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Introducing CFI’s ninth annual Top 10 Under 40

October 5, 2021  By Canadian Forest Industries Staff Report

As more forest industry professionals reach retirement, it’s more important than ever that we highlight the next generation of leaders. CFI’s annual Top 10 Under 40 contest is our way of doing so. This year marks the ninth consecutive year we have scoured nominations from across Canada to find individuals who exemplify the best of our sector, from outstanding log haulers to sawmillers, foresters and others. The result is a list of high-performing professionals who are poised to lead the industry.

Thomas McCay
Chief forester, Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve, Haliburton, Ont.

Five years ago, Thomas McCay became a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) in Ontario. Today, at 32 years old, he is the chief forester of Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve Ltd. in Haliburton, Ont.


After completing a Master’s of Forest Conservation at the University of Toronto, he worked as a horse logging contractor and then a conventional cut-skid contractor while working towards his RPF designation, explains his manager, Malcolm Cockwell. It was only after working as a logging contractor for a few years that Thomas became a forester with Haliburton Forest.

“This boots-on-the-ground experience provides a strong foundation for his work today – and earns the respect of all the contractors that he now manages,” Cockwell says.

As the chief forester, Thomas is responsible for the sustainable management of Haliburton Forest and Wildlife. He has played a key role in the turnaround of Haliburton Forest, which owns and manages 100,000 acres of private land, says Cockwell.

He was also instrumental in the creation of a private land consulting practice called Stewardship Services, the formation of the Haliburton Forest Research Institute, the start-up of hardwood sawmill Almaguin Forest, the recent acquisition of Huntsville Forest Products, and more.

“It is hard to imagine that there are any young forestry professionals as dedicated to the advancement of the sustainable management of hardwood forests in Ontario or in the world,” Cockwell says.

Janis Simpkins
Senior vice-president, Alberta Forest Products Association, Edmonton, Alta.

Although Janis Simpkins has only been with the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA) since July 2020, she made an immediate impact on the organization, says Jason Krips, AFPA’s president.

“Janis has an incredible work ethic and is an empowering leader who brings an infectious energy level and an insatiable ability to learn complex files in a short period of time,” Krips says.

In her role, Janis leads the AFPA’s advocacy on regulatory reform. Her conversations with senior provincial government regulatory officials on changing to an outcomes-based model led the Alberta government to choose forestry as the pilot industry for a new streamlined process for industrial facility renewals, which will help forestry companies save time and resources.

The 39-year-old provides leadership to the AFPA’s environment, forest policy and sustainability units. She also chairs the Forest Sector Red Tape Panel, leading the design of an industry submission that quantified impact and prioritized areas of impact within the forest industry.

This work with the provincial government is a natural transition for Janis, who previously spent five years working for the government of Alberta.

“Having Janis’ skillsets, leadership skills and energy have made AFPA a go-to industry organization for individuals looking to join a renewed, forward-looking organization and vastly increased AFPA’s relevance with our key stakeholder and government interlocutors,” Krips says.

Spencer Stewart
Owner/operator, SS Logging Ltd., Kamloops, B.C.

Spencer Stewart has been involved in the log trucking industry since he was a baby, when his mother, Tiara Seitz, would take him with her on her truck.

“Even at a young age, he was instilled with a strong work ethic and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” says Todd Chamberlain, general manager of the Interior Logging Association (ILA).

Growing up, Spencer volunteered with the Lower Nicola Indian Band fire department. There, he met Ben Klassen, owner of Valley Carriers Ltd., and was hired to work in the shop. Valley Carriers later sponsored Spencer to obtain his Class 1 Driver’s License, and he soon became one of their top drivers.

Eventually, he chose to strike out on his own, purchasing his first truck and starting his own company. Now, at 25 years old, he owns two trucks – with a third on the way. 

Spencer, who is also a member of the Upper Nicola Indian Band, “provides an example to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth that a strong work ethic and positive attitude nothing is unattainable. He has a passion for what he does and continues to excel,” Chamberlain says.

Stephan Posselt
Operations manager, Tahtsa Timber, Burns Lake, B.C.

Stephan Posselt grew up in the logging industry, spending weekends and summers working for his father, Klaus, at Klaus Posselt Logging Ltd., and later at Tahtsa Timber Ltd. After graduating high school, Stephan completed a carpentry program and a wood engineering and technology program.

