My Week: Andrew Skeene of Global Forestry Investments

The rainforest entrepreneur on language barriers, red tape and separating work and family life.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

We invest in forestry and agricultural products in South America – mainly Brazil. I started the business about four years ago with Omari Bowers, my business partner. I already had a property company but when the market started to slow we wanted to do something a bit different. We saw there was lots of hype around investing in emerging markets and found that the value timber has risen over the last 50 years and tends to be a safe investment.

At the moment Global Forestry Investments owns just under 1,000 hectares of forest and we’re aiming to reach 10,000 hectares. This year we expect to turnover between £6-7m from growing trees in Brazil. Our main office is based in London, with 16 employees, but we have offices in Brazil, Dubai and Abu Dhabi too. Omari or I will travel at least once a month - before we buy any plantation we fly out to see it ourselves and always go with a certified forestry engineer.

My phone starts buzzing around six in the morning, and it’ll mainly be calls from Dubai clients as they’re four hours ahead. I aim to get from my Hertfordshire home to the office by 10. The first half of the day is answering emails and conference calls. The latter part of the day will be spent going through paperwork and contracts. There’s a lot of red tape. When buying a plantation, lawyers check there’s no bad debt on the land and surveyors will need to confirm it meets the valuation. There’s also the language barrier – all contracts have to be drawn up in both Portuguese and English so we have to work with translators.    

We’re always on the look out for more land, so on Tuesday we did some research for new purchases and had lunch with some of our Brazil clients who are visiting the UK. The distance can be a problem, but we get round it. On Wednesday we found out that documents we had submitted earlier this week for buying some land needed to be in hard-copy in Brazil by Friday. We pulled one of our staff out of a meeting, sent him out to buy some underwear and told him he would be going to Brazil for 24 hours that evening. We do whatever it takes to get a deal done. It’s like the series 24 – every hour counts.

On weekends I like to chill and spend time with my family. I’ll go to the gym, read a book, and do some research on the internet. This weekend, though, I’m going to Dubai. I’ll probably fly out on Saturday night for a day of meetings on Sunday, as that’s when the business week starts in Dubai. I’ll go on my own – I did once try bringing family and it was a nightmare. Work and family don’t mix.      

- Andrew Skeene is the co-founder of Global Forestry Investments, which invests in forests in south America.  

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