Eric Gee, a 1994 forestry graduate, is the new Executive Director of the Southern Forest Products Association, or SFPA, which represents Southern Pine products and services around the globe. As executive director, Gee will direct domestic and international product promotion programs and the Forest Products Machinery & Equipment Exposition, the longest running industry-sponsored trade show of the forest products industry, which has met every two years since 1950.
Gee began his wood industry career in Jackson, Mississippi, with James M. Vardaman & Company where he worked as a consulting forester. Gee joined SFPA in 1997, serving in multiple capacities including marketing, government and environmental affairs. Most recently, for the past two years Eric has served the association as deputy director.
Why did you choose to attend Auburn?
“I applied to three universities that I felt were good matches because of the engineering curriculums they offered. I received one rejection, one waitlist notification, and the last response was from Auburn who accepted me. I was ecstatic that Auburn chose me. I knew about Auburn because of a personal connection though my godparents, Kyle and Pallie Butler. They are both AU alumni, and I wanted that same zeal, passion, and spirit they had for Auburn University.”
What led you to choose your major?
“My dreams to continue a tradition of my family’s military service and become a fourth-generation service member were dashed when I learned my eyesight would not permit me to fly fighter jets for the United States Marine Corps. I chose civil engineering as my Plan B because the high school I attended in New York City concentrated on preparing students for engineering careers. I started out in Auburn’s pre-civil engineering program, but somewhere between differential equations and fluid dynamics, it became apparent that a career that required those courses was not for me. As an Eagle Scout and one who loved the outdoors, my parents suggested I check out the School of Forestry. Lane Messer and Dr. Earl DeBrunner were instrumental in the transition into the forest resources major and keeping me on track in my degree.”
How did SFWS prepare you for your career?
“Auburn provided me with the core knowledge and solid understanding of forestry and silviculture principles. Even 27 years later, it is information I use every day, especially when communicating how the lumber we produce comes from abundant, sustainable forests.”
What is your current position at the SFPA, and what are your major responsibilities?
“As the executive director of SFPA, I’m responsible for directing the domestic and international product promotion programs. The SFPA receives nearly a million dollars in grant funding from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, with which we use to promote Southern Pine lumber throughout the world. I also direct and produce the Forest Products Machinery & Equipment Exposition, which provides the industry a place to gather, learn, and connect with the latest technology and services used to produce lumber products. Our next event is scheduled for Aug 11 – 13, 2021 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.”
Why is staying involved and in touch with SFWS valuable to you?
“Because so many instructors invested in my education and helped me get where I am today in the industry, I feel it is important to give these same opportunities to the next generation of foresters by staying involved with the school and its constituents.”
What is your favorite memory from your time at SFWS; was there a professor or faculty member that had a great influence/impact on you during your time in the school?
“Summers spent at the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, first as a student and then as a student teaching assistant the following year, were particularly unforgettable. I feel the SDFEC’s history and majesty help connect students to the industry. While many professors had a positive impact on me, two stand out: Rhett Johnson, for his laid-back, even-keeled demeanor, and Dr. Warren Flick, for his ability to convey the nuanced details of a detailed course like environmental law in an engaging manner. Dean Emmett Thompson and Dr. Richard Brinker were instrumental during my time as a student because of their patience and insight – I found them inspiring to the directionless 19-year-old that I was at the time, seeking a way in the world.”
What is your favorite thing about being an SFWS alum?
“My favorite thing about being an SFWS alum is the pride I feel that I am part of a tradition of excellence. Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife reputation gives me instant credibility wherever I go, and the practical knowledge instilled in me in those formative years has proven to be invaluable.”
Do you have any advice for students entering the work force right now?
“Have an open mind. Realize there is so much more opportunity within the forest products industry than just field work. Learn as much as you can about improving your leadership and interpersonal skills because these skills, coupled with the foundational knowledge provided by the school, will take you wherever you want to go.”