In order to have an innovative culture, you need to enable your crew to be creative. That’s how Hans de Visser, president of Coastland Wood Industries Ltd. in Nanaimo, approaches his responsibility of ensuring he gets the most out of the people who work for him.
“This is a tough industry where certain market factors make it so we have to be industrious in how we make our veneers,” he said. “We focus on making the highest-quality product with resources that others can’t use.”
The company was founded in 1988 by Don MacKay, who purchased second-growth Douglas fir trees and made high-quality veneers, which are then used to make plywood and other particle boards. The company started with 50 employees, and has now grown to 300. Visser joined the company in 2006 and invested in new technology designed in-house with the help of engineers. He also purchased a Japanese laythe, a blade that can shave small trees extremely fast, one of only five in North America. The result is a product that has uniquely small shavings and is extremely high quality.
“We’re making something valuable from a product no one else can use,” said Visser. “But we create more than just world-class veneers and fence posts. There is a strong social aspect to having a licence to operate that we take seriously.”
Coastland has a long-standing agreement with the Nanaimo First Nations that they will have advanced employment options in exchange for use of their land. Within the mill itself, about 20% of the employees are First Nations. They also sponsor local sports teams, make donations to food banks, and even sponsor elementary school trips.
But the biggest investment they make is in their own employees and encouraging their professional growth.
“We encourage our employees to come up with new ways to improve our products,” said Visser. “We hire people who are passionate and interested, and we sit down with them and build up ideas.”“Our employees have ownership over their products, because they helped invent it.”