Shannon Fuchs (Mill Manager)
Mill Manager - Idaho Forest Group Grangeville, Idaho
Shannon Fuchs may be relatively new to the forest industry but not to Idaho. Her love for the Gem State — where she was born and led a “storybook” childhood on the Nezperce family farm — provided the motivation for this University of Idaho chemical engineering grad and MBA to leave behind a 15-year career of working for Chevron in Utah’s oil industry, move home and join Idaho Forest Group (IFG) in 2006. She now manages the IFG state-of-the-art mill in Grangeville, overseeing a staff of 150 workers whose combined efforts manufacture 180-240 MM (million) board feet of wood products annually.
The Grangeville facility, one of four owned by IFG, specializes in 2 x 4 and 2 X 6 products
as well as boards and lamstock . “We were thinking about moving back home for a better
pace/quality of life and starting a family,” Shannon explains. “I stopped by and visited the folks
regarding an opening, just to see the possibilities. Several discussions over a seven-month period
led to the decision to go for it.“
And, go for it she has. Since then, she and husband Patrick have become parents twice, and Shannon has progressed at IFG from mill safety/ environmental specialist to manager. Always a high-achiever (1986 Nezperce High School valedictorian, fair queen, busy 4-H’er, multi-sport athlete, etc.), Shannon has embraced the mill and its people with a deep sense of responsibility for its success and for the staff’s safety.
“My number 1 priority is safety,” she says, “sending all of our employees home to their families each day in the condition they arrived and working to instill a culture where folks think of safety not in terms of something they ‘have to do’ but rather something they want to do because their getting hurt will impact them, their families and their life.” Shannon’s typical work schedule begins at home. Before getting her children up to start their day, she uses home technology (smart phone and computer) to check progress of overnight shifts, the previous day’s shipments and any other key details.
Once at the mill, she checks on current shifts and other daily priorities. She then divides her time among a number of items, including safety, environmental, training and revenue and cost control. She also tries to spend as much time in the field as possible. During evenings, the home technology helps her keep track of what’s happening at the mill.
Shannon oversees an operation where technology has replaced “manhandling” of the past. “People define and set parameters for operations,” she explains, “Then optimizers take over and compute optimum solutions for each log.“
According to the IFG web site, digital equipment scans each log before cutting, thus allowing them “to consistently and efficiently produce high-quality lumber and maximize the fiber utilization of every log, providing the best value for the customers.”
Her engineering background and prior professional experience, including several leadership
positions in the oil industry’s manufacturing sector, have provided invaluable preparation for
Shannon’s management position in the forest industry. She sees parallels. “Both are manufacturing industries,” she says, “so they’re very similar in many, many ways.
Applying the principles of safety and doing it right works across the board. If you get this attitude going, production and all of the other important stuff follows.” And, for Shannon as mill manager, that includes being safe and reliable, meeting production goals and doing it at the lowest sustainable cost.
In a mill environment where computer knowledge, troubleshooting skills, planning, analyzing and proactive approaches are essential, Shannon’s team focuses on training and cross-training skills. “It’s very rewarding and exciting,” she says. “Every day is different, but in the end, it’s all about the people and getting us all helping each other.” She views this most recent assignment as part of an ongoing professional journey.
“Ultimately, I enjoyed working for Chevron thoroughly,” she says. “They gave me many, many opportunities for growth. It came down to a decision of transferring to another location (domestic or international) to continue my growth/development or embarking on a new journey with a shift in ‘life priorities.’ I chose the latter.“
The career switch has been a perfect fit for Shannon and her family. Her children can grow up in a rural area, close to extended family, while she fulfills her professional goals in the forest industry.
“I love it,” she says. “I love the manufacturing, working with people and just watching us progress and get better and better.“
Want to know more?
º Overview of the lumber supplier along with information about its four mills in Chilco, Grangeville, Laclede and Moyie Springs.
º See a video about the sawmill Shannon manages.
º University of Idaho’s Junior Engineering Math and Science Program (JEMS)-designed for students to attend during the summer between their junior and senior year of High School.
º University of Idaho College of Engineering
º University of Idaho Women in Engineering Day one-day workshop. A one-day workshop for female high school students, grades 10-12, designed to introduce students to career options in engineering and computer science.
º U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Information