This year marks a historic landmark in the history of NHG Timber. It was 40 years ago that Nick Goodwin returned from working in West Africa to start a new venture, setting up his own Hardwood Agency, to supply clients based in the UK market. This seems an opportune time to reflect on what has passed in those 40 years and some of the changes that both the industry and ourselves at NHG have experienced.

In November 1981, NHG was working with a handful of suppliers that Nick had established connections with during his time working in the trade in West Africa. Cavalla Timber, Tropical Timber and Holz Impex were the three main suppliers from this region while Feldmeyer in Europe and SG International in the US represented our initial forays into European and North American hardwoods. In the UK, our early client based consisted of names such as Glenmere, Lathams, Smee, Boddy, Atkins and Cripps, Afro Timber, Lesty Hardwoods, Hahn, Howards, Mallinsons and Morgans Mahogany.

It is sad to note that only a few of these names still exist today. Those that do, are notably family owned businesses, passed from generation to generation, a theme that we ourselves take great pride in having achieved. The values of working in a family business are very often the foundation for their success, in particular in the timber sector, where relationships between buyer and supplier are so critical.

In a recent conversation with Nick, the question was asked about what the most significant changes during his career were and how they have impacted on how we trade today. Communication was at the top of his list. He recalled how in the early days, he used to rely on sending a telex from an exchange in whichever part of Africa he happened to be in. These had to be sent in a secret code as operators in the exchange were privy to the content. It would take several days for the messages to reach their destination, let alone for a response to be received. In an era where an instantaneous WhatsApp message can relay information, or even confirm orders, it is hard to imagine a time where negotiations could take weeks, purely down to time lags between sending and receiving communication. Modern technology has allowed us to access markets around the globe and expand our reach in a way that was inconceivable 40 years ago. Travel was also high on his list of fundamental changes.

Nowadays, the relative ease and comfort of travel, allows us to visit our suppliers and clients with regularity, although it should be noted that trips to Africa, and indeed other supply regions we operate in, are in many cases just as arduous and occasionally more so than they were in the early days of NHG. Poignantly, environment legislation was the other most important change he saw during his time in the industry. Concern about climate change started to become apparent in the late 1980’s and gradual reforms in forestry and legislation began gathering pace through the 90’s and early 2000’s. The  introduction of the Lacey Act in the USA and EUTR in Europe were significant milestones in the trade and added a new dimension to the role that NHG plays in the market. Due diligence became a fundamental part of our role and is now as much a part of our trading as buying and selling timber.

Just as important as the changes that occurred over the last 40 years are those that haven’t changed at all. Nick’s first employee at NHG Timber was Julian de Wilton who started in a shipping and admin capacity in 1983. As I write, Julian is still with us, performing very much the same role as he did when he started. Our staff are as important to us now as they were in the beginning and the longevity of service of all our team is something we take great pride in. Whether it be our staff, our stakeholders or our buyers and suppliers, establishing long term partnerships is very much at the core of our business. Our association with some of the finest shippers around the globe has been the key to our success, none more so than with Vicwood Thanry with whom we have traded for over 30 years. We live in an ever changing world where adapting to change and overcoming challenges is critical. Our latest challenge has been a global pandemic and as I conclude this article I would like to wish all of you good health and a long and successful future.