Tall Timber; Boom and Bust

Tall Timber; Boom and Bust

After 23 years building a logging contracting business in his own name, Robert Stubbs is out. He fought for a more stable business environment but wound up paying a deeply personal price. In this special two-part Tall Timber report, Ian Parkes talks to Robert about his journey, the challenges and the lessons he learnt.

Robert Stubbs (Stubbsy) was, and is, one of the driven, larger-than-life personalities that tend to thrive in forestry. He is well known on the East Cape and his leadership in the industry saw him rise to become Chairman of the Forest Industry Contractors Association, until the failure of his business prompted him to resign just six months into his chairmanship. Robert was, in fact, forced to quit the industry altogether. His business was liquidated and he has declared himself bankrupt.

Robert had risen above setbacks before, setbacks that would have finished many lesser characters. He lost the use of his legs in a terrible accident, and later his relationship with his partner with whom he had raised two children, but as anyone who has met him knows, he is the kind of person who will fight on. 

Several times Robert had pulled his forestry business, Stubbs Contractors, out of one of the industry’s regular economic whirlpools and built it back stronger, employing up to five crews and 60 to 70 people in its heyday. But not anymore. Liquidation, and a string of creditors have seen to that. Robert is now putting his experience in heavy machinery to work as a salaried manager for a civil contracting firm. 

He has a new partner, more time to spend with her and his grown-up stepchildren when they visit from Perth – his stepdaughter had her second child just before Christmas – and he has time to reflect where it all went wrong. As is always the case, a combination of circumstances piled up but Robert won’t let himself off the hook. He says he should have seen the signs earlier and acted sooner. He should have followed some well-meant advice to retrench his business more thoroughly and more decisively than he did.

But, as Robert says, when you have built a big business that so many people depend on, you just feel compelled to ‘keep feeding the beast’ and keep people employed and support the community with business. And perhaps his very strength of character, the fact that he had fought back out of the pit and won against all kinds of odds in the past gave him an unshakeable faith that if just kept pushing, he would eventually win through again. Finance companies and banks though, have their own, different drivers.

In May 2023, the liquidators moved in and put all of Stubbs Contractors’ equipment up for sale. In a matter of hours, the business Robert Stubbs had spent decades building was gone, the yard stripped, a convoy of transporters carting away the heavy machinery he had come to know so well.

But the pain didn’t stop there....

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