This month, it is the turn of FSA Operations Manager Francois Oberholzer to stand in the spotlight as we introduce the team who shape our organisation.
Francois Oberholzer – FSA Operations Manager
Like most youngsters growing up in South Africa, Francois childhood dream was to work in the Kruger National Park, unlike most he got to live that dream for two years. During this time, he realised ‘Park life’ was not for him and a career that combined nature with commerce was where he wanted to be heading and forestry was the perfect fit. The opportunity of a forestry bursary removed the hurdle of not being able to finance university and set Francois off on a career journey that rapidly became a dream job.
“There are many reasons why I love working in forestry” Francois explains, “Firstly, the people. Everyone I know chose to study forestry because they were passionate about nature and want to work in an industry that allows conservation and commerce to co-exist. They are solid, down-to-earth people, who are a pleasure to work and socialise with. Then of course there are the open spaces, the forestry landscape affords South Africans with so many recreational opportunities and this is something few people outside the industry realise, which is a pity.”
The renewable nature of forestry also attracted Francois to the industry, “I feel proud to be involved in an industry that produces a renewable product, especially one which has such a diverse array of end-uses. Forestry’s potential, both in terms of its applications and the sustainable nature of it, makes it a fantastic industry to be involved in.” In his various roles within the industry, Francois has had the opportunity to travel the globe, appreciating forestry in a multitude of settings, “The fact there is forestry being conducted in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia means the world really is your oyster, your career can go in any direction if you are committed to it. What’s more, wherever I have travelled, while the landscapes change the good nature of forestry people remains constant. So, I guess the reason I love forestry can be best summarised by three-P’s the people, the places and the product – all of which are exceptional!”
During his 19 year career in the industry, Francois has notched up a list of accomplishments, most notably the field of Load Accreditation. “As an industry, overloading was an issue for many years. Andre Crickmay and Paul Nordengen came to me while I still worked for FESA and suggested the idea of load accreditation. While we experienced push-back from certain corners, we were backed by several companies and the Department of Trade and Industry. With their support the Load Accreditation Programme was born, it has now become the RTMS self-regulation scheme which is nationally accepted. We have seen dramatic drops in overloading from 20% to 1% with the implementation of the programme,” Francois says with a grin. Another feather in Francois’ cap, is the 320 plus Performance-Based Standard (PBD) vehicles currently operating across the industry. The idea was taken from Australia and required Francois to orchestrate a field trip with industry members, scientists and the National Department of Transport (NDOT). Following the visit a pilot project between Sappi and Timber24 was given the go-ahead by NDOT and the rest is history, “it is fair to say the project is saving our economy hundreds of millions of Rands and has reduced accident rates, making it something I am immensely proud to have been a part of,” Francois explains.
With a career that has provided opportunities for international travel, to work with the best minds in the business and perhaps most importantly to be outdoors, are there any challenges between the positives?
“Yes!” Francois exclaims, with a wry smile. “The industry and personalities are as diverse as the end-products, so reaching consensus now that I work for an umbrella organisation for the Sector can at times be challenging, especially when the issues are sensitive. However, in the greater scheme of things the positives far outweigh the challenges and if anything, the challenges make you work that bit harder and grow as an individual.”
So, what next? “I love my role at FSA, I thrive on helping others and this career offers me the opportunity to do that. My aspirations? I would like to be involved with more projects like RTMS or PBS, which have clear and definable benefits for the industry. I see a huge amount of value in these, whether it be in terms of improving competitiveness or workplace safety. This is where I would like to see my role in FSA expanding.”
When asked whether he would ever consider a change of scene, Francois is quick to shake his head, “I am constantly blown away by the commitment of the people in this Sector to improve our Industry. The willingness of forestry people to serve on committees and working groups that create change. It is a community I feel immensely proud to be part of. Then there are the natural areas found within the forestry landscape, I feel extremely fortunate to have an indoors and outdoors office. To be able to witness the hidden gems of the forestry landscape, the waterfalls, bushbuck, birdsong and fresh air. It is not something I would be willing to give up easily!”
Francois enthusiasm for an industry he so clearly loves is contagious, so what would he say to someone looking to enter the industry?
“Find your strengths, do you like working in a team or alone, are you a figures person or someone who loves getting dirty, a leader of follower, a corporate beast or entrepreneur. Generally, in forestry there is a position and place for everyone, you just need to be true to yourself and find your niche. Once you have found it, do not hold back. Get stuck in and give 110%, the more you give to this industry the more I have found you get back and it truly is an incredible industry to be part of.”.