March 13, 2023
Meet Our Members: Dan Semsak
Dan Semsak never thought he would be working in the wood products industry until a phone call in 1993 changed his career plans forever. Almost 30 years later, he is now the director of engineered wood products (EWP) for Murphy Company in Eugene, Oregon, and an active member of NAWLA, currently serving as the chairperson for the Leadership Summit Committee. Learn more about Dan, including his thoughts on how the industry has evolved over the years, the most surprising part of his career so far and his advice to members attending their first NAWLA event, in the spotlight below.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background and how did you get involved with the wood products industry?
Not in my wildest dreams growing up did I think I would be in the wood products industry. I studied business and Japanese at the University of Montana.
In 1993, got a call from a company based in Boring, Oregon, called Vanport International. I was asked to interview and soon after, I accepted a job exporting metric-sized lumber to Japan. After the Japanese housing market collapsed in 1997, I joined Willamette Industries in their sales department. In 2002, Willamette was sold and I moved back to Montana to join Plum Creek as the lumber sales manager selling pine boards and studs. EWP became my calling again in 2006 when I joined Pacific Woodtech and later Murphy Company in 2019, where I am currently the director of EWP.
What motivates you to continue on this career path and be a part of the wholesale lumber industry?
The relationships that develop are truly lasting and wonderful. I still have contact with people I had worked or competed with early in my career and I continue to make many friends in the industry. It remains a handshake business — mutual trust is often achieved as we are solving each other’s needs.
In what ways have you seen the lumber industry evolve over the years?
The market cycles can be game changing from company consolidation at all levels of the supply chain to openings and closings of businesses. Exporters have turned some of their expertise into importing or changed their focus solely to the North American market. The biggest changes have come from a blurring of the lines between manufacturing, secondary processing, distribution, buying co-ops and retail.
What has been the most surprising part of your career so far? Are there any wow moments that particularly stand out to you?
I have always been surprised by the humility of most of our industry leaders. Many of them are very willing to help along the way, they admit mistakes and they work to develop the industry’s future leaders. I have had a few mentors over the course of my career that have cheered for my success and have been there for me with sage advice when I needed it most. The “wow” part has really been the amazing number of opportunities in our industry, particularly as the baby boomers have approached retirement age.
Tell me about your involvement with NAWLA. How long have you been a member and what committees have you served on?
I have been a member of NAWLA since 1999. When I went to my first Traders Market, I was like a kid in a candy store. I was blown away by the number of networking opportunities before, during and after the show hours.
Around 2002, I joined the Education Committee and in 2007, I moved to the Traders Market Committee, where I became chairperson. I served on the NAWLA Board of Directors for six years, two of those were on the Executive Committee. After that, I joined the Membership Committee for a brief period before becoming vice chair, and later chairperson, of the Leadership Summit Committee.
What advice would you give to a new NAWLA member?
Get involved with the organization. It is a great way to build valuable relationships.
What’s been your favorite NAWLA moment?
It is ongoing. It’s been great having the opportunity to meet with decision makers, leaders and owners of companies, and getting to know those in our industry personally, too.
You’ll be attending the 2023 Leadership Summit March 12-14. What are you most looking forward to at the event?
Learning more about our industry and the current economy and networking with decision makers. Solidifying those relationships helps to work through any issues that come up in the normal course of business.
What advice do you have for those that are attending a NAWLA event for the first time?
During events like Leadership Summit and Traders Market, don’t just focus on the show floor hours to connect with people. Plan to meet others during meals and before and after show hours. The show hours are only a fraction of the networking opportunities.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Things are constantly changing. Learn to roll with it and adapt quickly. Stay positive.