A Day in the Life of a Forestry Leader: Phillip Smith (Alabama, USA) | Rayonier Stories

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A Day in the Life of a Forestry Leader: Phillip Smith (Alabama, USA)

For nearly 30 years, Phillip Smith has spent his career with Rayonier, rising from an entry-level forester to the leader of our entire Alabama team. He shares the story of his road to success as we spend a day in the life with this Rayonier leader.

Phillip Smith thought Rayonier would be a quick stop in his career before finding a job closer to his home state of Mississippi. Almost three decades later, he couldn’t be more proud to continue to call himself a Rayonier employee.

He started as a Timber Sales Forester in the Florida Region straight out of college. After 27 dedicated years, he is now the Director of Operations in the Alabama Resource Unit, where he oversees unit-wide operations and a whole team of talented foresters.

“Coming out of college, I couldn’t have drawn anything on paper that would have come close to the opportunity I was offered at Rayonier. At the time, I had a rigid vision of how a corporate structure should be. I thought it would take years to see my impact, but Rayonier is different. Immediately I saw how my contribution made a difference, no matter how small.”

Rayonier Alabama Resource Unit Team Leader Phillip Smith
Phillip Smith joined the Rayonier team almost 30 years ago and says the company has “been a tremendous blessing to me and my family.”

Establishing a new region of forests for Rayonier

In Alabama, Phillip and his team manage approximately 260,000 acres of timberland. It’s the same area where, nearly 23 years ago, he was part of a small team that helped establish the new location for Rayonier after the company’s large Jefferson Smurfit land purchase.

“I couldn’t believe they would entrust me with such a big responsibility. I was still relatively new to Rayonier at the time, and I was given a tremendous opportunity to help establish Rayonier in a new operating area, working alongside two other employees with over 20 years of experience.”

The trust the company placed in him played a role in changing his mind about the future.

“When I started working, I really had no intention of staying at Rayonier. My heart was back home in Mississippi, and I thought that at some point I would move back.”

“But I stayed,” he chuckles. “I fell in love with the people and the company. I never thought twice about leaving. Rayonier has been a tremendous blessing to me and my family.”

Men looking at a map on a tailgate in a young forest
Phillip looks over a forest map with Florida RU Timber Marketing Manager Casey LaCasse on a recent field tour.

An Unexpected Career Path

During his higher education at Mississippi State, Phillip studied Forest Management for his undergrad and later earned a master’s in economics. When it came time to job hunt, Phillip interviewed with several companies, including Rayonier.

“A Rayonier job posting was placed on a bulletin board in the forestry building, so I applied. Soon thereafter, I received a call from Ken Gay who at the time was the Florida Region Superintendent. Rayonier flew me out to the Division Headquarters in Fernandina, and I had the chance to interview with most of the senior management and was provided a forest tour. Coming from Mississippi, where I had spent most of my life, hopping on a plane for the first time was a big deal for me.”

Phillip narrowed his search down to two job offers: one was with a company located in Mississippi, and the other in Florida with Rayonier.

“My mom really wanted me to take the job in Mississippi, and I truly had my heart set on staying. But because of the thoughtful interview process, and how I enjoyed the people I had met, I decided to take the job in Florida with Rayonier.”

Man in orange vest looking at measuring tool and holding clipboard in the forest
Phillip demonstrates a timber cruising technique during a photo shoot earlier in his career. Today, our foresters have exchanged clipboards for real-time data entry on tablets.

A Day in the Life of this Rayonier Forestry Leader

As Director of Operations, Phillip provides oversight to the team that is responsible for all of the operational activities within the Alabama Resource Unit. It’s a position he takes pride in because of the important rural jobs the timber industry creates, the positive impact on the environment good forest management has, and the role timber plays in providing sustainable, renewable products.

“If you think about it, it’s the most valuable natural resource we have in this country,” he says. “You add up all of the other things that we’ve got–gold, silver, what have you–our most valuable natural resource is timber.”

Collaborating is a key part of a forestry leader’s work

A significant portion of Phillip’s time is spent preparing for and participating in discussions with people within and outside the company. There are generally three different types: inform discussions, collaborative meetings and advocacy efforts.

Inform discussions are typically spent with his supervisor and those higher up in the organization. During their time together, they discuss state of business, challenges, areas of concern, opportunities, and future plans.

Collaborative meetings often involve counterparts in other areas or co-workers in other business units. During this type of meeting, everyone shares what they are working on, how they are working through issues and any improvements they have made. Here, Phillip provides input into various activities, operations and business opportunities as they relate to the Resource Unit.

Lastly, Phillip acts as a representative and advocate for the Alabama Resource Unit outside of the organization.

“Advocacy is a large component of my position here at Rayonier,” he explains. “We are heavily involved in the Alabama Forestry Association, where I serve on the board of directors and executive committee. Often, I will also attend meetings where I represent and advocate for Rayonier’s interests. This mostly includes trade association meetings, as well as meetings with local and state representatives and politicians.”

