The Story Behind the Vernon Office

This article was originally published in Chimes, Bell’s employee update letter.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by pine trees, lakes, and mountains lies a town called Vernon in British Columbia, Canada, where an office keeps much of the gears turning for Bell Lumber and Pole’s day-to-day operations. Most of Bell’s employees are familiar with the “Vernon office,” but they often ask: why in the world is there an accounting office in Vernon, when Bell's main headquarters call New Brighton, Minnesota home?

To tell that story, we have to rewind the clock.

The first traces of Bell Lumber & Pole Company in British Columbia date back to the early 1930s, when butt treating facilities were built in Lumby, BC to treat timber coming in from Washington state and other areas of BC. M.J. Bell’s early pursuit of expanding plants to the west established successful relationships between BC logging operations and New Brighton’s transit and treating plant.

Soon after, full-length treating facilities began to blossom in New Brighton, Minnesota, Lumby, British Columbia, and Calgary, Alberta. In 1979, the Calgary treating plant was moved 30 miles east to Carseland, AB. At that time, all three plants modernized their full length and butt treating facilities.

When third-generation owner Mert III stepped away from the President's chair, Cyril Hopkins, who hailed from the Lumby office, stepped in as president. Cyril dedicated his heart and soul to the company from 1959 to 1995. After Cyril retired, Ken Stewart, who'd been with us from 1985 to 2006, assumed the role of president for an 11-year stint from 1995 to 2006.

Due to the locations of Bell’s presidents prior to 2005, the company headquarters (including finance and accounting operations) were located in Lumby, BC. At the time, New Brighton functioned as the Sales Office.

Most of the Lumby employees commuted at least 30 minutes to the office, so the decision was made to move the headquarters to a new building closer to where they lived in Vernon, BC.

But in 2006, Mert III sold the company’s Canadian assets, and during that same year, Tom and Kim Bell took the reins of Bell Lumber and Pole in the U.S.

After the asset sale of the Canadian business, the five remaining employees remained at the Vernon office, which was meant to be a temporary location at first.

When Tom and Kim Bell took the helm of the ship, New Brighton was officially donned the company headquarters due to their residence and workplace location. Tom established the Vernon office as the center for the company's finance and accounting operations.

Back in those days, the Bell crew numbered 85 strong across the U.S. and Canada, with just a handful stationed at the Vernon office.

"The office we're in now was initially intended to be temporary," Leanna Bomba, manager of the payroll department, said. "It was quite spacious, with only five of us. However, in 2008, we began expanding our team. We've been here ever since."

Now, Vernon houses 22 employees responsible for three accounting departments within the company: Woodlands Accounting, Financial Accounting, and Sales and Operations Accounting.

Bomba mentioned that she never imagined she'd spend the majority of her career at Bell when she was first hired over 25 years ago, but she wouldn't have it any other way. She attributed her decision to stay to the people.

"We're all hard-working here," she said about the Vernon office. "As accountants, everyone's rather reserved, but a lot gets accomplished here for the company."

Bomba chuckled as she recalled her visits to the New Brighton office, where the salespeople are located.

“It’s different when we come down to New Brighton, and the salespeople want to chat. We’re accountants,” she joked. “We’re not chatty. But it’s really fun to see how every office interacts.”

“Our primary responsibility is to maintain pole inventory and customer invoicing.”

Manager: Leigh Skeeles
Sales & Operations Accounting Department

There are three clerical staff who process pole inventory and invoicing and work with the yard supervisors and inside sales on discrepancies and issues. Two operations accountants work on pole costing, operational reporting, preservative/fuel inventories, sales tax maintenance, customer account maintenance, and month-end accounting processes.

“Our primary responsibilities include financial reporting, treasury, fixed assets, insurance, trade and freight accounts payable, and accounts receivable collection.”

Manager: Katherine Armstrong
Financial Accounting Department

This department works with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders – internally, with all the departments across all locations at Bell – and externally, with vendors and customers. The main goal of the Financial Accounting Department is to complete all required tasks timely and accurately, and to increase financial acumen throughout the company by teaching and sharing information. Their team-oriented mindset is crucial to the success of the department.

“Our primary responsibility is ‘Contractor Pay’ which is processing payables & receivables from deliveries of barkies to our whitewood yards as well as deliveries of logs to mills.”

Manager: Jennifer Jebb
Woodlands Accounting Department

The Woodlands Accounting department primarily collaborates with foresters and pole buyers, as well as yard administrators. Externally, it deals with landowners, loggers, trucking companies, and mills. This department navigates the challenges of keeping track of the many contracts and sales it has going on at one time, and ensuring it has all the information needed. The main goal of the Woodlands Accounting Department is always to be as accurate as possible, work as a team, and try to have some fun.

“Our primary responsibility is processing payroll. This is done for our entire organization, both for Canada and the U.S.”

Manager: Jennifer Jebb
Payroll Department

The Payroll Department ensures that all employees are paid on time and accurately. It also manages the onboarding of new employees, and processes funding for various benefit payments for the company.

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