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ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Brooks Mendell (PhD ’04)

‘You have to take chances to do great things’


It was almost a challenge.

Brooks Mendell had just earned his Ph.D. and was starting as a professor at Warnell when one of his committee members asked a tongue-in-cheek question: “How does it feel to be the world expert in something nobody cares about?”

Of course, that wasn’t exactly the case—forest finance was a respected specialty within the industry. But it lit a spark for Mendell.

“My phone was ringing, people were calling looking for projects,” said Mendell. “I talked with my wife and said, ‘Let me try something.’”

It took a couple of years for the idea to take flight, but based on the response from clients around the world, there was a need for this type of research. The company that he formed, Forisk Consulting, has since grown to 10 employees and specializes in market analysis, forest industry projections and educational short courses. The company delivers most of its data, forecasts, and research through subscriptions. The Forisk team analyzes forest supplies, wood demand and timber pricing to help clients make investment decisions about wood-using mills and timberlands. They also actively work with other organizations, such as TimberMart South.

The company name combines words from Mendell’s original research into risk management. But there’s another reason why Mendell chose the name Forisk: “I have a personal philosophy that ‘risk makes kings.’ You have to take chances to do great things—I’m for risk,” he said.

The business will celebrate 20 years in April.

Mendell credits applied skills, many learned at Warnell, to supporting Forisk’s success. Seventy percent of his team earned at least one degree at Warnell. He says the skills learned out in the woods carry over to what they do. Forisk’s bread and butter of timber market analysis requires the intuition developed from practicing boots-on-the-ground skills—something Mendell said students develop before, during and after their time at Warnell.

“Warnell is a hands-on place, and we’re a hands-on business,” he said. “Warnell helps support the idea of understanding how things work and how you can help others do it better.”

In addition to Mendell, Forisk researchers includes Amanda Hamsley Lang (BSFR ’05, MS ’08), Shawn Baker (PhD ’15), Tyler Reeves (MS ’07, MFR ’19, PhD ’20), Pat Jolly (MFR ’XX), Stephen Wright (BSFR ’15, MFR ’17) and Matt Camp (MFR ’06). “Our team is about the nerdiest group of foresters you’ll ever meet,” added Mendell with a laugh.

Several of his employees come from generations in the forest and natural resources field, although Mendell found the industry while an undergraduate student. He happened upon a meeting of an environmental club and was interested in conservation—but, being interested in analytics, he questioned some of the facts. He interned with the state forester of Massachusetts and wrote his bachelor’s and master’s theses on log exports. Then, he landed an internship with Weyerhaeuser that turned into a full-time job.

However, it was coming to Warnell as a doctoral student that gave Mendell the bridge to start his own business. Many of his professors had industry experience, and they emphasized application over theory, so launching Forisk wasn’t much of a stretch.

“It was exciting because Warnell was very supportive of me,” he added.

One of the trends the company has seen in recent years is the movement of the forest industry from Canada and parts of the West to the U.S. South. For decades now, Mendell and his team have guided companies on where to build new mills or acquire timberlands. Often, eyes have turned to the Southeast.

“On the analytics side, we’re an active part of that—we’ve had clients for decades where the center of their operations were in the west or in Canada, and we helped them decide where to put that new mill or how big to build it” in the Southeast he said. “And on the resource side, what’s been interesting is seeing how improvements in technology have helped these mills become more efficient. Technology also affects how forest landowners manage their forests. It has changed over the past 20 years and it’s fun to be a part of that.”

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Assistant Professor & President, FORISK Consulting

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