Conversations with Forest Executives 

Feb 7, 2023 | News

Register your interest here for The ForestLink’s Executive Forum. A first of its kind platform for bringing together the top leadership of forest companies in the tropics

“It’s lonely at the top” is a common thread extracted from recent conversation with several executives of forest companies in the tropics. 

Credit: Lahangan Sweet 

Over the past few months I’ve been speaking to the leaders of forest companies in the tropics to dig deep into the challenges and opportunities they face in this space. I’ve spoken to CEOs of forest companies that are greenfield starting to plant trees, in transition starting to harvest and process, and brownfield, well into processing and sales.  

In this article I share the thoughts of these executives, blazing trails in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. 

Their feedback has confirmed the need for the Forum for Forest Executives. Read on to learn why. 


When I asked forest company leaders what challenges they were facing in their business, their responses were either technical in nature, related to leadership, or derived from the context of their operating environment.  

From the technical side, CEOs named the challenges of fundraising, business-stage transition, and various operational challenges. Though ESG challenges were a common thread, leaders felt less alone in managing ESG. With the reason for this being that there was a lot of support from investors on the topic, and because it is not a financially sensitive or competitive topic, it was one of the few issues that could be discussed openly among peers. 

When considering context, executives named the challenge of isolation surfacing in a few ways. There was isolation from investors, describing investors’ lack of industry knowledge or insufficient resources to provide strategic input or structural support. They also named a lack of a peer network outside of the business. Contextual challenges mentioned were also associated with the realities of working in the tropics: navigating the various levels of government, corruption and land grabbing accusations to name a few. 

Then there were leadership challenges. Issues such as effective communication with boards, navigating change in ownership, business restructuring, development of local talent, or having insufficient time to act on business growth opportunities were described. It was also common that CEOs had received no management training whatsoever. 


After they described the challenges they were facing, I asked what solutions were available to them. They named technical working groups and focal areas where support was brought in, on issues like health and safety, tree improvement, ESG, and financial management. They also highlighted the effectiveness of travelling around the world to see those demonstrating best-in-class operations that were related to their own. Some executives mentioned having strong investor support, but as evident from above, this quickly becomes a challenge if your investors are very hands-off. In general, conference-type gatherings were not seen as a “solution” for executives to address their challenges. They generally lack interest in conferences, labelling them as impractical. In general, most CEOs participate in very little training and attend very few industry events. 

On Peer-to-Peer Learning 

All CEOs I spoke with were excited about the prospect of gathering with their peers. In fact, most stated that building a network of peers they could keep in touch with after an event would be the most valuable part of coming together. They described a smaller group gathering, where leaders represented a diverse range of business stage, end markets and geographies. They shared concerns over confidentiality, and that the mix of people and content of the event could make or break the ability to have open and constructive discussion. CEOs were interested to both hear about how others have solved common challenges and to share solutions that have worked for them. 

As one CEO succinctly stated:  

Sharing information brings back at least as much as you give away.

The CEO’s Christmas List 

When asking these leaders for their input in designing a peer event that would be useful to them, I received a lot of varying feedback. From investor matchmaking, to navigating corruption, communication, business transition, market diversification, negotiation, HR support, technical forestry issues, carbon markets, and cultural awareness were but a few. Again, the common thread was simply an opportunity to connect with peers. 

Concerns of Gathering  

To create a peer learning event that is truly fit for purpose, it is important to understand where resistance might lie in bringing together a small group of forest company executives. When asking these leaders about their concerns, these are some examples from their own words: 

I’ve participated in other roundtable events, where there’s been a lot of hype and enthusiasm, but eventually the discussion fizzles out and doesn’t go anywhere, 

Investor participation blocks open discussion, 

Ego, some leaders don’t believe they could benefit from leadership development, 

Everyone needs to be willing to speak openly and have the objective of shared learning. At industry events there is always an element of competition preventing openness. This is such a pity, it is not constructive, and a lot of potential is wasted, 

As a CEO, you don’t have a lot of time and you need to focus training and events on areas that will have the most impact on your work, and to only attend events that are the most relevant, 

Its easier to discuss sensitive topics with peers from a different geography, 

Usual suspect conferences are not very interesting.  

And What about Coaching? 

The concept of participating in executive coaching had not previously been considered as a leadership development strategy among the CEOs I spoke with. They were all interested to learn more about what could be gained through working with a coach – but as most practical CEOs, wanted to see some best practice examples (spoiler alert, this will be the topic of an upcoming article). One element that they all thought would be beneficial was having a coach facilitate peer to peer learning and strategy development.

I’m excited to be joined by Executive Coach, Rita Jupe who will lead this work at the Forum for Forest Executives.   

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together – The Forum for Forest Executives 

The Forum for Forest Executives is not a conference. It is not a trade fair or a platform for learning about the latest in clonal propagation. This is a small gathering of forest company leaders. It’s an opportunity to meet your peers, share lessons learned, brush up on some technical leadership skills, while putting together a strategy to develop yourself as a leader as well as move your business forward. 

Register your interest now for the Forum for Forest Executives


Connect with your peers. Foster leadership expertise. Build a thriving forest business 

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