Ross Whipple manages more than 120,000 acres of Arkansas timberland as chairman of the Ross Foundation and president of Horizon Timber Services Inc. He is CEO of Horizon Capital Management LLC, a director at Bank of the Ozarks and a member of the Henderson State University board of trustees.
Whipple grew up in Malvern and lives in Arkadelphia. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Henderson State University at Arkadelphia in 1973, and an MBA from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1976.
The Ross Foundation helps fund the Arkadelphia Promise, providing college scholarships and other resources for all graduating seniors at Arkadelphia High School.
Your family has roots in timber. Could you give an overview of that legacy?
Most people believe that I am a multigenerational landowner. However, I am actually a first-generation landowner in my family.
Jane Ross, my third cousin, was a third-generation timberland owner as her grandfather had acquired tracts of land over time. She approached me when I was a senior in high school, suggesting that I attend Henderson State University and work with her to see if the timber business had any appeal to me. Her mother passed away in 1967, and the Ross Foundation was formed primarily with land and timber from her estate. Having no children of her own, Jane was looking for someone to help take care of the foundation lands and personal assets.
While the work at times was challenging, it offered many opportunities. We worked together until her death in 1999. The Ross Foundation today owns approximately 62,000 acres, while my family’s ownership has grown to approximately 68,000 acres.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of an economic development coup is the Sun Paper project for Arkadelphia, Clark County and south Arkansas?
If the $1.4 billion project comes to fruition, and I believe it will, it is a 10. The plant will employ approximately 250 people and require 400 loads of wood per day to operate, which should add another 250 jobs, plus the ancillary jobs and growth that naturally occur with that type of stimulus.
Much of your career has been devoted to banking. What occupies your time these days?
I still stay pretty busy. I have been told we now operate a family office, with 14 employees, primarily managing the assets of our family. Land and timber is the single largest asset, but we have a number of other investments in both public and private companies. I am currently still involved in banking through my affiliation with Bank of the Ozarks.
You’ve devoted a lot of your time to education. Why is that important to you?
You can take away a person’s material and monetary assets, but you can’t take away someone’s education. An education teaches you to think and expand your mind, which I believe becomes the essence of development, expansion and efficiency within our society.
What’s the best advice you ever received regarding timber or agriculture?
Never be afraid to invest monies back into the management of your lands. You cannot harvest what you don’t grow or cannot get to. Therefore, good road networks are vital, as is keeping up with the latest technological advances for reforestation and strict management practices.
Mistakes are said to deliver some of the most meaningful lessons. What was your most important nonbanking mistake?
Not building a sawmill at age 35, but it could happen yet.
Who are your mentors, people who made a difference in your life?
The mentor who stands clearly above any other would be Jane Ross. When I returned to Arkadelphia in January 1976 to work in the timber business, I did not own an acre. Jane’s management style coupled with my financial education and entrepreneurial spirit greatly influenced my land ownership today.
Will a 20-30 percent tariff on Canadian softwood rally the American timber market?
It should stabilize and give the markets some forward momentum. We need not forget that we are in a global economy. If the Canadians don’t export to the United States, they may export to China, which would lessen our ability to export to China. We are a long way from equilibrium from a supply/demand equation. The supply of wood and fiber far exceeds demand, so the landowner should not expect sharp increases in stumpage prices until final demand accelerates.