Local business leader offers lifetime of lessons learned from family and business

c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.comApril 20, 2014 

The roots of Corry McFarland’s Lifetime Achievement Award embrace no mystery.

Learn well, work hard, be honest and lead by example.

McFarland recalled recently, “My father and grandfather were very smart in saying you’re going to have every dirty job in this company so that you will have empathy for these people if you are successful enough to rise through the ranks.”

Rise he did.

“I started during summers in high school, working in the plant, framing poles, drilling holes in poles, hooking chokers,” McFarland said.

The family business provided poles — telephone poles, for instance — to utilities and other clients.

Raised in Sandpoint, Idaho, McFarland later worked at a treatment plant in Oregon. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics from Claremont Men’s College in California.

There, he said, “I learned how to think logically, how to compose and write.”

He didn’t do so well in French, and the calculus he learned has not come in particularly handy, but the formal education “prepared me for business, with labor economics, fiscal systems.”

Then, armed with a hard hat, chain saw and new pickup truck, he deployed to a lumber yard in Norway, Ore., a forest settlement on state Route 42.

“I started out buying poles,” McFarland said. I learned how to negotiate — it was great on-the-job training. I just lived buying timber.”

He persuaded land owners, timber owners and sawmill owners to give up the tallest, straightest trees.

Over the years he learned the various properties of the various trees — lodgepole pine, Western red cedar, Douglas fir. He learned how to buy the trees and then sell the poles. He learned the small-town value of coffee and pie, and the significance of spending an evening at the local Elks Club, the worth of pizza and a few beers after work.

CHANGING WITH THE TIMES

After McFarland was appointed CEO to run the combined McFarland Cascade operation, the company began to grow, employing as many as 465 people, expanding into Canada, into Mississippi, into the East, New England.

Measuring risk against reward, the company repositioned the supply chain for poles sold to utilities. No longer would McFarland Cascade stock utility poles into customers’ large storage yards; instead, the company would supply poles as needed. The decision may have cut initial sales volumes, but it ensured ongoing relationships.

And even before environmentalists and government agencies began demanding that sawmills and treatment plants remediate any on-site pollution, McFarland Cascade had begun its own campaign.

“I was really proud of how we became proactive with environmental issues,” McFarland said. “It was a crucial issue in 1985. My brother and I were responsible for any damage going back to 1916. We spent a huge amount of money and time cleaning up these sites. We called my grandfather the founding generation, my father was the operating generation, and we’re the remediation generation.”

McFarland and his brother, Greg, spent that money and that time because of what Corry calls “the culture of quality and integrity that was instilled in us by our father and grandfather. Our company had been responsible for the environmental damage, and nobody knew about it at the time. We had been careful, but sometimes there were spills.”

Some other companies fought the orders of environmental officials, and several of those companies did not survive — where McFarland Cascade did survive and prosper.

Along the way, McFarland contributed both funding and time to causes in the Tacoma area.

With his friend Karl Anderson and others, McFarland spent more than four years working on the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ historic 1989 Land Claims Settlement.

McFarland remained CEO until the company was sold to a Canadian competitor in November 2012.

“It was heartbreaking,” McFarland said. “But we didn’t have anybody else in the family coming along. We thought about an IPO. In December 2011, we started preparing the company for sale. When we made the announcement, there were a lot of tears. But it was the right thing for us to do for the family, and it was perfect from a tax standpoint.”

On the company’s success, McFarland said, “If you work with integrity with employees, suppliers, customers and communities where you operate, if you focus on those things and you’re fair and have good incentive systems and are collaborative with employees, I do not know how you cannot be a success.”

Consider his award from the Milgard School as representing not a lifetime of achievement, but the recognition of achievement during the first lifetime.

He is chairman of the board at the LeMay Car Museum, and he serves with his brother as co-CEO of a foundation seeking ways to build a better world.

“Our vision is to find someplace where we can make a real difference,” McFarland said.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.com

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