Starker Forest's Bond Starker, Jake Gibbs

Starker Forests President and CEO Bond Starker, left, stands with Jake Gibbs under some Douglas fir trees outside the company's office in Philomath. Gibbs, who started with the firm May 22, is scheduled to take over both titles from Starker in July.

For the first time in the 81-year history of Starker Forests, the Philomath-based timber company is being led by someone from outside the Starker family.

Jake Gibbs, a 47-year-old forester who spent the last 20 years rising through the ranks at Roseburg’s Lone Rock Timber Management, started his new job May 22.

Since then he’s been making the rounds with President and CEO Bond Starker, getting better acquainted with the firm’s 22 employees, touring some of its 86,000 acres of standing timber in Benton, Linn, Lincoln, Lane and Polk counties and being introduced to local civic leaders. Gibbs will assume both of the management titles July 15 from the 70-year-old Starker, who will stay on as chairman of the board with reduced responsibilities as he transitions into retirement.

Starker and his brother Barte, grandsons of company founder T.J. Starker, have four grown children between them, three of whom remain active members of the Starker Forests board of directors. But all three are busy raising families of their own and are not yet ready to assume leadership roles in company operations.

That’s where Gibbs comes in.

“We are looking for a bridge,” Bond Starker said. “We are hoping our next generation of family will be able to be involved and take on more responsibility as their family lives allow.”

Gibbs says that’s fine with him.

“If a family member wants to step into a leadership role, it’s my ambition to encourage that,” he said. “I hope I will have endeared myself enough that I would not be out of a job at that point.”

In addition to a forestry degree from the University of Southern Illinois, Gibbs brings a wide range of on-the-job experience to his new position, from working as a tree planter on a reforestation crew to leading logging operations to dealing with regulatory issues. He said he’ll work with Starker Forests staff to see if there are improvements that can be made in the way the company is run, but he’s not coming in with any idea of shaking things up.

“I don’t have expectations for change. This is the gold standard for how a family business is run in this state,” he said. “What’s absolutely not going to change is the Starker family’s involvement in the company and the community.”

For his part, Bond Starker said he expects to spend the next year or so working alongside Gibbs to impart some of the knowledge and insights he’s gained from a lifetime of working in the family business. At the same time, he will gradually turn over more and more control of the company until Gibbs is running the whole show under the board’s supervision.

“I have to figure out how to be helpful without being intrusive,” Starker said. “I’m trying to be there as needed but, after we get through that transition period, not meddle.”

With new home starts continuing to recover from the sharp downturn of a decade ago, Gibbs said Starker Forests is well-positioned for the future. And while he is open to new ways of doing things, he doesn’t see any pressing reason to change the way the company has been managed for three generations.

“It’s a long-term investment, a long-term commitment to the future,” Gibbs said.

“I think foresters have an innate ability to look to the future and not get caught up in the moment. And I think this company is all about thinking long term and using its past to guide those decisions.”

 

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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