The Story of AHEC

Cover Image: AHEC Pavilion at IFFS Singapore 2017.

As told by Michael Buckley, former European Director

“It is an honour to be Chairman of any organisation, but for me, being Chairman of AHEC is by far the most rewarding post I have ever held.  As I travel the world, everyone knows what AHEC stands for, and what we do.  We promote American hardwoods and our staff in our six overseas offices do a great job.  I am just one in a long line of Chairmen that have helped guide AHEC to what it is today, thirty years later.  It took very strong leadership to start AHEC, and give it a direction to achieve what it has.  I want to thank Michael Buckley, who agreed to write this, all those before me who volunteered their time and to a fantastic staff that makes AHEC run so well.”

– Dave Bramlage, AHEC Chairman


AHEC goes back to the mid-1980s in Hamburg and Tokyo when the Hardwood Export Trade Council (HETC) established overseas programmes to promote U.S. hardwood exports under the direction of the National Lumber Export Association (NLEA) which were later merged together. Swiss–born Heini Rutz and Taiwanese-born Dan Muto were appointed as the first overseas directors, in Germany and Japan. It moved to London in 1988 with Betsy Ward, Executive Director in Washington DC. 

Michael Buckley, recently returned from the Asian timber industry, was recruited by Dana Fitzpatrick as European Director and then visited 17 States in 19 days to familiarise. He attended the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) Convention in New Orleans to meet the Board. Jameson French with Steve Lovett and Betsy Ward from the American Forest & Paper Association appointed John Chan in Hong Kong and Tsuji-san in Japan. Strategy was implemented with guidance from the fathers of AHEC who were John Grunwald of David R Webb, Dana Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick & Weller, Jameson French of Northland Forest Products and Ed Ramsay of Taylor Ramsay, who gave so much of their time and effort.  

Michael Buckley, Former European Director

We clearly needed a name change

Then came the moment of truth! At the end of a visit to Brussels to explain HETC’s proposed activities and programme, Mr Guy Daelmans of the Belgian Timber Federation asked Buckley, “So where are all these British hardwoods growing?”

We clearly needed a name change to which the Board readily agreed and the American Hardwood Export Council was born. This was followed shortly by a new logo, but more changes were to come. NLEA having been wound up, the various hardwood associations had controlled the AHEC Board and set the agenda, giving fine service and guidance to AHEC at shows, seminars, missions and all overseas activities. However in a change of policy the Board was re-structured to have a balance of representation between company members and association members.

Unity and our great staff

Former Chairman Jameson French recalls: “The AHEC model (which was later used with the creation of the Hardwood Federation) that one organisation could represent effectively all the segments and associations of our hardwood sector (veneer, plywood and solid hardwood) proved a very effective one and that unity and our great staff and innovative marketing have led to remarkable support from various federal sources, notably the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Washington DC with annual funding.”


Jameson French, Former Chairman

One of the first activities set up in London was the inaugural AHEC Convention, styled on the American convention model – an event still carried on by AHEC in Europe, Mexico and Asia to this day – e.g. Chongqing in June and Copenhagen in October 2016. 

Now exports are worth $3.4 billion

In 1988 American hardwood lumber exports were valued at $655 million and by 2016 were worth $1.86 billion. The total in 1988, including hardwood lumber, logs, veneers, flooring, chips, plywood, siding and mouldings were worth just over $1 billion; and now $3.4 billion. In 1988 it was estimated that about 8% of all lumber production was exported, whereas today over 40% of all graded lumber is exported. Given the reduction in U.S. domestic consumption during the period, this export improvement has proven critical to many U.S. producers.

Outstanding has been the promotional work of the London office which developed such brochures as the Species Guide to American Hardwoods now in many languages. Credit must be given to the combination of local staff initiatives, the vision and trust of Executive Director, Mike Snow, members’ contributions of materials and most importantly the funding from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture, FAS. Without such teamwork none would have been achieved in creating projects to ‘pull’ the demand that AHEC is also ‘pushing’.     

‘Continuity’ with a capital ’C’

The bottom line of AHEC is ‘Continuity’ with a capital ’C’ in both funding and staff; John Chan as director for SE Asia & Greater China, Michael Buckley as former European director and now consultant with David Venables as current European director have about 70 years continuous service for AHEC between the three of them. 


Mike Snow, Executive Director

John Chan, Regional Director, Greater China & Southeast Asia

Rod Wiles has been working on emerging markets for about 20 years. Staff turnover is very low and the level of commitment has always been extremely high. At the 2016 NHLA Convention in Washington DC all overseas directors lined up with Michael Snow – the ultimate ambassador for American hardwood who has worked for, and steered, AHEC for the last twenty years. 

Under his leadership AHEC has addressed the need for pioneer work in promotion, development of LCAs, AHEPs and a whole host of projects with consultants, such as Rupert Oliver on environmental issues and Neil Summers on CLT and TMT, to increase potential markets for American hardwoods.

After nearly 30 years it is the recognition by overseas markets that AHEC is always there that is so powerful; and with a new website coming and other initiatives in 2017 AHEC should look as fresh as it did in 1988.   

Based on article first Published in National Hardwood Magazine and Wood Purchasing News, Memphis, TN, USA