Remembering Benno Krieg

Yet another prominent figure in the forestry industry - Benno Krieg – has passed away as a result of Covid-19. Benno passed on Sunday 25 July 2021 in Windhoek, while he was on holiday.

Benno was a colourful character and forest engineering specialist who played a leading role in mechanising Komatiland’s forestry harvesting operations a few years back. He was very knowledgeable and highly opinionated, and was always asking the tough questions at forestry symposiums and conferences.

Benno held a Bachelor’s Degree in Nature Conservation and a Forestry B.Sc from the University of Stellenbosch, where he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Forest Engineering (M.Sc).

Benno launched his career in forestry with the Department of Forestry in Sabie, Nelspruit and Louis Trichardt, as a district manager and researcher. He spent over two decades (from 1994 to 2015) as a forestry engineer with Komatiland Forests, the commercial wing of the South African Forestry Company (SAFCOL). During this period Benno was responsible for introducing cut-to-length mechanized harvesting systems for both clearfell and thinning operations on Komatiland’s Mpumalanga plantations.

After leaving Komatiland Forests, Benno joined Bostek harvesting contractors as GM and consultant for around two years. Francois Roos, who worked with Benno at Bostek, commented: “A friend, colleague, advisor, team member, mentor, and bank of information has passed on and left a void no person can fill. He was very knowledgeable on all aspects of machinery and always contributed enthusiastically to any project he was asked to assist with. Numerous forestry handbooks, booklets, manuals, and guidelines had his name rightfully added and these will continue to guide operations and people for years to come. Benno always helped where he could and loved sharing his knowledge. He was strong-willed, opinionated, hardworking and determined, and always ready to share and give generously. He was continuously searching for new ways, methods, angles, and information, keeping him up to date and always relevant. He was convinced there must be a better, more refined way of doing things. He would number all versions of his workings and meticulously file them in sequence. A good argument and discussion with Benno would always leave you richer and with many positives. His smile and laughter which filled our offices, meetings, classrooms, boardrooms, lecture halls and vehicles will be missed.”

After his stint at Bostek Benno moved to Hitachi Construction Machinery as the Nelspruit Area Service Representative in 2019. His role was control of the Nelspruit Service Department with the responsibilities of after-market support for repairs and servicing of Hitachi excavators, wheeled loaders and off-highway trucks. Included in his portfolio was satellite monitoring of units in the field, customer liaison and advice, and pre-delivery inspections of new machines.

Richard Blaylock, Branch Manager at Hitachi Construction Machinery Southern Africa Co (Pty) Ltd, recalls: “From inception Benno was noted for his infectious laugh which would reverberate throughout the offices. Never did he announce his arrival; his laugh would give him away. On the work front, he will be sadly missed for his astute approach to planning and execution in typical German fashion. Benno’s philosophy was to learn from mistakes and do things once and do it correctly. This was coupled with his motivation of staff - always in a friendly manner - and he never had a bad word to say, an indication of his dedication and hard-working nature.”

Ronald Heath of Forestry South Africa had this to say about Benno: “Throughout his career Benno constructively contributed to our sector. He will be remembered for his prominent role in FESA and his contribution to the establishment of the FSA Applied Operations Committee.”

A private family man, Benno enjoyed photography and nature. A devoted Christian, he always shared his Christian values and never compromised on what he believed was right.

Benno leaves his wife Noreen and sons Stefan and Daniel.

Tribute to Piet van Zyl, CEO of York Timbers

Pieter “Piet” van Zyl, who passed away from Covid-19 on 17 July 2021, was CEO of solid wood products group York Timbers, which was listed on the JSE in 1946 and celebrated its centenary in 2016.

Piet held BSc (Agric) and BSc (Agric Economics) (Hons) degrees from the University of Pretoria, and completed his MBL through the University of South Africa. He was appointed CEO of York Timbers, the largest solid wood processor in SA, to “steer York through the changing economic environment,” according to the notice announcing his appointment in April 2009. He certainly did that.

Piet took over the helm of the company during a challenging time. York had posted an 83% decline in earnings for the six months ended December 31, 2008, with a worldwide economic crisis resulting in a decline in demand for sawn timber and increased log inventories. The group had suspended its acquisitions programme and slowed down its replanting programme.

According to an obituary issued by York a few days ago, Piet “won the respect of colleagues and employees for his commitment to York, his passion for everything that he did and for his unwavering kindness and integrity. Piet led York through some difficult periods with insight, decisiveness and courage and he leaves a legacy of a thriving business that is so much richer for his leadership.”
Piet was a visionary who was passionate about the improvement of the forestry and sawmilling sector. He started and drove numerous initiatives and research programmes that have transformed and enriched commercial forestry in South Africa.

Friend and colleague, Eric Droomer, says: “Piet was a unique individual who made an instant and lasting impression. His family was his first priority although he maintained absolute focus on York because the company was also important to him. He was passionate about the trees, the environment, the processing and the wood but his overwhelming passion was in developing the youth. His passion was infectious and many young foresters and sawmillers in and outside of South Africa will say they are pursuing their dreams thanks to Piet. He believed strongly in the application of technology and invested in applied research within the business by setting up links with universities and institutes outside of York. Piet was never happy with the status quo and was forever striving to make York bigger and stronger. He had a vision for not only the company but also for the southern continent and firmly believed that forestry had only begun to fulfill its potential as a key economic driver for the region. He felt a strong responsibility to the community around the York operations. His passion when not working was mountain biking and the forests were his playground. Piet could be the life and soul of a meeting or a party – always present and living life to the fullest! He will be missed by all of us.”

Piet was a great driver for modernising and upskilling at York. Under his guidance, York upgraded their plywood mill to the tune of around R400-million. He also introduced state of the art mechanical harvesting in the Highveld. Thereafter, he started a logistics company to improve company efficiencies. Piet understood in-depth the cycle from seed to market. To strength York’s position and improve customer experience, he established warehouses in all the large centres to provide better and faster service to customers.

Piet had a strong belief in research and development and York was one of the founding members of Forest Operations Research at Stellenbosch. He believed that the future of wood is in engineered wood-building materials and this led to the establishment of a multi-disciplinary Chair at the University of Pretoria (UP) that is data-driven and is focused on wood structural engineering for a sustainable build environment and African bio-economy.

He supported the long-term goal of addressing climate change by deploying site-species matching that entailed planting appropriate species and matching it with suitable temperatures and soil conditions. He also understood the importance of tree breeding, genetics, and genome selection to improve the quality of future plantations and supported this with York joining the Forest Molecular Genetics platform at the University of Pretoria.

Commented Michael Peter, Chief Executive of Forestry South Africa: “Piet was not only an icon in our sector but also spearheaded a number of exciting initiatives that will benefit the sector for years to come. He was an avid supporter of FSA and his contributions to our association and our industry will be sorely missed.” 

Piet is survived by his wife Hendriette, and their daughters, Jo-Mari and Lehandri. The community of Sabie and corporate South Africa, especially the forestry sector, have lost an extraordinary person and an honourable, inspirational leader.