‘A positive effect’
It was serendipitous that William Van Devender happened upon the bi-annual Timberland Investment Conference, hosted by the Langdale Center for Forest Business. The chance encounter merged two portions of Van Devender’s life that had always been separate, and changed the course of his professional career.
Working as an investment analyst in Atlanta, Van Devender had thought his days working with his family’s timber business were behind him. The business, Claw Forestry, owns and manages timberland across the Southeast, as well as two limber mills in Mississippi.
When Van Devender got his undergraduate degree in business, he says, he just assumed he’d moved into a new sector. Until he happened upon the conference.
“I attended the conference and met Bob Izlar,” says Van Devender. Through Izlar, director of the Langdale Center for Forest Business, Van Devender learned about the master in forest business program. It was the perfect pairing, so to speak.
“I really did not think I would necessarily get into timberland, but I went to that conference and the understanding that there is a lot of analytics and analytical thinking involved in timberland drew me to the field,” he says. Until then, he had a different view of timberland management: Trees grow and get harvested, period. But the more he learned, the more he was drawn to it. “I had the business side, so (the degree) really helped me marry my financial skills with the timberland business. It helped me apply my financial skills to timberland.”
In the years since graduating, Van Devender says he continues to enjoy the challenges that the field presents. He also hopes he’s able to add a new dimension to the family business—although he remains modest about his influence.
“I hope I’ve had a positive effect,” he says. “Since I’ve graduated, I’ve been involved with several large acquisitions, managing day-to-day operations, developed budgets and in general just worked to manage our business for long-term success.”