David Helm has been named Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Outstanding Alumnus for 2019. As manager of International Paper’s West Region Fiber Supply, Helm leads the team that supplies wood to eight mills throughout the U.S., delivering more than 20 million tons of fiber each year.
After graduating in 1984 with a degree in forest engineering, Helm began his career with Champion International Corporation. International Paper, or IP, acquired Champion in 2000. He held numerous positions, including wood procurement, land management and forest operations, chip mill and woodyard operations, resource planning and analysis and general management.
Helm has had operational responsibilities from the Carolinas to Oregon and has actively served in state forestry association roles in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama—where he is a past president and chairman of the Alabama Forestry Association. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, then-Alabama Gov. Bob Riley appointed Helm as chairman of the Alabama Forest Recovery Task Force.
Paul Schrantz, the Weaver Professor of Forest Management in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and a 1975 Auburn forestry management graduate, nominated Helm for the honor.
“I have been impressed by his commitment to the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, his career achievements and his service to the forestry community in the state of Alabama,” Shrantz said. “He not only supports the school and its programs, but he also makes himself accessible to give encouragement and advice to students on their career paths.”
Helm keeps an ongoing commitment to the school, including serving on the Advisory Council—on which he has served as chairman—as well as presenting annually to the “forestry in the private sector” class and encouraging International Paper employees to join him in his involvement in the spring procurement practicum.
“By being involved in and supporting these courses, he is helping to prepare our students to be successful participants in the forest industry upon graduation,” Shrantz said.
School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Dean Janaki Alavalapati said Helm exemplifies a leader who contributes his expansive background of knowledge and experience in whatever capacity it is needed.
“Through the years, David has taken on major leadership roles in the forest industry as well as state forestry associations across the nation,” Alavalapati said. “He has shown an ongoing eagerness to contribute to the school through service on the Advisory Council, involvement in the ‘forestry in the private sector’ class and the spring procurement practicum, and guidance of students who seek careers in the forest industry. He is a role model not only to those students, but also to his colleagues.”
Helm currently serves in an advisory capacity on the Texas Forestry Association Executive Committee and is a member and past chair of the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Advisory Council. He is a registered forester in Alabama and a member of several state forestry associations. David and his wife, Adena, live in Benton, Louisiana.
We spoke with Helm about his time at Auburn and the strong connections he retains with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences:
What led you to pursue your degree at Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences?
Helm: It was the combination of forestry and engineering in a single degree program that brought me to Auburn. It was a forgone conclusion that I was headed toward some sort of engineering. The forestry aspect really piqued my interest. The summer practicum was a big draw for me. I loved it from day one and never looked back.
Why is it important to you to remain connected to and stay involved with SFWS?
The students are the reason. I am driven to do whatever I can to help the students. To help them understand what kinds of careers are out there, help them channel their interests and zero in on how their individual interests and abilities fit in the industry, and what skills they need to be successful.
We do a lot of recruiting at SFWS. For every student I interview, I try to leave them with something that will help them, whether they end up with my company or a different company. I sure didn’t get every job I interviewed for, so I try to help students be okay with not getting an offer from a given interview. Not everyone is a fit for what we do in my company, so I may encourage someone towards the REIT/TIMO, or real estate investment trust/timber investment management organization. I may also suggest something along the business side, including consulting,, wood supplier business, the lumber industry or any of the many other opportunities in our industry.
We need good strong graduates in all disciplines within the forest industry. Fortunately, SFWS turns out many of the best graduates out there. I would like to acknowledge Paul Schrantz and Tom Gallagher for the outstanding work they do with the private sector class to expose students to a wide variety of forestry professionals and potential career opportunities.
What was your reaction to learning you had been selected as Alumnus of the Year?
To say I was surprised would be the understatement of the year. Or decade. There are many deserving people out there. I will say, with a measured amount of pride, that I believe I’m the first from the class of ’84, and I believe I’m the first forest engineering graduate to receive this award. My receiving of this award would not have happened without those who had the vision to build the Forest Engineering program and contribute to FYE education, including but not limited to Emmett Thompson, Paul Turnquist, Bobby Lanford and Robert Tufts, to name a few.
The most important person to recognize is my wife, Adena Helm, who has moved all around the South with me as I’m chasing that next load of wood. Her support has been key to the career opportunities that I’ve had.
(Written by Teri Greene)