However, there were some slim times at the land management company that has thrived through natural disasters, invasive species and a recession/housing market collapse.
“About three or four months of opening the company, I needed to buy a gate for a client,” remembered Steve Butler, founder/president of TimberCorp, which is located just outside of Brandon in rural Rankin County. “I was informed we might not be able to afford it. A $70 gate — really? That was a watershed moment.” After a pause, Butler added with a grin, “I immediately went back to the office and changed my fee schedule.”
If it sounds as if Butler never lacked for confidence, it’s because he had a pretty firm career going and had established a reputation and connections in the land management industry before forming TimberCorp.
Growing up in Jackson, Butler knew he wanted a career where he could work outside. He contemplated large-animal veterinary medicine and farming before settling on forestry. He would subsequently earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forestry from Mississippi State University. (He also is a graduate of the Southern Trust School at Birmingham Southern College and the National Graduate Trust School at Northwestern University, where he was a high honors graduate.)
He worked as an area forester for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, teaching assistant at MSU and consulting forester before joining Deposit Guaranty National Bank as a vice president and loan officer.
During his decade with the bank, Butler, 57, said he had the opportunity to connect with the industry and his fellow foresters, and learn lessons that would prove invaluable when he established TimberCorp.
“One of the keys to our success here at TimberCorp has been our diversity,” Butler said. “When I was at the bank, I’d call up foresters and ask, ‘Hey, would you be interested in mowing some grass for me?’ Some would say no, others would do it. I learned that if you offered everything — a one-stop shop — people will call you and keep calling you.”
In 1989, Butler hung out his shingle, and growth has been steady at TimberCorp since then. Today, the company’s staff includes four registered foresters and a forestry tech, and Butler can count customers in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas — it has even worked as far afield as Alaska.
Learning from the bank, the company offers a full slate of services, from timberland management, appraisal and brokerage to land partitions, market research and lease negotiations.
Butler said the last eight years have been TimberCorp’s most challenging. Hurricane Katrina stood the market on its ear by shoving a massive amount of timber into mills and undercutting prices.
Then, there was the 2008 financial correction and the bottoming out of the housing market.
“It was tough,” Butler admitted. “I advised clients to not sell after Katrina when prices were down some 30 percent. Then the recession hit and prices went down about 50 percent. In the mean time, too many of our small, family-owned sawmills have gone under. It has been a difficult time.
“We are seeing signs that the industry is starting to rebound. I understand our sawmills actually have been making money the last few months. And the news from the housing market is improving.”
While TimberCorp is Butler’s focus, he says he has always felt compelled to work toward bettering the industry as a whole. Among his many professional achievements is serving as president of both the Mississippi Forestry Association, Association of Consulting Foresters (Mississippi chapter) and emeritus trustee/chairman Mississippi Forestry Foundation.
“It’s just kind of who I am — I like to get involved,” said Butler, a big man whose personality quickly fills a room. “Not only do I feel like I’m contributing, but I also keep in touch with my peers, landowners and others. It’s a win-win.”
All of these accomplishments and his industry involvement have not gone unnoticed. Butler won the Presidential Citation from the Mississippi Forestry Association in 1985 and was named Outstanding Young Forester by the Mississippi Society of American Foresters in 1989.
Preparing to celebrate TimberCorp’s 25th anniversary next year, Butler says he plans no major changes to the company’s business model, though he did not rule out a satellite office or two in the future.
He said with a big smile, “Has it met my expectations? Yes. I can afford to buy gates now.”