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Pallet Salute: Gordon Hughes – A Friend to Everybody in the Pallet Industry
After over 38 years, Gordon Hughes is stepping down as the leader and voice of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association.
By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 9/1/2009
Few people have made a mark on the pallet industry that matches that made by Gordon Hughes. So, when it was announced in June that he would no longer be the leader and voice of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association, it came as a shock to many of us. Gordon has been connected to the CWPCA/ACMPC for so long that the two are synonymous. It is with both pride and sadness that I write this salute to my Canadian friend.
Gordon was one of the first members of the Canadian pallet industry I had the pleasure of meeting. Ever since we met in 1977, our professional relationship and personal friendship has grown deeper each year. Conversations with literally thousands of pallet people over the years have led me to believe that Gordon is respected and endeared throughout the industry, from Canada throughout the United States, and worldwide.
The Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association (CWPCA/ACMPC) held its first meeting in 1967; a group of eight Canadian pallet manufacturers traveled to Ottawa to assist the grocery manufacturers association in developing a wooden pallet for a grocery pool. In 1968, the CWPCA/ACMPC was officially commissioned to take a leadership role in the Canadian pallet industry.
Howard Gribble, who worked for the Confederation of Forest Industries of BC, was hired to organize the young CWPCA/ACMPC. Gordon knew Howard because Howard was a printing customer of Gordon’s. It did not surprise me to learn that Gordon was a salesman in his early career, representing both Inland Mfr. and 3M. Gordon won a number of sales awards during his early career. Howard called Gordon one Friday afternoon because he needed immediate service, something for which Gordon has become widely recognized. As Gordon served Howard, the two kept in touch and developed a strong mutual respect. Gordon asked Howard to let him know if for any reason he was no longer going to handle his pallet association responsibilities. After just 18 months Howard was permanently transferred to England with COFI and could no longer lead the CWPCA/ACMPC.
In November, 1970 the CWPCA/ACMPC approached Gordon, who took over its leadership on February 12, 1971 when he was 25 years old. Gordon was hired by Bill Thomlinson of Sawyer Stoll, George Jackson of Iroquois Enterprises, and Maple Nelson of Nelson Manufacturing. These three men are known for their pioneering efforts in the Canadian wood pallet industry.
Many readers may recall that Gordon accomplished everything he did for the industry while working full time with the Scarbrough Fire Department, which ironically gave Gordon even more time to work on building the association. He joined the fire department exactly one year after taking over the CWPCA/ACMPC leadership role (Feb. 12, 1972). Gordon ascended through the ranks and eventually ended his fire fighting career as a district chief, taking early retirement in August, 2004.
Under Gordon’s leadership, the CWPCA/ACMPC grew from 24 members (19 manufacturers and 5 associates) to almost 300 members by 2006. Early industry suppliers who supported Gordon and his young organization included Jack Thornton of Woodthorn, Alex Campbell of Campbell Atlantic, Morgan Nailing Machines, FMC Nailing, and Doig Nailers. The only one of this group that is still around is Alex’s son Sandy Campbell, who represents GBN Manufacturing and has known Gordon even longer than I have. So, I called Sandy for his comments. The things he had to say were almost mirror images of the notes that I had already made.
Sandy said, “I have so much good to say about Gordon that I could talk all day. He was a hands-on person, not afraid to dig into anything he was asked to tackle. He didn’t stop at the surface. He would dig in to get to the truth of an issue, to get the true information.
“Gordon always had the industry at heart. He was not just looking out for himself. He wanted to improve the industry, not just himself. I can truly say that there is so much good to say. With Gordon there was no bad.”
Thanks Sandy. I couldn’t have said it any better.
Gordon has a lot of drive and he applied it for almost 38 years in our industry. He is a forward thinker who thinks far beyond serving only his members. Gordon knew that by serving all he set a tone that benefited both his members and his beloved pallet industry.
Gordon thinks globally. Nobody in the pallet industry has been any more responsible for working to pull together the pallet industry around the world. Gordon worked with Eric Skelding, who represented the European pallet association, to found the Interpal-World Pallet Congress international pallet meetings. He later worked with Eric’s son Allin Skelding and John Healy of the NWPCA to found the World Pallet Council, a group of pallet organizations that meets to discuss international issues and coordinate the industry globally.
