After taking an unexpected opportunity to start their business Lumberjack Logging in 2015, Erika Herries and her husband Dan haven’t looked back.
Based in Gisborne / East Coast, they run one crew with a 70ft tower hauler and employ eight staff.
Erika runs the office, taking care of payroll, creditors, IRD obligations, and is the general run around for errands and smoko deliveries, with the crew nearly 1.5 hours away. She also looks after Health and Safety, working closely with their expert and visiting the crew for Health and Safety meetings.
The couple originally relocated to Gisborne from the Hawkes Bay in 2012 so that Dan could spend more time with their young family.
“He went from being an Operations Manager of a Super Skid running four crews and 40 staff in Mangataniwha, Northern Hawkes Bay, to being a Harvest Supervisor in Gisborne,” she says.
“But he found that the corporate side wasn't for him, so ended up working as a Foreman and Faller for one of the crews he used to supervise.”
When the crew was stopped for a few days because of breakdown, their neighbour Tapu Dixon (Blackstump Logging) suggested that Dan head up to their job to do some falling.
“Dan enjoyed working there for a couple of days, and at the end, the owner Wayne McEwan told him that he should be contract falling because he was very good, fast and would be just the guy to fill the gap in Gisborne,” she says.
“Next thing I know, Ange (friend and Women in Forestry member) sent me policies and procedures, and we had our first contractor to cut for!”
Erika says they didn't stop after that and ended up contract falling for two years.
“In that time, we were cutting all the tonnage for five hauler crews and had two employees,” she says.
“Then an opportunity came up for us to start a harvesting crew in partnership with our first falling contractor. We jumped in and haven't looked back.”
Erika says it’s hard to pick the best thing about her job.
“I get to work with my husband, have flexibility to do more with the kids than a regular 9-5 job, we work in a great industry, and have made some great friends,” she says.
“It’s also awesome watching the gear work and seeing the guys really enjoy what they do.”
But it’s not always easy.
“It’s also a challenge working with my husband!” she adds.
“The challenges have been varied, from splitting from our partnership and carrying on alone, to retaining good workers, trying to keep everyone safe at work and encouraging a good culture at home.”
“The last few months have been particularly hard with the price drop and the Gisborne Port issues at the same time.”
Erika says being a part of Women in Forestry has helped her to meet other ladies, who are in the same boat as her.
“Sometimes you feel like you are all alone in what you do and the weight upon your shoulders,” she says.
“Being able to discuss things that men often don't like to discuss has been really valuable. It’s also great to come together and realise how important we are to our businesses.”
Her advice to other women is to reach out to others like you in the industry.
“Talk to as many contractors’ wives as you can so you understand what you will be doing. Admit your limits in what you can and can't do and then be prepared to ask for help with the things you can't do,” she says.
“Be prepared to share your husband’s stresses and worries and support him while inwardly stressing yourself! That's why it's really important to have friends in the industry – they are the ones that will help you through the times that are tough.”
Keeping positive, finding some balance and making time are also important.
“Go up to the job as often as you can and enjoy seeing it all working. Make time to spend with your husband or partner outside of work, it's really important for both of you and your mental wellbeing.”
As well as business owners, Erika encourages those female workers out there to dive in with the right attitude.
“Go in there with a sense of humour, open mind and ready to do a good days work. Guys are quite protective and proud of women in their crews, so don't feel like you'll be an outsider,” she says.
“It's great to see more women in Forestry roles, right from Engineering to Skid Workers, it is really a bit of ‘girls can do anything!’".