Continuing the legacy of Haliburton Forest
By Sue Tiffin
Published July 17, 2018
Malcolm Cockwell is quick to share credit with others for the ongoing successes of Haliburton Forest.
“We kind of run it as a team,” said Cockwell, managing director of the Forest. “There are a number of key individuals here who do a lot more work than I do to accomplish what we accomplish.”
Cockwell, a registered professional forester who took over the managing director position in December 2016 when Peter Schleifenbaum retired, said the Haliburton Forest team is one of the highlights of a dream job.
“Every day is a good day, it’s great, it’s a very rewarding place to be,” he said. “In terms of Haliburton Forest itself, it’s an amazing company. There’s no other that one can point to in the world that has what this has both in terms of the underlying assets of the land, the diversity of businesses and the amazing team I work with. The people here are just incredible. From the fellas at the mill that are operating equipment and sorting and grading lumber ... to the guys that are taking out canopy tours to the folks at the Wolf Centre looking after the wolves. It’s a pretty amazing group of people, it’s pretty hard to beat that.”
Cockwell, who moved to the area in late 2013, said much was considered in determining who would fill Schleifenbaum’s position as he stepped back.
“It definitely took time to earn Peter’s respect, that’s the biggest part, and a degree of confidence that this place would thrive,” Cockwell said. “[Peter] built such an incredible foundation here over the course of 30 years, and continues to be involved in terms of providing guidance. There had to be that level of confidence both in practical understanding of the land and also in terms of being able to work with the super-diverse team that we’ve got.”
Cockwell said he’s in touch constantly with Schleifenbaum on a daily basis, and the pair bring their families together for dinner on Wednesdays, sometimes talking for hours about forestry, society or Haliburton Forest.
“No individual can take over for Peter,” said Cockwell. “Peter is an absolutely incredible guy. I’ve never met anyone else in my life who is able to understand the big picture of the business today, understand the big picture of the business 100 years from now, and also be able to comprehend every part of the minutia of the organization. He’s an amazing individual. He can think big picture strategy today, tomorrow, 100 years from now and at the same time know exactly where he wants that big stone to be placed. That’s the type of guy he is.”
Cockwell acknowledged the Haliburton Forest team for being able to carry on the work that Schleifenbaum led for almost 30 years.
“For any individual to try to take over from him it would be exceptionally daunting, it would be impossible,” said Cockwell. “For an individual with an awesome team to try to take the company forward and to another level, it’s still daunting, but it’s definitely possible. And that’s what we’ve done. I’m one of probably six key people here.”
Cockwell said there haven’t been major changes since he’s taken on the role, but there has been more focus on certain items, including an assessment of the guests partaking of the tourism and recreation opportunities at the forest, and the expansion and improvement of forest management operations.
“That yielded really positive results,” he said. “We generated 37,000 tonnes of saw logs in 2017, compared to 25,000 tonnes the year before. That was very positive. Now, we’re really focusing at the mill, trying to make our mill one of the safest, cleanest and most efficient in central Ontario by 2020.”
Rather than changes since Schleifenbaum’s retirement, Cockwell said it’s been a matter of continuing to move forward.
“I think Haliburton Forest has a very bright future,” he said. “I think Haliburton County in general has a very bright future. There’s some really great initiatives going on here, on the tourism side, on the natural resources side. I think this region in general is a really positive, positive place to be in. I think people are just beginning to really realize that. This isn’t the poor man’s Muskoka. This is a really remarkable place that has its own character and its own benefits and it’s being recognized for that. People are coming and flocking to it for that reason.”
Haliburton Forest, like many tourism operators in the county, are seeing a broader client base coming to the region, according to Cockwell. On the forest product side, Cockwell said he and his colleagues are very lucky to benefit from what he said were “30 years of great management under Peter.” Recently the Forest hosted a a group of foresters from New Brunswick after Cockwell had seen their operations several months ago.
“Every piece of forest we took them to – they were here for three days and we probably saw 50 different recently harvested or soon to be harvested sites - and every single piece of the forest we took them to they said ‘holy smokes, this is a nice forest. This is a super healthy forest,’” he said. “Who’s responsible for that? Peter, to a very large extent as the forester that dreamed it up, the forestry staff that were operating under his guidance and the logging crews that were doing great forest management.”
“The Forest product division stands to benefit a lot from that wonderful history of sustainable forest management. At the same time, global demand for wood is increasing and global demand for sustainably harvested wood is very much increasing because people want to know where their product came from and want to know that it’s been produced and harvested and grown in a sustainable manner.”
The Haliburton Forest retail stores in Huntsville and Haliburton were closed in order to focus on production rather than retail, which Cockwell said was not an easy decision, and the Forest Festival concert returned last year after a hiatus, much to the delight of music fans.
“The fundamental nature of the company has not changed,” he said. “It’s still a private company, primarily Canadian-owned, owned by shareholders that have three priorities: earning our social licence, recognizing that we do have a duty to society to share our land and make it accessible to people; maintaining a land ethic, and that means treating the land well and with respect and in a sustainable manner; and then we are a for profit company. We are a business and we are trying to have a viable enterprise that is strong and stable in spite of changing global markets and all of that, so that we can provide...year-round jobs.”
Haliburton Forest currently employs about 60 full-time people.
Schleifenbaum said he and wife Elke, who continues to work for Haliburton Forest, still live in Haliburton but that he is travelling more. They spend six weeks every spring in Europe, where he has a forestry company and property, and they have just returned from a five-week trip to Central Africa.
“I am also involved with a NGO in Nicaragua, which helps small holder farmers plant trees on marginal land to reestablish natural forests,” he wrote in an email to the Echo. “Very exciting.”