He must have led close to a dozen international pallet industry tours that included valuable plant visits in Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, and Spain. I have had the pleasure of enjoying a number of these trips to see the industry in other parts of the world. Touring with friends within our industry has been very rewarding over the years.
CWPCA/ACMPC member Canadian pallet companies have also enjoyed the privilege of touring like companies of their U.S. counterparts. More years than not a bus load of Canadians has visited U.S. pallet companies; some have probably toured more U.S. companies than just about anybody in the U.S. has toured. States they have visited include North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, California, Wisconsin, and Washington. Most of these U.S. trips included five or six plant visits.
Virtually all of the change seen in the CWPCA/ACMPC has occurred under Gordon’s leadership because he has been there throughout its history. Gordon said, “I have seen the industry go from one in which people could make good money to one where profits are very thin. When I started working with pallet people in the early 70s, a number of members owned and flew their own planes. I have seen this trend move from planes to boats and now to SUVs.”
When asked if he dared single out a few of his friends to recognize them for their unique leadership contributions, Gordon said, “Some of those that stand out to me include Bill Thomlinson, George Jackson, Maple Nelson, Monte Oaks, Ken Beverley, and Brian Butler.”
Gordon was the right person at the right time to take the leadership in Canada’s pallet industry. He understands the industry and its entrepreneurial leadership style. Many of Canada’s successful pallet companies were founded by former truck drivers who had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to make more money.
Gordon knew what they wanted to hear and provided that at the association’s meetings. I can honestly say that many of the CWPCA/ACMPC meetings I have attended have been among the very best pallet meetings ever held. He had a limited budget and knew how to develop programs that spoke to his members. I am pleased to have been counted among the industry speakers, including Dr. Mark White, Clarence Leising, Stewart Richardson, and David Luton, who have appeared on many CWPCA/ACMPC programs. Many of the speakers who frequented the CWPCA/ACMPC roster were the most knowledgeable people in the industry and some of the best speakers, and Gordon always had his finger on the industry’s pulse.
We have seen more changes in this decade than ever before in our industry, and Gordon has had a hand in most of them.
When the phytosanitary issue surfaced, Gordon again led the charge and represented the global wood packaging industry at a United Nations – IPPC meeting in June of 2000. He pushed the CWPCA/ACMPC to become involved with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – Forestry Division (CFIA) and was one of the leaders who helped write Canada’s IPPC-ISPM No. 15 policy directives for this important development.
Gordon led the Canadian wood packaging industry through the EU Measures through to working directly with the CFIA as they took control of the new IPPC-ISPM No. 15 directive and its program inspection.
In 2006, the CWPCA/ACMPC, under Gordon’s leadership, became the administering organization of the Canadian phytosanitary packaging program through the Canadian Wood Packaging Certification Program. This program essentially handles the same responsibilities that the ALSC handles in the U.S. The government program is owned by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – Forestry Division. Gordon and his staff oversaw the program, reviewed the manuals, etc. Gordon worked to use his experience to lead many people through the landmines they had to face to successfully navigate the new phytosanitary issues.
Gordon has always been able to rely upon his many global contacts and vast well of experience to help people and answer questions. The number of people who owe Gordon a debt of gratitude for all of his free advice and helping hand is too large to even imagine.
Like many of his constituents, Gordon and his family were immersed in pallets. He married his wife Barbara on Oct.14, 1967 before his days with the CWPCA/ACMPC. They have two sons, Jeffrey and Blake, and four grandchildren (three boys and one girl).
Interpal II in Ottawa in 1988 was one of the highlights of Gordon’s days with the CWPCA/ACMPC. All four family members, along with his in-laws, helped with registration and putting together the machinery show that accompanied the meeting. The associates put their trust in Gordon and made the commitment to bring their machinery. That show still stands out to me as the best our industry has ever experienced. People think of the Richmond Expo every two years, which reaches out beyond the pallet industry. But for a pure pallet show, the Ottawa Interpal still stands out. It was a big turning point for Gordon and encouraged him to become more involved in international pallet events. Almost 600 people from 28 countries attended. I can still remember when all 28 flags were marched through the hall, a real highlight in the history of our industry.
Gord, as Barbara calls him, will be missed by all who know and love him. I hope I have the opportunity to attend many future pallet industry events, and that I see Gord’s smiling face there.
To get in touch with Gordon Hughes at Wood Packaging Solutions, call 705-887-9631, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.