Voices of Vaagen: Duane Vaagen, CEO
At Vaagen Fibre Canada, we are proud of all of the team members who are focused on sustainable forestry, helping us to build strong partnerships in the community that lead to remarkable opportunities. Today, we are amplifying the voice of Duane Vaagen, CEO of Vaagen Brothers Lumber, owner of Vaagen Fibre Canada.
You could say forestry runs in Duane Vaagen’s blood or you could say it was the proximity of his family’s sawmill to his childhood home that accounts for his desire to work for the family business.
“We lived right across the highway from our family’s sawmill in Colville, Washington while I was growing up,” said Duane. “My father, Bert, and my uncle Bud started the mill in the early 50s. It started out small, but like with many businesses, when you offer a product of value, form strong partnerships, and work hard, growth is inevitable; and so, the sawmill continued to grow and grow.”
For Duane, the family business hasn’t just transferred one generation but continues today in the family with his daughter Emily and one of his sons Kurtis, who both work for Vaagen Brothers Lumber.
“In the competitive industry we’re in, for a business not to succeed, you either run out of timber or money,” noted Duane. “To ensure the business’ success, we are careful to operate in a way that makes sense financially and we also take great care of the forests so that this renewable resource can be used to generate employment while also balancing environmental considerations.”
Of the core values held by Vaagen Brothers Lumber, Vaagen Fibre Canada, and by extension the Vaagen family, ‘always innovating’ is at the top of the list. It all stems back to when Duane was a teenager working after school at the mill. He remembers stacking lumber, “very hard work,” he says, and he would always be thinking how there had to be a better way.
“That’s where innovation comes in, in the forest and in the mill. It’s doing a job and thinking how you can maximize the results while minimizing the effort.”
It was with this innovative thinking that Vaagen became the first mill in North America to implement a HewSaw into their operations. A HewSaw processes logs efficiently into accurate sawn timber and high-quality chips with simplicity, speed, and single-pass capability. Although a large investment to not only purchase the saw but to configure operations of the mill, the HewSaw has enabled the company to increase efficiency and utilize the most out of each log. Getting more out of a log also means that to be profitable, Vaagen Fibre Canada can be more selective with the trees it takes from the forest and allows the mill to specialize in cutting small diameter trees. To Duane, it’s about aggressively taking care of the forests.
“If you picture the sawmill as the golden goose, the forests are the food for the goose,” noted Duane. “If we take care of the forests now and for generations, we can continue to operate well and provide good paying jobs to folks in more rural communities like Grand Forks, Greenwood, and Midway.”
Just like his father and uncle before him, Duane and his team have a tried-and-true philosophy around running their operations. It’s based on a See, Think, and Do model.
“I believe businesses that are successful in a very competitive industry are very focused. They see what is happening in the industry around them; the challenges and the opportunities,” said Duane. “Then they think about how their business can provide the product or services to help fill gaps or what they might do to pivot their operations to take on that work. And then finally, do. Take action, work hard, stay humble and play fair. We see this in the work of our team at Vaagen Fibre Canada led by Dan Macmaster. This team sees the opportunities they have to build partnerships in the area, offer a superior product, and work hard. The success can be seen in the results generated by the entire team. They truly are an extension of our family business, and we’re thankful.”