Meet Ashlynne Dale, Executive Chair of Norwood Sawmills.
2022 Excellence Award Finalist
Presently Ashlynne Dale holds the position of Executive Director of Norwood Sawmills. During her time at the helm, Norwood has become a globally recognized outdoor equipment and lifestyle brand; achieved consistent annual growth rates of 25%+ per year; expanded sales into over 100 countries; forged strategic alliances with international partners; expanded product offerings to meet evolving market demand; established itself as the global leader in portable sawmilling technology as evidenced by 75+ registered patents and 30+ pending patents; and launched an all-new brand (Frontier) and drove it to exponential international sales success within only 24 months. Prior to joining Norwood, Ashlynne practiced law as a commercial litigator at the Vancouver office of Lang Michener (now McMillan), a national law firm specializing in corporate, commercial and securities law.
My first job ever was… At 15 years’ old, I got a part-time job as a clerk at Grand & Toy restocking shelves, helping customers and doing cash. At 16 years, I started my own little car wash business in the underground parking garage of our condo complex. I signed up residents for weekly or bi-weekly service subscriptions to conveniently wash their cars right in their parking spots; they would come out in the morning to a shiny car. I juggled both jobs through high school until I went off to university.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Becoming an “entrepreneur” was never a conscious decision. In fact, it never occurred to me until fairly recently that I might be described as being an “entrepreneur”. In retrospect, I believe that I have always kept my eyes open for opportunities, been naturally wary of risk vectors, and just put one foot in front of the other. Also, I have always relished new challenges, new learning and exploring uncharted paths.
My boldest move to date was… Launching Frontier, an all-new second brand of lower-priced, offshore-made sawmills. Doing so caused sleepless nights – Would it negatively impact the reputation of our premium Norwood brand? Would it alienate Norwood owners and followers who value products made in North America? Would Frontier cannibalize Norwood sales? And, from a practical perspective, sourcing offshore was new and, in and of itself, fraught with unknowns and risks. Ultimately, Frontier has been a tremendous success. It has empowered even more people to own their own sawmill and build their best futures through wood and their natural environment.
My biggest setback was…The Great Recession. Our then-primary fabrication partner went bankrupt and all of our tooling was seized and held hostage by the trustee in bankruptcy. In short, our supply vanished in less than 48 hours.
I overcame it by…We took it as an opportunity to fast-track the launch of two new sawmill models that were already in the prototyping and testing stage. Our intention had been to, the following year, discontinue our then-existing models and replace them with the new models in development. We moved up the schedule by twelve months. For several months, I worked until 10pm every day and through the weekends to rebuild our entire product line and, essentially, start the company from scratch: new sawmills; new sourcing; new pricing; new marketing materials, messaging, images and videos; new manuals; etc…We were fortunate that, going into the debacle, we had two months of inventory in stock. Also, typically cautious by nature, we were even more so because, as early as 2006, I had growing concerns about the trajectory of the economy. Accordingly, we entered the downturn with no debt and with a healthy buffer of cash.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an introvert. I am also plagued by self-doubt. I am learning to accept, and embrace, both for they too have their merits.
When starting my business, I wish I knew… To better appreciate the role of psychology on people’s thoughts and, ultimately, their actions. Analyzing and embracing psychologies is key to connecting with our customers, our team and our partners. To carve out more time for my family; I have sacrificed too much irreplaceable time with them. Both my family and my business deserved and needed so much of my energy, but I too often prioritized the latter. To be in the moment when I am with family. Instead, I have found that, even when not “working”, my mind is still with, and working on, my business.
My best advice for people looking to grow their business is… Open as many windows and doors as possible to maximize your opportunities and versatility. Aim for a large market funnel and always look to widen it. Give the company the funds it needs to grow in good times and remain safe in lean times – Be wary of debt and reinvest profits back into the company. Know what makes your product, service and business successful, and be careful to not get distracted chasing vanity projects. Think creatively and be prepared to adapt to change. Almost every “hurdle” is an opportunity in disguise.
A great leader is… An individual who: is inquisitive; welcomes new ideas; challenges themselves to grow and seek new knowledge and skills; strategizes with one eye on the horizon and the other on planning for versatility; empathizes with people and understands and embraces the impact emotions play on thoughts and actions;operates with an unassailable moral compass; and by example, inspires those around him/her to be their best selves. And, throughout, remains humble, knowing that the business and its success are not about her/him nor should they be used to stroke her/his ego.
The future excites me because…of the opportunities that have yet to reveal themselves.
Success to me is …an enigma and remains elusive. Undoubtedly, it is personal – tied to each individual’s goals and values. I have yet to fully define “success” for me personally, though it certainly includes: Not squandering my blessings, but rather to strive to make the most of my capabilities and advantages; To make a positive contribution in my small corner of the world every day; To help empower lives I touch to, themselves, find their own success; Without fail, to always remain true to my moral compass so that, at the end of the day when I look in the mirror, I can respect the person in the reflection.