She said yes!

 … to being the executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association because she was intrigued by the membership and the opportunity it offered. Lorna Christie shares why hardwood matters. 

 It did not take long for Lorna Christie to realise what she would wake up to everyday: A job in an industry made of real people who worked hard and offered real value to the world.

She says, “I like working for industries that I believe in. I believe in how hard this industry works and what they stand for. It has a tradition, a history that means something to the wider business community and country.”

So when offered the position of executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, Ms Christie made the decision to move to Memphis to meet this new challenge.

With a background and experience in marketing, communications and business strategy, she is certainly more than qualified to command one of the world’s leading international trade associations.

Previously Ms Christie worked for the George Bush Sr. administration in the Office of Consumer Affairs. She also worked for the fresh produce industry for 15 years. As chief operating officer and executive vice president of Produce Marketing Association in Washington DC, she had a unique perspective of the B2C and B2B markets in agriculture. Later on she also started her own consulting practice. She does not run it anymore as NHLA work now takes up all her time.

Bold vision

Earlier this year, NHLA rolled out a survey to understand “what keeps their members up at night.”

“In this way we can create or improve on what we already offer. This means tailoring new programmes and informative articles on things that are of concern to our members. We have already done some of these but are working on more to be rolled out next year,” Ms Christie explains.

She also shares that the Association’s vision is to be a proactive organisation that not only responds to its members’ needs, it also looks outside to see where the trends are “to identify challenges and opportunities, and translate that into more value for its global membership.”

Vietnam, Indonesia and India especially hold a lot of potential for new residential projects to accommodate an emerging middle class. This in turn translates into new markets for supplying hardwood to local furniture and flooring manufacturers.

Dana Spessert, Lorna Christie,  Roman  Matiushchenko & John Wang, NHLA at Sylvawood in Shanghai

Asia is not only where North America’s hardwood suppliers can sell more lumber, it is also where strong relationships can be nurtured, Ms Christie offers. Already, some NHLA members are customising their lumber for this region.

“You have to understand and respect the market in order to be successful. As it grows, we will consider placing more of our staff there. We will provide more information on this through our Hardwood Matters magazine as well as through our conferences.”

Learning through the times

The economy seems to be recovering and things now look pretty much back on track. However there is still a sense of cautious optimism.

Looking at the available opportunities to help NHLA move forward in partnership with its members is something that Ms Christie is exploring now. It is also something she gets a lot of satisfaction from.

Working as a team with people who are committed, who often demonstrate ways to give back is also very inspiring, she added.

“I like to learn, to go into new organisations to see where their strengths are and helping team members capitalise on those strengths. Actually it’s the best part of my job!”

Because she was helped along the way in her career, she feels a sense of commitment and responsibility to pay it forward. She had a wonderful mentor when she first started out as a secretary. He saw something in her that he wanted to nurture and help grow, she shares.

And the industry, male-dominated as it is, has been extremely welcoming and open.

On the question of the dearth of women in positions of leadership around the world, Ms Christie says, “if you respect your surroundings and who you are working with, and raise your hand when something needs to be done, there is no need to be afraid.

“When my time in NHLA is over, I hope I am not remembered as the first female executive director. I hope I’m remembered as someone who cared and was committed to the success of the industry.”


All images: Turnstone Singapore