Seeing the Forest
“My grandfather founded Longview Fibre Co., and my father was the second CEO,” said Richard H. Wollenberg JD’78, who spent his early years working summers at the plant. “I pursued other interests and initially did not plan to work for the company. Later, after practicing law for 10 years, I started on the legal side and slowly moved into other areas of the business.”
Wollenberg grew up in Longview, Wash., where the family mill first opened its doors for business in 1927. The company was founded on the utilization of waste wood, which marked the beginnings of a new era in paper production on the West Coast. In 1940, the company began acquiring timberlands and eventually owned 589,000 acres in Washington and Oregon.
Following high school, Wollenberg studied engineering and math at Harvey Mudd College for one year before transferring to Reed College. “I’m not sure why I eventually majored in philosophy,” Wollenberg said. “I still took a lot of math classes; I just didn’t want to go through college strictly focused on science.”
During his senior year, Wollenberg took a constitutional law class that piqued his interest in a career in law. Following graduation from Reed, he enrolled in Willamette University College of Law. “I didn’t have a specific career direction in mind when I came to Willamette,” he said. “My hope was to gain usable skills for the future.”
Wollenberg earned his law degree in 1978 and immediately was hired by WUCL alumnus William G. Royce BA’69, JD’72 to work in his private law practice in Sitka, Alaska, near Juneau. “When the firm split in 1981, I went with Royce to his new firm,” said Wollenberg, who was made a partner in Royce Wollenberg and Friedman in 1983. He went on to run his own general practice firm from 1985 to 1988.
“In 1988, I had the opportunity to come back to the ‘Lower 48’ and work for Longview Fibre Co. in a legal capacity,” said Wollenberg, who joined the company as associate general counsel. “It was a big transition from general practice. There was a lot to learn that was specific to business law — antitrust law and environmental law, as well as putting together purchasing documents and large real estate transactions and exchanges in timberland.”
From 1993 to 2000, Wollenberg worked his way up from production manager to senior vice president of the Western container division to executive vice president. “I really had to learn about the broader business issues,” he said. “But I had received a good education from Reed College and Willamette University, so I was not afraid to read, ask questions and learn what
was needed to make a difference.”
In 2001, he became the third generation Wollenberg to preside over the company, overseeing all company operations, including manufacturing, sales, timberlands and administrative functions. “My father provided a strong moral and ethical base for me and the company and added value for shareholders over many years,” he said. “Under my leadership, we improved productivity, reduced waste and energy usage, increased recycling, and reduced days of inventory and working capital. We also continued to manage our timberlands in a sustainable and responsible manner.”
In 2007, in a move he said was driven by his fiduciary duty to shareholders, he sold Longview to Brookfield Asset Management Inc., which purchased the company in a transaction valued at $2.15 billion. “In light of the current economic downturn, the timing of the sale was particularly good for shareholders,” he said.
Since retiring, Wollenberg has kept busy serving on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations. “Semi-retirement was a big transition for me,” said Wollenberg, a Reed College trustee and former member of Willamette’s Law Board of Visitors. “I support the goals that Dean Symeonides has for the law school and was pleased to provide support for the college’s new Oregon Civic Justice Center.
“It has been important to me to stay connected to Willamette because of the good education I received from the school. Education is so important for our society.”