Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bad Goat Forestry Internship by Wyatt Trull

This semester, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with wood. I’ve been milling logs into rough dimensional lumber and slabs. I’ve also been planing, edging, and trimming those rough boards into building materials. And, my culminating project is a storage cabinet designed to hold some of the woodworking tools I’ve learned how to use over the last several months.

But, as with most pursuits, I’ve spent most of my time learning about people. Not to bring a spotlight where it isn’t wanted, but the head honcho at Bad Goat Forestry is one hell of a guy from what I can see – and I’ve definitely been taking notes.  Mark Vander Meer, a Kris Cringle looking figure who most often smells like he’s burnt down the elve’s workshop,  has taught me a couple of things about how to run a business or any other group venture properly. The best part is he’s never articulated any of these things out loud to me, and funny enough I don’t think I could get him to if I tried.  I remember once he said, “the only reason I’m the boss is because I got here first!” That pretty much sums up Mark’s deprecating wit – a tool he may or may not realize makes everyone listen ever more closely.

Until recently, I barely even noticed that I’ve not gone a single day at Bad Goat without seeing and talking to Mark. I usually spend 2-4 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week in the shop or near the mill, and I always end up seeing Mark at some point. It wasn’t until  a few weekends ago while helping with a controlled burn that I realized what Mark was up to. Mark has a special way, something I’m sure he does almost entirely without realizing it,  of fully delegating work without losing touch. It never feels forced or like he’s running an errand. It feels like he’s just genuinely curious about the work your doing and likes to see what your capable of doing. The Saturday of the burn,  he spent the morning with the burn crew giving advice as if were just another laymen trying to recall how he’d done the same task in the past. I asked him a lot of questions, not so much because I felt I was working for him, but because I had a lot of respect for his perspective. I find that kind of relationship springing up in the conversation between Mark and a lot of his employees.
It seems like the more people I meet in missoula, the more people I meet who know Mark – and have a story to tell about him.  Mark has huge network of acquaintances and I think it’s,  in part, because he has a business venture for every letter in the alphabet. Today, he has a collection of employed people working under different sub-business which together can accomplish conservation tasks of almost any sort. He has found a way to keep the majority of the in’s and out’s of a project in a closed loop. In the long run, this means he keeps well-trained people around and makes them better and better at working together all the time. It also means that overall he can do more with a lot less because there’s less friction in the middle. All of this, tucked away in a hideout under the bridge, aside booming railcars,  makes the people he employs, including me, feel like they are part of a pretty powerful thing – stripped of all the haughty and superfluous trimmings that power usually comes with. 

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