Two years after hiring an outsider to lead the company, Starker Forests has gone in-house to find his replacement.
Jake Gibbs, a forester who came up through the ranks at Roseburg’s Lone Rock Timber Management, joined Philomath-based Starker Forests in May of 2017 as the designated successor to President and CEO Bond Starker, who was transitioning into retirement.
But on May 3, Gibbs resigned in a dispute with the board of the family-owned timber company.
“We just came to a point where there was a difference of opinion,” Starker told the Gazette-Times. “We came to a point where we had differing values and felt like we needed to … maintain our culture.”
Gibbs could not be reached for comment.
In the wake of Gibbs’ departure, the board turned to longtime employee Randy Hereford, the company’s vice president for timber and chief forester. Hereford was named president and CEO in late May.
“We needed some stability at this point,” Starker said. “We felt like we were getting closer to when we might have a family successor, and Randy would do a good job of giving family or staff some leadership opportunities and preparing either family or staff for the next succession.”
Hereford, 65, graduated from Oregon State University with bachelor’s degrees in forest engineering and forest management in 1977 and went to work for Starker Forests the following year.
He came up in the forestry side of the business, where he was mentored by Barte Starker, Bond’s late brother. Early in his career, Hereford said, Barte got him involved with the Oregon Board of Forestry and various timber industry organizations, encouraging him to take an active role.
“He kind of shepherded me down that route,” Hereford said.
Today Hereford serves with a number of state and national forestry organizations, including the National Alliance of Forest Owners, Oregon Forest & Industry Council and OSU Institute on Working Lands. He is a member of the Council on Forest Engineering and the Society of American Foresters and is an SAF-certified forester.
With a number of longtime employees in key positions, Hereford said he believes the company is well-positioned for the future.
“Our people don’t need a lot of direction here,” he said. “We try to match our company goals, give them some direction and off they go.”
At the same time, Starker Forests is also developing the next generation of potential leaders, including several family members who are taking on increasingly responsible roles in the business. Bond’s daughter, Anna May, is working half-time as the company’s director of investor relations, while Barte’s daughters, Wendy Little and Sally Starker, are active members of the board of directors.
And because Starker Forests has built career development opportunities into its company culture, Hereford is confident that someone will be ready to step into the chief executive role when it’s time for the old guard to retire.
“We’ve created a strategic vision and a strategic plan, and we’re implementing that,” he said.
“One of our goals is to build leadership so when we’re ready to leave, the company will be in a good position to continue on, and that will be either a family member or someone else.”
Founded by T.J. Starker in 1936, Starker Forests owns 88,000 acres of timberland in Benton, Linn, Lincoln, Lane and Polk counties. Headquartered in Philomath, the company has 22 permanent employees plus additional seasonal workers.