RHINELANDER, Wisconsin – Ponsse has its origins as a family-owned company that began in Finland in 1970. Fifty-two years on, the company remains in family hands, and it continues to be headquartered in the same town where it began, with facilities and offices for manufacturing, research and development, and administration.
Family is part of the Ponsse legacy. It’s also an emphasis in its business: building, developing and cultivating long-term relationships with the loggers who are the company’s customers. That’s where the Ponsse Ladies group enters the picture.
Ponsse launched Ponsse Ladies, a group for the wives of owners, in 2004. A U.S. chapter was started in 2014 at the launch event for the Scorpion King harvester.
Many of the women who participate in the Ponsse Ladies group are not just the wives of their logger husbands. Many are co-owners in the logging business or otherwise actively engaged in it. Some wives operate equipment, too.
Ponsse organizes events about once a year for Ponsse Ladies. They serve to catalyze friendships and give the women the chance to talk about business issues, too.
Across its five decades, Ponsse has established operations in 40 countries. Its U.S. headquarters, Ponsse North America Inc., is in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Ponsse has organized several Ponsse Ladies events in Wisconsin. However, other annual gatherings have been held in Florida, New York, as well as Finland, Spain, and Portugal.
The women are in contact with others outside of the events, too, to talk business, personal matters, and to get together informally. “It is a wonderful thing we have created,” said Diana Olkowski, marketing manager for Ponsse’s North American operations.
Jodi McCumber of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, has been a member of Ponsse Ladies for several years. A group event in Spain and Portugal, which included women from Finland, Sweden, and Germany, was particularly memorable, she said. “The trip was a highlight for me because I was able to experience other cultures and see such beautiful sites,” said Jodi.
Travel is only one of the benefits of participating in the group, she added. “I believe the bond that we have created with each other has been the greatest takeaway from these trips,” said Jodi. It’s a connection that combines professional and personal interests and dimensions.
She and her husband operate a logging business, McCumber Forest Products. They started it 17 years ago, branching off from a trucking company owned by her father-in-law.
Getting to know other wives in the logging industry and talking with them about how their companies “have gone through some of the same business hurdles is very helpful,” said Jodi. They share ideas about everything from health insurance to retaining employees.
Chris Shamion is the mother of the owners of Shamco Inc. in Iron River, Michigan. She and the wives of her four sons — Vicki, Marla, Megan, and Jessica – all participate in Ponsse Ladies.
It’s about friendships forged and businesses bolstered and much more, according to Chris. It has given her an opportunity to target shoot pumpkins, ride a four-wheeler through a swamp, and try her hand at axe throwing.
Chris and her daughters-in-law cite their “real pride in being part of the logging industry,” she said. Shamco started with one truck and a Ponsse harvester and forwarder in 1997 and has grown to 27 employees operating a much larger number of machines.
Each member of Ponsse Ladies has her own fond recollections of events over the years. A side trip to Estonia from Finland and learning to flamenco dance in Spain are just two among many for Chris and her daughters-in-law.
The annual gatherings are diverse. A recent event included taking part in a beach cleanup at Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island, Florida. “Knowing this cleanup made a difference was satisfying,” said Chris.
There’s nothing like family for support in the toughest times, such as the global pandemic that began in the spring of 2020. “It was great to have a loyal and knowledgeable group of personal friends and business associates to discuss how the most significant event of our time impacted our families and businesses,” said Chris.
Lori Jo Mann and her husband started their company 36 years ago. She is the chief financial officer of L&L Inc. in Sutherlin, Oregon.
Each member of the group brings her unique experiences, and sharing them may be valuable to other women, observed Lori Jo. “(On) our most recent trip to Florida, I was able to talk extensively with a woman who’d just got done with the process of her and her husband transitioning out of the company and having their sons take over – something we will be doing in the foreseeable future. Being able to talk to someone who has been through that was invaluable.”
