What Does Running A Sawmill And Managing A Systematic Hedge Fund Have In Common?

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Most that manage money have never worked in a high tech, modern sawmill.

I have. They are efficient, high tech, and fast. Four-foot diameter trees are reduced to 2x4s in minutes, waste product is chipped and sold to make paper or energy, and lasers are everywhere. It really is impressive.

Sawmill

Millwrights are forever tweaking the “machine” – trying to improve its performance, pushing to get a few more hundred board feet per shift, etc. They poke and prod, making little fixes here and there, but for the most part they just stand there and watch the boards go by. That is until the “anomaly”: the moment one big piece of wood does something the previous 100,000 didn’t do. Things break, it gets intense and the millwrights work their assess off until the wood starts to move again. They then spend the next 6 months talking about what happened, and telling everyone why it can’t happen again – but something always does.

If I have to point out the analogy I am trying to make we are all in trouble.

What’s my point? Well one day I was swamping behind the trim saws when the entire mill shut down. Everything was silent. 10 acres of gears, chains, and saws just stopped moving. The millwrights were panicking, even the “yellow hats” (the laborers – me) were running around trying to find out why the mill shut down. No one could figure it out. About 15 minutes later a “white hat” (management) came strolling into the midst of it all and gathered everyone around. His words were short and too the point, “Gentlemen, we had to shut it down – we don’t have anyone to buy the wood.”

Any benefits that were gained in the 1000s of hours the millwrights spent coaxing a few more board feet out of the “machine” were lost in a single afternoon.

Perhaps a little more time should have been invested in trying to find someone to buy the lumber.

 

By Kyle Dunn

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