Business Development Manager Ryan Burke Sees the Forest and the Trees

Written by Holly Cullom

We meet Ryan Burke on a bright, bracingly cold mid-December day to talk to him about his new role as Business Development Manager for Versatile. As we head out for a stroll through the industrial landscape near the office, Ryan pulls a brown blazer over his grey button-up shirt and dark denim. His youthful face is dominated by neatly trimmed beard that’s more salt and paprika than salt and pepper, and while his demeanor is somewhat serious and no-nonsense, he laughs easily. 

In his early college years, Ryan explored computer programming, then psychology, and even considered becoming a science teacher before ultimately ending up with a twenty-year career in lumber sales. When asked what drew him to Versatile, Ryan explains, “I’ve watched Versatile over the years, and there is a very high level of quality in all that they produce. To have the chance to work with people that put so much time, energy, and craftsmanship into their work, it seemed like a great opportunity.” These warm feelings are clearly reciprocal, as Operations Manager Erica Witbeck describes Ryan in nothing less than glowing terms: “At Versatile, we have been fans of Ryan for years, and were thrilled when he agreed to come onboard. We were always impressed by his knowledge of wood, his understanding of our production needs, and his commitment to service. Ryan could be trusted for fast, thorough, and effective follow-through. His warmth and intelligence always made interactions with him energizing and pleasant, and we were eager to bring that energy in-house,” she says. The way Ryan describes his workplace demeanor as “kind and direct, with a mix of humor” clearly matches others’ perceptions of him.

Ryan and I discuss our admiration of the role Versatile has taken in restoring some of the region’s most memorable and beloved landmarks, including the Hollywood Theatre and Timberline Lodge. But Ryan says that beyond the impressive work Versatile does with these historic structures, “The people are why I came here. The projects are amazingly well done and well known, like we were talking about, but it was about the people. What’s fun for me is that everyone here has this passion for historic preservation.”

An interest in preserving vintage structures is also a part of Ryan’s history; as a youth, he helped renovate both his mother’s and grandmother’s homes. “We were do-it-yourselfers,” he explains with a grin. “For me growing up, it was about the bungalow house that I was remodeling with my mom when I was ten. There’s a whole host of beautiful homes that are getting the attention they deserve by the people who own them and love them, and that’s where my interest level is. There is so much detail that goes into the single family homes.” 

Pacific Northwesterners appreciate forests as both a natural resource and a haven for rest and relaxation, and this is a view that Ryan shares. Like a root system that is deep and intertwined, trees weave a complex pattern through his life. “If you grew up here in the Pacific Northwest as I have, then you can understand that forests mean everything. They are the natural beauty that we wander and play in. Our lumber industry is paramount to the culture here, and they are one of the few renewable resources that we silly humans can manage.” Born and raised in Portland, Ryan grew up skiing, hiking, and camping and enjoys similar activities with his wife and two small children, who are the center of his world outside of work. “We are pretty outdoorsy,” he says with a smile. Favorite spots include the Mount Hood National Forest and Cape Meares, where “one of the very last stands of native Oregon old growth coastal forest . . . stunning vertical sea cliffs and rolling headlands of native Sitka spruce and hemlock” make up the landscape. 

Cape Meares (left) and Mount Hood National Forest (right) – Photos courtesy Eric Muhr and Sarah Ardin.

As we bring our conversation to a close, I ask what Ryan likes about working at Versatile so far.“Shoot, everything!” he exclaims with enthusiasm. “I think they have crafted an incredible team of people at every level.” Asked how he sees his role at Versatile and what he hopes to bring to the table, Ryan pauses thoughtfully. “That’s a good question,” he says. “I think it’s easy for manufacturers to fall in love with the projects they are working on, and my role is to remember that those projects started with solutions and relationships with clients. My focus is on building those relationships and the creative work that goes into finding the solutions they might need.” Refining his answer further, Ryan adds, “I am less of a salesman and more of an advocate for Versatile’s craftsmen and craftswomen. I want to showcase their work.” 

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