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Following a two-year stint as the chair of the OBI Board of Directors, Jordan Papé passed the reins to Lori Olund in March. In an exit interview of sorts, we asked Jordan to reflect on his tenure, the role of OBI, the challenges Oregon businesses face, and reasons for optimism. His answers appear below.

Jordan is president and CEO of The Papé Group, a family owned business that, as Jordan likes to say, sells heavy equipment throughout the West. Which is a bit like saying Intel sells computer parts.

The company that would become The Papé Group began in 1938 with E.C. Papé’s purchase of an Allis-Chalmers tractor dealership. The business has evolved steadily under each generation of family leadership, beginning with E.C. Papé’s children, who grew the company as a Caterpillar dealership and helped develop a new generation of equipment that increased logging efficiency. Jordan’s father, Randy, worked to diversify the business, investing in dealerships that sell forklifts, heavy-haul road trucks and warehouse components while expanding throughout the West.

Under Jordan’s generation of leadership, the company’s fourth, The Papé Group has focused on tying its equipment and service lines together to provide end-to-end solutions for industries and for customers.

Thus, farmers might use the company’s agricultural equipment to grow wheat, which Papé-supplied trucks might carry to a mill built by contractors using Papé construction equipment. The flour might be stored in a warehouse that uses Papé-supplied forklifts. And bread made with that flour might be sold in a store stocked with Papé shelving (The Papé Group provides racking for all Costcos in the western U.S.).

The company’s many product and service lines also allow it to provide multiple solutions efficiently to individual customers. Three-quarters of Papé customers need at least two of the product lines offered by the company to do business. One quarter need three or more product lines.

The Papé Group operates in nine states and employs about 4,500.

Jordan began his tenure with the family business at the age of 17 in the parts department. By the time he became CEO in 2013, he had served as the general manager for Flightcraft, director of parts procurement, controller and chief financial officer.

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Q: What’s something readers may not know about The Papé Group?

A: The Papé Group is a fourth-generation family business, started in Eugene. Members of the fifth-generation have just started entry level positions during their summer breaks.

Papé offers products and services ranging from the sale of large trucks and tractors, to equipment service and support, to warehouse solutions and racking, all the way through to lithium and hydrogen fuel solutions. Chances are, most of what you find in your home, including the basic materials used to build your home, was touched at some point by equipment supported by the awesome team members at Papé.

Prior to starting Papé, E.C. Papé was a co-founder of what became Hyster/Yale, which was once headquartered in Portland. After starting what became Hyster/Yale, E.C. Papé was the general manager for the Industrial Relations Association of Oregon and the Oregon Employers Council, a manufacturing association and predecessor to OBI.

Q: What motivated you to join the OBI board?

A: Our family has a very long history of serving in various roles to make Oregon the best state it can be. For generations, this has included Papé family members also engaging with the broader business community to help make Oregon a place where families can settle and prosper.

Q: What do you consider the most significant accomplishment of OBI during your tenure as chair?

A: When it comes to creating a competitive business environment, details matter. I’m particularly proud of the enduring work that Angela and the OBI team have put into: 

  1. unifying the business community, and
  2. putting great people in position to influence the details embedded in implementing legislation.

Q: What were some of the most significant challenges OBI faced during your time as chair?

A: We worked to bring an end to the legislative supermajority, bringing a balance of ideas back to Salem. Salem is full of well-intended leaders, but they tend to lack business and economic experience. The team at OBI has to be reliable and maintain credibility during policy conversations or the broader business community, our customers, and our employees risk becoming marginalized in the process.

Q: Can you share any insights or lessons learned from your experience as OBI chair that would be valuable to new OBI members?

A: Too often, businesses evaluate advocacy expenditures like they would evaluate a business investment. That often leads businesses to sit on the sidelines while they wait to see which way the political winds are blowing. Often, once we decide to engage, it’s too late. Businesses need to lean into advocacy and policy investment more like we buy insurance – fund it routinely to avoid disaster. OBI is the best business investment in the state when viewed from this perspective.

Q: What moments or experiences stand out to you as particularly memorable during your time as chair?

A: Serving on the OBI Board gives you the opportunity to engage the smartest and most capable political figures in the state, ranging across the political spectrum and including elected leaders, heads of agencies, and hired legislative affairs professionals. If you like learning and solving problems, as I do, you’ll find the whole experience fascinating.

Q: Your company operates in multiple states. What sets Oregon apart?

A: Oregon’s brand of progressive politics has morphed into acute preservationist principles. Which is to say, we have started to measure progress by what we prevent from changing or evolving instead of thinking about what we can become and doing everything we can to reach those goals. We ultimately prioritize stagnancy, which limits our potential and promotes decay. We see this in our land use systems, natural resource management, economic development, and even an education system that seems to be anchored in procedures designed for the last industrial revolution. We have to rediscover the pioneering spirit that once lured people into the Great Northwest.

Q: What, if anything, surprised you during your tenure as chair?

A: How rarely key decision makers from one segment of government communicate with key decision makers from other segments of government. This is true with our elected leaders as well as across agencies. Everyone seems to draw borders, and no one seems to be incentivized to cross lines in meaningful ways.

Q: What do you wish elected officials in Oregon understood about businesses?

A: Business will find a way to flourish. It is, at its simplest form, how we humans trade and exchange ideas and services. And, humans don’t like to be penalized or punished. Elected leaders can lean into supporting people that are growing a rewarding economy and benefit from a larger tax base (that funds essential services) OR you can add taxes, penalties, liabilities, and constraints and watch as inventors and job creators invest in places that are less punitive. For my part, I’d love to see us focus on building the types of jobs that will keep our children and grandchildren seeking rewarding careers right here in Oregon.

Q: What would you tell a business that was on the fence about joining OBI?

A: Think about the taxes you pay. Understand that a portion of your taxes ultimately find their way into organizations run by people who aren’t concerned about the well-being of your business. If you aren’t giving at least as much to OBI, you are unintentionally funding an advocacy system that is designed to marginalize your business, your employees, and your customers.

Q: What makes you optimistic about Oregon’s future as a place in which to run a business?

A: Oregon has so many assets – our natural resources, an ideal trading position on the Pacific (with two deep water ports), abundant available land and water, and a majestic landscape. If Oregon was unsettled, anyone would be attracted to come and invest in Oregon. The only thing holding us back is our policies, and those policies will change over time. We have a bright future; we just have to decide when we’re going to pursue all the incredible opportunities we have before us.

This is one of the reasons I’m so excited for Lori’s tenure as Chair of OBI. As a long-time Oregonian, mother, and CEO of an excellent manufacturing business headquartered in Oregon, Lori has a great sense for building a stronger and more competitive Oregon.