Home IT management Taylor Launches Responsibly Harvested All-Hawaiian Koa Guitars

Taylor Launches Responsibly Harvested All-Hawaiian Koa Guitars

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Taylor Launches Responsibly Harvested All-Hawaiian Koa Guitars

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Founded in 1974, Taylor Guitars is a leading global builder of premium acoustic guitars. Recently, the company shifted the body construction of its 700 Series from rosewood and spruce to all-Hawaiian koa. In order to accomplish this, Taylor partnered with longtime supplier Pacific Rim Tonewoods to create an innovative Hawaii-based forest stewardship program.

Koa grows exclusively on the Hawaiian Islands. Taylor learned that many native forests are in a state of slow decline due to a variety of factors, including invasive plant and animal species that out-compete native species. They also discovered that forest management efforts like fencing, weed management, and fire breaks are being put in place to restore native Hawaiian forests.

Taylor formed a joint venture with Pacific Rim Tonewoods, Siglo Tonewoods, to invest dollar-for-dollar value in improvement projects to restore native Hawaiian forests. Every penny earned from cutting a select number of pre-determined koa trees to make guitars goes into forest restoration projects: installing fencing, removing non-native feral sheep, pigs and cattle, providing fire protection and removing weeds.

Siglo also acquired 564 acres of pastureland on the north end of Hawaii Island that was once a native Hawaiian forest but cleared for grazing 150 years ago. Efforts are underway to plant more than 150,000 koa and other native trees there over the next decade. Once the trees are mature, with good management and selective cutting, this land should produce more than twice the volume of koa wood that Taylor Guitars uses today.

Barbara Wight serves as the CFO of Taylor Guitars, where she has worked since 2009. In addition to supporting sustainability efforts in Hawaii, California and Cameroon, she spearheaded the company’s transition to becoming 100% employee owned. In 2021, Wight won the San Diego Business Journal‘s CFO of the Year award.

Wight was passionate about securing a succession plan because she came to Taylor Guitars from a large company that faced major challenges when the founder unexpectedly died. “I never wanted to go through that again,” Wight said in an exclusive interview with me. “Fortunately, when I arrived at Taylor, I learned that the cofounders, Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, were already discussing this.”

After exploring various options, they determined that employee ownership (ESOP) was the best way for Taylor to preserve its culture of creativity and independence. This ownership model offers an additional financial benefit by giving employees a direct financial stake in the company’s success.

It took seven years for Wight to develop the right ESOP framework. The leadership team wanted to include employees working in the E.U. and Mexico. Yet she managed to pull it off – even in the midst of the pandemic.

In high school, Wight says, “I was the person in every club pushing people to find a way to make a difference. In college, I realized that a career in international business would allow me to do everything I loved and make a difference.”

Wight went on to work in agriculture and then music. “Both industries are filled with people who are incredibly passionate about what they do and looking to make the world a better place,” she says. “This created a space for me to work with them to make a difference.”

Although at times Wight has found her career all-consuming, she loves her work. “I always have new projects I want to immerse myself in. I love Taylor Guitars’ commitment to sustainability and the role I have been privileged to play in our various forestry projects around the world,” she says.

The best advice Wight has for people looking to align their career with their life purpose is to “think about two ways: What do you love to do (from a task perspective); and how do you want to play a role in improving in the world? Find the intersection of these two things and you’ve found your career. It might not be something that even has a title today, but stay with it and live your passion. You will never regret it!”

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