Stephan then interned for a summer with West Fraser in Williams Lake, B.C., where he worked as a quality controller. During that time, he suggested innovative ways to improve the flow of the milling process, which mill management adopted.

After running a homebuilding/renovation company in Prince George for seven years, he moved back to Burns Lake, where he is now the operations manager for Tahtsa Timber. The 38-year-old oversees many aspects of the business, including logging, fire management, Indigenous partnerships, road construction, community forest partnerships, and specialty projects for the B.C. Ministry of Forests.

Stephan is also involved in growing Tahtsa’s trucking division, the associated maintenance shop, the company’s four logging divisions, and the three canter mills belonging to Pacific Timber (a subsidiary of Tahtsa Timber).

“His attention to detail and outlook towards the future help to move the Tahtsa Group forward and to stay competitive,” says Kevin Porowski, Stephan’s co-worker at Tahtsa Timber. “You will rarely find Stephan without a smile at work, lifting the spirits of his co-workers. He enjoys what he does at work and in life in general.”

Keven-Derick Auclair Savard
Vice-president, sales and business development, StarrForest Inc., Montreal

Keven-Derick Auclair Savard comes from a family of lumber and forestry entrepreneurs in Lac Saint-Jean, Que. Originally working in commercial banking, he later took over the family business,  StarrForest, which specialized in plywood and supplying floor and furniture manufacturers.

The 38-year-old decided to diversify the business, noting the precariousness of the quickly evolving market, says Laurence Lachance, a supplier for StarrForest. Under his direction, StarrForest expanded its offerings to include lower grade plywood to serve the roofing and concrete industries, as well as commodity lumber, in order to meet demand year-round.

He was also instrumental in the development of the STARR-LAM product, a glue-laminated scaffolding plank created in collaboration with Chantier Chibougamau. STARR-LAM is now a staple in Quebec’s construction sites, says Lachance.

Keven-Derick also created a new company website, launching marketing automation campaigns paired with a CRM to gather business intelligence. He also implemented inventory software to be able to trade and follow-up on StarrForest orders in real-time.

“Even with COVID-19 and the supply chain upheaval, the last year has been very prolific for StarrForest as Keven used his background in finance to successfully surf the wave of recent prices increase in various categories of wood products, taking some risks and making sure his clients got the products they needed at the best price,” Lachance says.

Melinda Morben
Senior manager, logistics, Mosaic Forest Management, Nanaimo, B.C.

Melinda Morben’s forestry career started when she was 18 years old, logging in the Interior of B.C. where she ran a processor for three years. She later earned a Forest Resource Technology Diploma from the College of New Caledonia and a Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry at the University of British Columbia, along with a Registered Professional Forester (RFP) designation.

Melinda then made the move to Mosaic Forest Management, where she has been for more than 10 years, working her way up from quality control supervisor to senior manager, logistics. Now, the 37-year-old leads Mosaic’s logistics department to manage the land-based supply chain and implement centralized dispatch for a fleet of more than 250 trucks, six dryland sorts, two export terminals and the vessel, barge, and container loading operations.

She has also designed and implemented supply chain technology, and customized system development for centralized trucking dispatch and electronic load description slips for 250-300 trucks. On top of that, Melinda has been instrumental in driving a partnership to implement electric log truck trials on Vancouver Island, says Domenico Iannidinardo, Melinda’s manager.

A board member of Canadian Women in Timber and the Log Truck Technical Advisory Committee, Melinda “is a trailblazer for women in the forestry industry, taking every opportunity to voice the need for inclusivity and diversity and inspiring young women to pursue a career in forestry,” says Iannidinardo.

Melissa Harborne
Forestry supervisor, Interfor, Adams Lake, B.C.

As a forestry supervisor for Interfor’s Adams Lake, B.C., division, Melissa Harborne is involved in multiple different aspects of the business. She contributes to the Adams Lake planning department’s strategic timber inventory in South Adams, is involved in stakeholder liaison and operational planning development, and oversees the development of forest management plans.

Melissa also contributes to Interfor’s environmental program, exceeding targets for identifying environmental concerns or hazards related to operations and implementing plans with specialists, says Tara Greiner, Melissa’s co-op student.

Having obtained her Registered Professional Forester designation in 2020, the 26-year-old continues to periodically attend workshops to increase her knowledge and become a more well-rounded planning forester.

