NEWP founder moves on

CEO who brought his wood pellet business to Jaffrey in 1999 steps down

Steve Walker of Peterborough, CEO of New England Wood Pellet, discusses a recent award he received from Windy Row Learning Center in Peterborough.
(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

Steve Walker of Peterborough, CEO of New England Wood Pellet, discusses a recent award he received from Windy Row Learning Center in Peterborough. (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

After nearly 20 years with his company, Steve Walker has stepped down as president of New England Wood Pellet.

Walker, a Peterborough resident, resigned at the end of 2012. Walker is still on the company’s Board of Managers and owns a significant portion of New England Wood Pellet, but he has removed himself from the center of the company’s operations. According to Mark Wilson, who assumed the position of CEO for New England Wood Pellet in 2013, “[Walker] wanted to explore other ventures.”

Wilson, who lives in Sudbury, Mass., and has worked with Walker since 2007, called the leadership transition seamless. Wilson said in a recent interview, “I’d been running the day-to-day operations, and I just assumed the responsibility.” Wilson added that though the change hasn’t affected New England Wood Pellet’s operations at all, Walker’s absence is noticeable. “We miss Steve’s leadership,” Wilson said.

Walker started New England Wood Pellet in 1992 out of Acton, Mass., when he was 24 years old. Beginning the business in his garage with just one employee, Walker had nowhere to go but forward. Since moving to New Hampshire in 1995 and to Jaffrey in 1999, New England Wood Pellet has expanded to 75 employees and three wood pellet production plants, the headquarters residing in Jaffrey and two other plants in New York. When asked why he moved the company, Walker cited friendlier business practices in New Hampshire and active recruiting from both Public Service of New Hampshire and the town of Jaffrey.

Walker said in a recent interview that he had big aspirations for New England Wood Pellet early on. “The big goal was to become a market leader.”

Walker said the company now serves the northeastern U.S., which consumes 80 percent of the country’s heating oil and is the largest market for heating products in the country. Through what Walker described as growth in the heating industry, especially in wood pellets due to the rise in cost of heating oil over the last 10 years, New England Wood Pellet has found success. “We’ve basically picked up the majority of the [market] growth,” Walker said.

The expansion in renewable energy has not only been good for New England Wood Pellet, but for Jaffrey’s local economy. Walker said most of the money the company spends stays in Jaffrey, with over 50 percent of the purchases of raw materials, such as wood chips, made at local businesses. Walker noted that New England Wood Pellet also buys recycled wood pallets from local businesses, and hires many local contractors. “We spend a lot of money on equipment infrastructure,” Walker said. He later added, “Renewable energy in general puts much more back into the economy.”

In an email sent Wednesday, Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Mieso affirmed New England Wood Pellet’s contributions to the local economy. “With its steady expansion in an industry it helped define, New England Wood Pellet currently employs over three dozen people, which provides a big boost to our retail and service sectors,” Mieso wrote. “In addition, New England Wood Pellet is an exemplary corporate citizen with its many donations to benefit local nonprofit organizations.”

In looking at New England Wood Pellet’s history, Walker talked about the highlights of his company. “It was just an amazing experience, given the [company’s] phenomenal growth,” he said. Walker said that when he went to work over the past two decades, he often did a different job everyday. “I thrived off it,” he said.

Walker has a tendency for taking on new challenges that goes back to when he was a teenager. “I started running companies when I was young,” he said, adding that he began his first company at 14 years old and was only 17 when he began hiring. “I love building companies,” Walker said. “I’ve never not had employees since I was 16.”

Walker has a love for a more literal kind of building as well. After being at college for two weeks and not liking it, Walker left school and became a self-taught engineer. “My biggest thing is engineering and designing,” he said. “That’s what I like to do.”

This desire to continuously innovate and improve is one of the reasons Walker backed away from New England Wood Pellet. Feeling he had taken the engineering component of the company as far as it could go, Walker left the rest to Wilson. “Someone like Mark Wilson does a better job than I could in growing the company,” Walker said. He also said the company has a great team to run New England Wood Pellet successfully. “There are employees that have been there a long time and make it all work.” Walker added, “I’m very excited for New England Wood Pellet.”

With his last venture in good hands, Walker is moving on to new projects. After taking some time off, Walker has become involved in two start-up companies, one of which he is collaborating on with former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass. Walker declined to comment on what type of companies these were until they get off the ground. “Right now it’s pretty quiet,” he said.

Walker did say that the kind of projects he’d liked to be involved with are generally for the good of the environment, or involve giving back somehow. “That’s always been important to me,” he said.

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

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