'Specialists in diversity'

  • Malcolm Thompson pushes a board through the sander

    Karen Nichols photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Is RBM Lumber a one-of-a-kind operation, or could there be many such firms at work in the Northern Rockies? Judge for yourself.

RBM originally stood for three Thompsons, Roy, Ben and Malcolm. Malcolm, Ben and Roy's father, is a philosopher-ascetic who has returned to part-time work at the mill after a five-year sabbatical in which he pedaled his bike around Western North America and participated in collaborative and conservation groups.

Unlike Roy and Ben, Malcolm never was a key decision-maker in the business. However, his former wife, Evelyn Thompson, is very much involved in business decisions. When pressed, the family now says RBM stands for Roy, Ben and Mom.

The family members (there are others I haven't mentioned) typically have lunch together, and there they jointly make business decisions. Ben and Malcolm are the primary loggers - and vocal advocates for preservation of old-growth forests. Ben also oversees operation of the molding machine. Roy runs the front office and works with the sales manager. Evelyn is out in the mill running the head-rig saw. In their spare time, the family manages to manage 15 or so skilled and creative employees.

RBM's main customers are home builders, specialized contractors, and do-it-yourselfers around the West. Customers remark upon RBM's great service, customized work, and inventory of thousands of well-crafted products. RBM isn't on the internet and doesn't advertise, but it is brimming with word-of-mouth business.

Clearly, then, RBM is not your typical forest products firm. Does this mean the path it is blazing can only be followed by other exceptional outfits? Maybe.

But it is also possible that, while it takes a unique collection of individuals to blaze a path, once they show what's possible, more ordinary firms will be able to follow.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Steve Thompson

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