Wendy saw the potential for greatness in these trees, and has shaped a Carbon Offset Program to help combat climate change. The program offers investors a unique opportunity: the chance to finance the planting of valuable Empress trees, offset their personal carbon footprint, and receive a financial return on the high-quality timber when the trees come of age. The profits from the harvest are split between the investors, the farmers, and World Tree, so everyone gets a good deal while helping the planet. It’s a win-win-win-win solution!
Ogunte: What kind of a leader are you, Wendy?
Wendy Burton: I like to give my team the space to be creative. I’m very flexible, and believe people work best when they are happy, rested and healthy. If you need to go play hockey in the middle of the day, you’re good to go! As long as all the work is done on time, I’m happy for everyone to make it work for them. I don’t believe in micromanaging.
Ogunte: How did your World Tree adventure begin?
Wendy Burton: Many years ago, I had what Oprah would call an ‘Aha!’ moment. At the time, I was working with a company that wasn’t doing so well, and so they decided they wanted to bring in a new product. They flew me to Vancouver to investigate. I sat in a board room listening to a man from Australia talk about a tree, the Empress tree. The more he talked about this tree, the more I fell in love with it. I was like, ‘I’m in! Whatever you need, I’ll do it!’
But I discovered that, back then, the Vancouver stock exchange was known as a ‘pump’n’dump’. It was not a very good exchange. People would promote up a stock, sell it overvalued and then crash it. And, unfortunately, the guys who initially told me about the tree were sorely lacking in integrity. So, I left. I thought, ‘This isn’t working for me. One day I will just do this myself.’
It took me seven years to work up the nerve and the gumption to eventually do it. Over those seven years, I was very successful at various other companies. There was one semiconductor company that I took from 5c to $19.25 a share. Following that success, I had a bit of a nest egg, enough to think, Okay, now I’m ready to go and do the tree.
I flew literally all around the world, and sourced out anyone who ever knew anything about the Empress tree, and then started World Tree.
Ogunte: As I understand, you have to take care where you plant trees. How do you ensure the right trees are planted in the right place?
Wendy Burton: We rely on the expertise of our team, which has grown over time. When I first launched World Tree, we probably had about 5 years of research into the Empress tree. We started off by selling one tree at a time. We marketed it as the ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ tree: the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world!
Three years in, we were reinventing ourselves as a company. I realised that, for what we were planning to do next, we needed someone who knows a lot more than I did. I called my mentor Alex Jay, and told him we needed to hire someone who knew where to plant trees in the right spot. Alex has this geo-mapping system that we use. Since we don’t own any land ourselves, we were marketing to farmers. There’s a whole intricate process to check the farmer’s land is suitable for planting the trees, we test the soil and look at the whole area.
We pride ourselves on holding the farmer’s hand all the way through; we never just leave them to it. We take care to make sure that everybody succeeds: the farmers, trees, land, and wildlife.
Ogunte: What are three key lessons you’ve learned on your journey so far?
1) My biggest lesson has been to stop worrying about the money. That’s so big for entrepreneurs getting started. The worry is: Am I going to be able to afford this? I think it’s more important to follow your passion, whatever it is that lights you up and inspires you. In my experience, the money will follow.
Sometimes you can be too close to a project so that you can’t see the forest through the trees. You have to bring someone else in to look at your work with fresh eyes, and open up the possibilities.
At the time, farmers were calling me to tell me that they were struggling with poor rainfall, drought, hurricanes. Climate change was really hitting them hard.
A mentor asked me: ‘What would you do if money weren’t an object? What would you be doing differently?’
I answered straight away that I would just give away the trees to the farmers for free. I love my farmers, and it hurts me that they suffer. They’re the ones who lovingly put food on our table, and yet they’re the ones who are starving.
So we began to discuss the idea of offsetting people’s individual carbon footprint. This way, whenever someone purchases that investment, I can go give the trees to the farmer for free! Brilliant!
Through this breakthrough, I learned I need to be willing to think outside the box.
2) Write down your journey. This one I learned from Tony Robbins, who said: ‘If your life is worth living, it’s worth recording.’
When you’re having a bad day, it’s really powerful to go back and read some of your journals and processes. You realise: ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I’d never survive that. Or that. Or that!’ And you do. It’s important to remind yourself of the challenges you’ve overcome.
3) ‘You’ll never make what you want until you believe what you’re worth.’
Once you start believing in who you are and your value, you have to be open to the universe just bringing it to you. Fear is a huge obstacle to what we want.
Let me tell you a story. I was a single mom, with two little boys, barely making ends meet. A friend was going down to the soup kitchen, and bringing home some groceries for me, it was that desolate. I ended up reading the book Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins, where I came across that quote. I knew I was really good at what I did, but now I was willing to claim it.
One day, I got a phone call from a company in the US, offering me a job. I remember, my three sisters were sitting on the couch because they knew there was a job offer coming in. Back then, I was struggling to pay rent and raise my boys on CAD$1500 a month.
I don’t know what happened, but something just snapped in me. The guy on the phone said: ‘We’ve sent you the package, so take the weekend to think about how much you would want.’ To this day, I don’t know what inside me had the nerve to say what I did.
I said: ‘Oh, I don’t need the weekend to think, I know what I want. I need US$50,000 up front, I need such and such amount of money every month, and I need these stock options.’
Let me tell you, when you make a proposal like that, you stop – you do not say another word. Remember, the first one to speak loses. What followed was the longest pause ever.
