• Keith Ainslie is sales manager at James Jones & Sons.
• His first job in the timber industry was with Taylor Maxwell.
• He is vice-president of the London Softwood Club.
• He is a keen runner and has also held a pilot’s licence.

The new vice-president of the London Softwood Club, Keith Ainslie, arrives for this interview half an hour early. He’s been up since the crack of dawn, has just driven 60 miles to be here and looks as fresh as a daisy. It emerges later that he is a runner, a pilot, and an active leader in the Scout movement – as well as sales manager with James Jones & Sons Ltd. Clearly he’s energetic.

Keith Ainslie has been in timber since 1986 – virtually all of his working life. This doesn’t seem very surprising when you learn that he was born and raised in Larbert in Stirlingshire, home of British timber supplier James Jones & Sons Ltd. But in fact it wasn’t until January 2009 that Keith joined that company.

Maths and computing

Early choices for Keith – who enjoyed maths at school – didn’t particularly indicate a career in the timber trade. He chose to do a degree in maths and computing at Glasgow University and, despite successfully graduating in 1984, he had no ambition to go into IT.

“My time at uni was sufficient to put me off computers for life,” he said. “It’s hard to believe now, but 25 years ago computers were huge machines and programs had to be punched laboriously on to individual paper cards. Not my kind of thing!”

Keith funded his way through university by taking labouring jobs and he speaks warmly of the colourful people he met.

“Fabulous characters,” he enthused. “I probably work-ed with the last of the original Irish labourers. It taught me a lot about working hard and being part of a team.”

Timber career

Keith graduated straight into the teeth of a recession. Jobs were hard to get and he had to return to labouring. This soon developed into “a bit of estimating” and “a bit of timber buying” and eventually to a job as a salesman with British timber agent Taylor Maxwell of Bridge of Allan. It was a job that was to last nine happy and formative years for Keith.

“I started with Taylor Maxwell at 23 and stayed till I was 32,” he said. “I got my first car from them – a sparkling new Fiesta 1100 – and my enthusiasm for selling. Through an inspirational man called Peter Emery I realised selling was a people business – and that’s what I wanted to do. I also met and married my wife Ann during that time; and we started our family who are now 21, 18 and 16 years old.”

“At the time I was buying from some 44 sawmills, doing business and building relationships up and down the country,” he said. “Today it’s still about relationships, but consolidation and closures have given us about four major industry players.”

It was one of those major players who provided Keith Ainslie with his next job, as sales manager with Howie Forest Products. Keith stayed with Howie for a successful 14 years, ending up as sales director.

Personal milestones

There were a few personal milestones for Keith too, during this time. Firstly, he turned 40 and, he said, “forestalled my mid-life crisis by gaining a pilot’s licence for single engine planes”. He let this lapse after five years – but only because of pressures of time.

The second milestone was taking up running, which he did to keep fit, as his job became more sedentary. Keith really enjoys running, competing in half marathons, but especially “through the fabulous Forestry Commission forests we have on our doorstep in south-west Scotland”.

Thirdly, Keith joined the London Softwood Club. An unusual choice for a Scottish timber producer surely? “Not at all,” he said. “It’s an excellent networking organisation for all the timber industry, which provides great social and educational opportunities. And an amazing summer barbecue!”

When it was time to move on from Howie in 2009, Keith chose to join the sales team at James Jones & Sons Ltd. Asked what attracted him to James Jones, his answer is unequivocal.

“The people, definitely the people; that and the phenomenal ethos of quality throughout the com-pany, from log harvesting right through to how the product is wrapped – and the way that everyone buys into that quality ethos.”

Keith’s move to James Jones coincided with the run-up to the company’s launch of its £22m sawmill at Lockerbie, which went live successfully last autumn. Keith has been heavily involved in developing sales procedures and customer bases in response to the increased range of products and rate of throughput from the new facility.

The future

Like the rest of us, he’s been doing business against the background of one of the toughest recessions of recent times. So how does he see things for the timber trade, both now and going forward?

“Since the collapse of demand in 2007 and plummeting prices, it’s been a real roller coaster ride,” he said. “The end of 2008 saw the flattest period for trade in 25 years and as we go into 2010 /11 it’s going to be very much about supply and stabilising prices at a level where everyone can make a margin.

“As an industry we’ve got to play to our environmental strengths,” he continued. “We can consolidate our market position, using vehicles such as Wood for Good’s Wood Co2ts Less campaign. Ideally I’d like to see British timber as a first choice material as we go forward into the next decade of the millennium.”