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On the Job: John Rajala ’88

Oct 02, 2023   |   by Theresa D'Orsi   |   Dartmouth Engineer

Forest Manager

Five generations of Rajalas have crafted wood products from the forests of northern Minnesota. As the current owner of the family forest products business, he takes the long view in managing its 10,000 acres of timberland for future generations.

John Rajala
John Rajala ’88

What influences your management style?

I was involved in and exposed to our family business at my first steps. I worked there as a teen and through college. I majored in engineering and economics at Dartmouth, which was as valuable to me as a more traditional engineering path is to most. Then, I worked for two years in Andersen Consulting’s (now Accenture) manufacturing productivity consulting practice. Those experiences helped us build a business in which what’s good for our bottom line is good for the environment and our communities: A whopping 30 percent of our revenue is invested in ecological forest restoration. Most of the rest goes into sustaining the jobs of the families who provide us their time and talents.

"The climate we share globally is under stress. Our company, my family, and I do not look the other way."

—John Rajala ’88

When did you return to the woods?

At age 24 it was time for me to return to the family business in force. Since then, I’ve done just about everything: forestry, sales, marketing, manufacturing, human resources, maintenance, major projects. My father, mentor, and partner died in 2016, and I took the opportunity to fully embrace the part of the business that was his baby—our forestry.

Based on his work and now mine, I consider us the most vertically integrated sizable forest products company in the world. We manage forests in a manner that mimics natural disturbances—wind, drought, insects, disease—on our 10,000 acres of timberland. These disturbances, along with frequent actual natural disturbances, result in natural regeneration of more than 20 native species of trees. We then intensively tend these forests using ecological silviculture methods to promote changing climate mitigation and adaptation, health, and productivity.

What’s on your horizon?

Our business plan looks out 500-plus years. The rural extreme north United States communities in which we live and work are under stress. The climate we share globally is under stress. Our company, my family, and I do not look the other way: We think globally and act locally when it comes to our culture and our climate.

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