Then finally, he came back and he said: ‘You want that kind of money up front?’
I said: ‘Oh, I thought you wanted me to turn your company around? You’re asking me to relocate my life for six months, so yes, that’s what I need.’
He paused, then said, ‘Alright. You got it!’
The thing is, people will pay for value, and you have to know that you are worth that. I never looked back after that.
My trees are more expensive than anyone else selling the Empress tree. People say to me: ‘I can buy my trees $2-3 cheaper somewhere else.’ To them, I always say: ‘Okay, absolutely, you go do that.’ And let them go!
If you’re buying the tree for the price, then you probably should go shop over there. I am not Walmart, I am Neiman Marcus. But if you want someone to look after you and make sure you’re planting in the right place, and with everything done right, I come with that price.
Every one of them, by the way, has called me back, saying: ‘Uh, the trees have died and I can’t seem to reach that company anymore.’ And I say, ‘Well, I’m still here, if you want my help.’
Ogunte: What techniques do you use to ensure you are constantly reflecting on yourself and growing?
Wendy Burton: I’m an avid journaller! Before I go to bed at night, I write in my gratitude journal. If you want to change your life, be grateful. Sometimes, I’m just grateful that the day ended and I get to go to bed. And that’s okay! The more you are grateful, the more things in your life will come along for you to be grateful for.
I carry another journal with me at all times. Whether I’m in a Starbucks or waiting in line at the ferry, that’s the one place where I can be real with myself. If anyone ever read it, they’d think I was a great big whiny baby! But now, I can look back on what I wrote ten years ago and see that it was hard, but I got through it. I find reflecting on my journals so useful. Each journal gives me more confidence because I have a roadmap of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
My third journal is full of the ‘I am’s: I am grateful, I am beautiful, I am strong, I am resilient, I am sexy. Every time you say ‘I am’ to yourself, your cells hear it and it changes you. Positive self-talk is so powerful. I wish I’d known what I know today thirty years ago. I would have loved my body and my mind better. Few things are more important than how we nourish our bodies and our minds.
I practise creative visualisations, too: my ‘I love’s. I love living in a house by the water, where my children can visit me. Now, I don’t have that yet, but you have to love what you want. When you do, that’s what shows up.
I’ve hired a life coach because, the bigger we get, the more I need to make sure I’m honed and focused on the vision. The more people we hire, the more moving parts there are, and the more grounded I need to be.
Ogunte: What does self-care mean to you?
Wendy Burton: Self-care is a priority for me. I listen to my body. When it tells me I need a break or a treat, I make it happen. You have to prioritise yourself and your well-being to be effective.
If getting that massage or manicure is going to help you feel relaxed and confident in your day, do it! You have to do what brings joy to you, so that you can bring joy to others. Massages are very important to me. Our COO Cathy has to go to yoga. She just has to. And I say, of course, go! It gives her life and makes her balanced. Also, after she’s done yoga, I know I’ll get a call from her, saying, ‘Hey, guess what I what just thinking?’ I truly believe that to be able to take care of everybody else, sometimes you have to put yourself ahead of everybody else.
It’s about us finding our voices, and no longer allowing anyone to push us down or silence us.
Ogunte: We are in a moment, culturally, where women and their experiences are under the spotlight. What are your thoughts on this and on the role it could play in empowering women?
Wendy Burton: I think #MeToo had to happen. Quite honestly, I think it’s about time we started supporting and listening to other women! I’m a great believer in women supporting other women, ‘lifting as you climb’, so I’m grateful for the new sense of solidarity has come out of this movement.
This isn’t a man-bashing thing, I know there are beautiful, gentle men out there. It’s about us finding our voices, and no longer allowing anyone to push us down or silence us.
I work in the timber market and the stock market – both rather male-dominated. Even now, I can be having conversations on the phone with male brokers, and they can be condescending. I have to tell you, though, this gives me so much power!
It’s like, ‘Oh, you don’t think that’s possible? You just sit back and watch me go!’
I was told just the other day that there was no way we would be able to raise $1 million on a pre-IPO, without doing it in the way he outlined. I said, ‘Well, I hate to break it to you, but we’ve already passed the $600,000 mark, and we just started.’ He kept saying, ‘No, it’s never going to happen’, and I said, ‘Honey, it kind of already did!’ I get underestimated like this all the time.
We may not like Trump, we may be devastated that he’s the President, but it has been interesting to watch the world’s response. Of course, I was despairing because this is a man who doesn’t believe in climate change. He talks as if he’s going to overthrow everything we work for. The amazing thing is that the world started to wake up.
I see him like the figure of the Black Buddha: we may not like who he is, but because of who he is, change is happening. The figures of Americans investing in green companies are on the rise. And guess what? High percentages of these smart investors are women. We’re looking out for Mother Earth.
I don’t know what’s coming next, but I’m on board. There is no jealousy out there any more, we need to hold hands and stand together with women, all across the world. We lead with heart and that’s what makes us strong. I believe we, as women, are going to make a huge impact in leadership.
Ogunte: It's 2030. What does your world look like?
Wendy Burton: This is the future I visualise: everybody is able to offset their carbon footprint; farmers are appreciated for the good they provide; our stock has created wealth for millennials so they can create positive change in the world; we’ve had many harvests of our Empress trees; and old-growth forests are no longer being logged.
In all this, World Tree is instrumental in helping restore the lungs of Mother Earth.
Ogunte: Who are the women who inspire you?
In my network, I’m inspired by:
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