Two men talking while leaning on a pickup truck
Phillip talks to Technical Forester Aaron Evans during a visit to a timber harvest operation.

Phillip is passionate about promoting forestry and helping others understand the role it plays in their lives.

“There’s a lot of respect from the local communities about what we do. They understand that we’re supporting a lot of industries. A lot of local communities are completely dependent upon the timber industry and it’s just wonderful to be part of that.”

Working with people is the best part

There are other important tasks that require his attention while at work.

“I spend quite a bit of time planning, forecasting, and participating in strategy sessions with the team. I’m very analytical, so this is my comfort zone. I truly enjoy analyzing data and then working with our team to use the results to make well-informed business decisions, monitor business progress and analyze project outcomes.”

Other projects Phillip leads within the Resource Unit include tasks like validating inventory data and stand information for pending land sales, working with the legal team on resolving any issues with adjoining landowners, answering questions from outside the organization, and addressing requests from others within the company.

“I enjoy interacting with people. Typically, I will speak with a customer or vendor at least once a day.”

Best of all is time spent reviewing in the woods with employees:

“By far, the most enjoyable aspect of my position is getting out of the office and spending time in the field with my team.”

Due to retirements, departures and promotions, almost three quarters of the employees in the Alabama Resource Unit have joined the team in the past year. As a result, a considerable amount of Phillip’s time has been dedicated to evaluating, interviewing, recruiting and onboarding new employees.

Phillip standing in the woods having a laugh with someone off camera
Phillip enjoys time with the forestry team in the woods most of all.

Spending Time in the Woods

Because the unit only has one office, which is in Andalusia, Phillip has many opportunities to interact with the team, especially the Senior Timber Marketing Manager, who oversees the sale of timber, and the Senior Resource Land Manager, who oversees planting and land management.

With a team that is in the woods much more than it’s in the office, Phillip prefers to join his team in the field when possible. Having eyes on the forestry operation gives him the opportunity to better-understand ongoing operations; discover new ways to support the team; interact with Rayonier customers, contractors and vendors; and help with safety efforts.

Three men in hard hats talking in front of a loaded log truck
Phillip and his team talk to a contractor during a timber harvest operation.

Making a compliance visit during a timber harvest

The images in this section of this article were taken when Phillip accompanied Aaron Milstead, a Timber Resource Forester, and two younger foresters, Technical Foresters Aaron Evans and Josh Petty, on a compliance visit to an active timber harvesting operation near the Andalusia Office.

During a timber harvest compliance visit, foresters may look at the following:

  1. Checking to ensure that all harvesting occurs in the designated areas and reviewing the harvested areas to verify all merchantable wood has been removed.
  2. Making sure that the crew is properly utilizing Rayonier’s mobile load management system (equipment and software) that is used to track and document loads. This involves making sure that records are created prior to moving a load, that the correct information concerning loads is entered and that records are updated with the scale information in a timely manner.
    “We also answer any questions about the unit and system. Occasionally, we have to resolve issues with units that aren’t functioning properly.”
Two men in hard hats looking at a tablet in front of a loaded log truck
Rayonier technical forester Josh Petty, right, talks to crew owner Steve Johnson about registering information on Rayonier’s mobile load management software.
  1. For by-the-product stumpage sales and delivered wood sales, we also monitor to make sure that wood is being merchandised properly. “This helps us ensure the correct products are being sorted and that the wood is within mill-tolerant specifications.”
    In other words, we want to send the best quality wood to the top buyer. You don’t want to send a log that would be great for high-value lumber to a pulp mill that will make it into lower-value chips, for example.

“I truly enjoy being with my team out in the field,” Phillip says. “It’s nice to see how much these folks can accomplish here at Rayonier. They never cease to amaze me.”

“Rayonier has a bright future ahead. There are some very talented individuals employed here with a lot of passion for what they are doing in forestry. Because of this, I am confident in Rayonier’s future success.”

Phillip stands next to skidder and talks to operator in the woods.
Phillip talks to a skidder operator as he prepares to fix a grapple on the machine.

“Some of my best friends are from Rayonier”

Phillip shares that he chose forestry as his career path because, at the heart of it, he is a ‘dirt forester’.

“That’s why I went into forestry. The hands-on part of the industry. I love seeing the trees grow, the harvesting and the operations. But it’s also very satisfying in knowing that what we do has a positive impact on society.”

Aside from his personal love and passion for forestry, Phillip holds a deep appreciation for the people and culture that make up Rayonier.

“I’ve been working for Rayonier for 27 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. At the end of the day, the vast majority of those that I have had the pleasure to interact with are genuine people that are team-oriented, ethical individuals who care about one another. Everyone works together to make sure Rayonier is successful.

“One of the most telling things is that some of my best and closest friends are either previous or current Rayonier employees. We spend a lot of time together. It’s hard to work with people that hold similar ethics and values and not become close friends.”

Phillip jokes: “It’s true, you really can’t make me leave Rayonier. They’re stuck with me.”

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