Melissa also managed the 2021 summer student program for the Adams Lake division’s planning department, where “she is extremely motivating and goes out of her way to provide a meaningful experience for her student,” Greiner says.

An active member of the Scotch Creek fire department, Melissa also attends elementary school classrooms to educate children about forest management.

“Melissa is a terrific role model for young women such as myself entering forestry. She takes her time to make everyone at the jobsite feel comfortable, she is hyper-focused on safety, and at the same time creates a positive job atmosphere. It is a pleasure to work with and be mentored by Melissa!” Greiner says.

Jessica Prior
Assistant forester, AV Group NB, Nackawic, N.B.

Jessica Prior

Since Jessica Prior joined AV Group in 2017, she has progressively taken on more responsibility each season and developed into a leader, says Conway Elkins, AV Group’s woodlands manager. She has worked as a scaler, a harvesting supervisor, silviculture supervisor, and now an assistant forester.

In her current role, she is responsible for all silviculture activities across the company’s provincial operations, as well as the company’s environmental management system (EMS) and certification duties.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessica was also active in her community, visiting schools and attending career fairs to help promote the forest industry. The 32-year-old also helped out with Forest NB’s meetings.

“She’s very motivated,” says Pierre Mezzetta, Jessica’s direct manager at AV Group. “She’s always said, ‘I want to be the best at whatever I do.’ She’s very goal-oriented, but while she’s worked towards those goals, she’s very conscientious – she works very well with a team and has great communication skills.”

“Jessica takes on each new task with zeal, eager to learn and succeed,” Elkins adds. “All along the way Jessica can be found with a smile and brings a personality to our office that brings people together and challenges us to succeed. In a short period of time, Jessica has made a positive impact to our operations and will continue to succeed as a forestry leader.”

Adam Blyth
Sawmill superintendent, Tolko Industries, High Level, Alta.

Adam Blyth

With more than 17 years’ experience in the industry, Adam Blyth, at 36 years old, is the sawmill superintendent at Tolko Industries’ High Level, Alta., division.

Adam joined Tolko Industries in 2004, working clean-up and production spare board. After learning the ropes in several production roles, Adam completed his training as a planer technician. He quickly moved up to head planerman and was responsible for running the planer maintenance department.

Adam’s passion for developing great trades employees led him to his next role as apprenticeship and training co-ordinator for the site, says his colleague Caroline Carstens.

In this role, he was involved in developing Tolko’s employees and worked with Careers the Next Generation and the local school, promoting forestry as a career choice for youth across northern Alberta. His leadership and “get-it-done” attitude led him to be promoted to sawmill superintendent at the age of 32. To further develop his skills and knowledge, he took part in the pilot cohort of the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT)’s Industrial Wood Processing program.

“Adam has worked tirelessly to develop capacity at all levels within the sawmill – developing employees and processes that have improved production quality, as well as employee safety and engagement,” Carstens adds.

Cédric, Samuel and David Bérubé
Bois d’oeuvre Cedrico, planing supervisor, transportation logistics manager, purchasing manager, Causapscal, Que.

Bois d’oeuvre Cedrico, a sawmill in Causapscal, Que., will be able to count on not one, but three Bérubés to ensure its success in the future. Brothers Cédric, Samuel and David, aged 33, 25 and 22, respectively, will succeed their father Denis, the current president and CEO of the sawmill, in the next five to 10 years. 

“When you are born into a family of sawyers, you cannot escape your fate! Even though our desire to ensure its longevity has only manifested itself in recent years, we have always been involved in the company,” says Cédric, the planing supervisor at the Causapscal plant. The eldest in the family, Cédric has held several production positions at Cedrico.

The youngest, Samuel, followed a similar path. He is currently in charge of the logistics of transporting finished products while he studies administration. David is completing a Bachelor’s in Finance at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S., and finished a summer purchasing internship at the mill in August.

“Working for the company puts you in the shoes of the employees. We better understand their reality,” says their father.

This initiation is also an integral part of the company’s succession plan, which was entrusted to a specialized external firm. It’s no small task to have three brothers pick up the torch at the same time.

“This support facilitates certain discussions that would otherwise be difficult to have. Fortunately, our skillsets are complementary, so the burden of the company will be spread over several shoulders,” says Samuel.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Janis Simpkins’ age as 32 (she is 39) and Stephen Posselt’s age as 32 (he is 38).  CFI apologizes for the errors.

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