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Next-gen leaders: Meet Mike Penner

October 24, 2019

By Canadian Forest Industries staff

Each year, Canadian Forest Industries is proud to highlight 10 men and women under 40 who exemplify the best of Canada’s forest industry. Our seventh annual Top 10 Under 40 consists of inspiring young men and women who represent every aspect of the forest sector, and love what they do.

To acknowledge and highlight each winner’s contributions, CFI will feature one of 2019’s winners every week for the next 10 weeks.

This week, we introduce our readers to Mike Penner, owner and president of Townsend Lumber Inc. in Tilsonburg, Ont.

A lot has changed for Mike in the past six years. In 2013, he was the project superintendent for a local general contracting business, but he switched to forestry after his father-in-law offered him the position of general manager at Townsend Lumber.

“Mike’s first years with the company were challenging, learning the logging and lumber industry while working hard to earn trust and respect from his new colleagues,” Laura Townsend, Mike’s spouse and business partner, says.

But Mike, 38, has since made a number of key cultural changes at the company, improving communication, teamwork, accountability and a focus on quality, Townsend says. Mike has also built key relationships with local private landowners and logging contractors.

In October 2016, Mike’s father-in- law decided to retire. Mike and Laura purchased the company, along with their other related companies, Kitchener Forest Products, Breeze Dried Inc., and BreezeWood Floors, collectively forming the ‘Townsend Penner Group of Companies.’ Since then, Mike has been managing all aspects of these companies, including the raw material supply, production and sales of their three sawmills. Together, the group of companies now has 170 employees and produces over 18 mmbf of high-quality lumber annually.

Mike has also overseen many significant equipment upgrades and projects since he became the owner, focused on improving product quality and consistency. A member of the board of directors for the local Norfolk Woodlot Owners Association, he has become increasingly involved in the industry, working with local municipalities to improve timber harvesting bylaws to protect and preserve southwestern Ontario’s woodlots.

He has also worked with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) on several research projects, says Dr. Chris MacQuarrie, research scientist at NRCan, Canada Forest Service.

Mike provided research support and technical information to inform the design and implementation of a research project on the effect of the sawmilling process on reducing the risk of exporting emerald ash borer-infested wood, shares MacQuarrie.

“The results of this research were, and continue to be, used by the Canadian government to convince trading partners that Canadian wood products present little risk to forests overseas from the introduction of potentially-invasive pests,” MacQuarrie explains.

“This research was the first-of-its-kind in the world, and would not have been possible without the help of Mike and his team at Townsend Lumber,” he adds. “He went above and beyond to assist us with this work and I feel that this important contribution will continue to pay dividends for both Townsend and the Canadian forestry industry.”