The most memorable meeting to date for Lori Jo was the first she attended in Chicago in 2014. That gathering included a presentation by Ponsse staff on the logistics of moving Ponsse machines and parts around the world, which she found fascinating.
Many of the women of Ponsse Ladies are co-owners in the family business or somehow actively involved. They’ve been engaged in industry changes that have occurred and the innovations from companies like Ponsse.
Ponsse is a leading manufacturer of rubber tire cut-to-length machines, harvesters and forwarders, and harvester attachments. In 1994 it earned the first ISO 9001 certification for a forestry machine manufacturer.
Some ‘down time’ is built into the events of the Ponsse Ladies. The 2018 gathering was the most memorable for her, according to Lori Jo. She appreciated the time to re-equilibrate a bit. “We met in Wisconsin for the weekend with the Finnish Ponsse Ladies and then went on to New York and Baltimore. My two daughters-in-law, Amy and Lisa, were with me. It was delightful to unwind at the Rondele Ranch (in Harshaw, Wisconsin) and get to know the ladies better that were there.”
Jill Lawrence has been active in Ponsse Ladies for just one year. She is a partner in Twin Forest Products LLC in Marathon, Wisconsin, a logging and sawmill business operated by her husband. “The trip to Florida was my first (group event), and I enjoyed getting to know the Ponsse Ladies,” she said. “Everyone was very welcoming.”
The mother of four boys, Jill wants her sons to be knowledgeable about the industry. “This is a very labor-intensive industry,” she said. “We love to take our four boys out in the woods and show them the operations, but most of all inform them about the industry and how it plays such a role in our day-to-day life.”
Her first experience with Ponsse Ladies at the Sunshine State event has left Jill looking forward to more interactions. “I was completely amazed at how warm everyone was and how a group of women that hardly see each other can keep in such great contact…Everyone talked about lifetime friendships, and I can totally see that.”
Jill may be new to the Ponsse Ladies, but she expressed a sentiment that permeates the group. “Everyone has been so amazing” was the way she summed it up.
Others certainly agree. “The world may seem large, but getting to know other women from around the country and the world narrows that gap as we learn more about each other and how much we have in common,” said Lori Jo. And thanks to social media and other ways to communicate, they can maintain those connections year-round.
“All plans for our together times are creatively crafted with over-the-top attention to make for memorable times, friendship growth, education and a real pride in being part of the industry,” said Chris. “With each event, we learned more about the history, a little more about one another and shared incredible experiences that will last a lifetime.”
Guiding the Ponsse Ladies group and the participants are three Ponsse employees: Diana; Demi Litke, IT technician/product support specialist; and Terri Schmidt, office manager. All three work at the North American headquarters in Rhinelander.
“The members of the Ponsse Ladies have a lot of different personalities, styles and upbringings, but it is truly amazing how we bond, get along and have fun together,” said Diana. “We all have one thing in common, and that is the forest industry.”
Diana said she is “honored” to be part of the group. “It doesn’t matter where we travel to because we always have a great experience. It is truly a bond that can’t
be broken or copied because the ladies’ efforts and participation are what make it
“This program is important to Ponsse because Ponsse is a family company, and this makes the ladies feel more involved with the business,” she added.
Women taking time away from their families and businesses to learn and explore and build links among families that share a passion for the logging industry – that’s the essence of the Ponsse Ladies. The essence reflects the philosophy of Ponsse’s founder, Einari Vidgrén, who insisted the customer be the focus of every endeavor. And the women in the group are customers – directly and indirectly.
“Responsible forestry today, healthy forests for the future” is the slogan for Lori Jo’s company. It captures the sentiment of loggers who have adopted methods and equipment that conserve forest resources. The sentiment extends to the core of business operations at Ponsse.
Ensuring that customers can work productively using environmentally friendly equipment, Ponsse continues to grow. It has manufactured almost 19,000 cut-to-length machines.