so she changed some of her courses to focus on occupational health and safety. “The company was relatively new at this time so I helped formulate all the safety material. It was really good to have a real live business to work with. I was able to put my knowledge to good use.”
Wendy had one more year of university left when the family business won its biggest contract. “I was two years into my three-year degree and I decided to do the last year by correspondence and come back to work. And I’ve been here ever since,” she states.
As CEO, Wendy has a lot of daily responsibilities and is pulled in many different directions throughout the day. However, she highly values her visits to the operations to engage with her employees. “I see the staff as they come through the depot but I like getting on site as much as possible to catch up and have an overall look at what’s happening.”
Prioritizing what needs to get done each day is critical to her role and she spends a lot of the time giving direction to the leadership team. “My main goal is making sure our machines are always running. So planning preventative maintenance, addressing safety aspects and making sure we are working through the required logistics,” Wendy expresses. “I really love learning about the equipment and how we can get the best out of it. There is always something on the go and it’s always evolving.”
Wendy has been in the business for 25 years and people are still surprised when they find out what she does for a living. “I guess they don’t really understand exactly what I do and they are typically shocked at how much knowledge I have of the machinery.” She knows some female skidder operators and truck drivers in the area but does not know of any other female forestry business owners.
When asked why she thinks there are so few females working in the industry she explains, “It is the image of the forestry industry over here that deters women. It really needs to be uplifted to showcase the careers possible. In Canada, most people understand what forestry is all about. Here in Australia there are still people that live in this area that have no idea what goes on behind the trees. People still believe that you get a job in forestry if you couldn’t get a job anywhere else. People think it is second-class, but it isn’t. With all the new advanced technology and innovation, the careers in this industry are quite good and the jobs are well paid, dynamic and interesting. We need to be promoting the industry better, especially to young people and to women.”
Fennell Forestry is a major plantation timber harvest and transport company, with an industry history spanning 27 years. The company runs a blue gum chipping operation, a pine harvesting operation and a transport business, operating 24-hours per day from Monday to Friday with three crews on pine and one crew on the chipping side. The pine side of the business produces 11,500 tonnes of wood each week and the chipping side produces approximately 4 500 tonnes. “We harvest about 560,000 tonnes of pine and 200,000 tonnes of chips annually,” Wendy states.
The company ran excavator for many years. As equipment developed and the business grew, they looked into purchasing purpose-built and decided on a Tigercat H855C harvester. “Once we went to purpose-built, we never went back,” Wendy states. “We have over 25,000 hours on that first harvester and it has held up great.”
Fennell Forestry now has nine pieces of Tigercat equipment: two feller bunchers, two skidders, a 1085C forwarder, three H855C harvesters and a new H855E harvester. Wendy purchased the company’s first 1085C forwarder last February. “We are not in steep ground so there was a debate between Barry and I if we should purchase the 1085C. We weren’t quite sure if it was the right fit for our job but it is proving to be doing very well.”
Managing a growing business
There are definite challenges to managing a growing company. Wendy and Barry are always looking for new innovative ways to operate and grow but without sacrificing or losing what made the company successful in the first place. That is why they decided to enroll in the Business Growth Program offered by the state of South Australia. Wendy wanted to establish how to effectively grow while holding true to the company’s core values.
Dr. Jana Matthews, who has worked with a lot of large companies in the U.S., was brought over by the state of South Australia to run the Business Growth Program. Fennell Forestry was the only forestry company in the program. Companies from a wide variety of industries participated — from a pharmaceutical company to an event planning business and a Hollywood film agency. The program had multiple growth experts in to discuss common pitfalls, the different stages of growth and how to effectively advance a business when you’re rapidly growing. “It was really good to understand. We have good foundations in our business and it helped us ensure we keep those as we expand,” Wendy elaborates. “Dr. Matthews would tell us things that needed to be done and I’d think to myself that our business didn’t need it but in the end she was right.”
The Green Triangle
Fennell Forestry’s success story is built upon South Australia’s thriving Green Triangle timber industry. Reflecting its name, the Green Triangle is one of Australia’s major forest regions, covering an area of six million hectares (15 million acres). It has extensive plantation softwood and hardwood resources. The Green Triangle spans between the states of South Australia and Victoria with ready access to the capital cities of Melbourne and Adelaide. Processing activities are centred around the cities of Mount Gambier in South Australia and Portland in Victoria, which also provides the region’s port.
Fennell Forestry continues to ensure it has the proper infrastructure and personnel to support the growth. The company has its own workshop, an operations manager helping support both the logging and transport side of the business, a full time operator trainer and a training room for classroom sessions, as well as a large parts warehouse with plenty of inventory.
Wendy and Barry make a great team. “You can’t beat being in business with family because you know those core values are the same.” Wendy acknowledges that she and Barry are very different. “I am more structured and he’s got the random thoughts and entrepreneurialism. I like to get in and do things with structure and see things out. Whereas Barry is always moving forward, looking for the next improvement.” The balance in personalities definitely contributes to the company’s success. “I think that’s what makes it work so well,” says Wendy.
On top of all Wendy’s work responsibilities, she is a single mother of two with eight-year-old, Flynn and six-year-old, Hudson. Her boys really enjoy watching the equipment run but they have other career aspirations at this stage in their lives. Hudson wants to own a pet store and Flynn wants to be the next Shaun White (a professional snowboarder).
Wendy enjoys family ski vacations, recently visiting Whistler, B.C., and New Zealand. “Flynn wanted to try snowboarding, but you couldn’t snowboard until you were eight, so I had to go back when he was eight, and that’s where we went last year. The boys have been hooked on the Winter Olympics, telling me all about it when I get home from work,” she says.
Wendy doesn’t mind working as hard as she does. She always makes sure she wakes up with the boys and is there to put them to bed. “It throws everything out of whack, when I have to be away at night,” she says. She keeps it structured so the boys always know when she will be home.
Wendy has managed to help build a booming business, excel as CEO and have a beautiful family — proving you can do it all. “I love my kids and my work. I have a great team around me and I appreciate them all. It’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.”
This article originally appeared in Between the Branches, April 2018, the official publication of Tigercat Industries Inc.
Women in logging: Fennell Forestry
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