LSU’s Legacy at RoyOMartin Transforms Forestry Through Bold Approaches to Employee Health and Education

Through innovation related to people, not only technology, LSU and LSU Health Shreveport alumni are transforming the leading business in the leading agricultural industry in Louisiana.

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RoyOMartin’s tagline, “We grow trees and people,” relies on the efforts of LSU and LSU Health Shreveport alumni Dr. Brian Elkins and Donna Bailey, who drive people-centric innovation at the company. Not in terms of technology, but in employee health and professional development. So far this year, turnover at the company’s Oakdale plant has been less than five percent.

– Photo by Elsa Hahne/LSU.

Innovation isn’t always about the latest technology. Sometimes it’s about transforming an organization by making its people happier, healthier and more successful. At RoyOMartin, Louisiana’s largest landowner and maker of wood products, LSU alumna Donna Bailey and LSU/LSU Health Shreveport alumnus Dr. Brian Elkins have helped build an educational system as well as a healthcare system—within the company—to support RoyOMartin employees and their families.

“My goal was always to make our company as profitable as it can be,” Bailey said. “Our leaders, when I joined RoyOMartin, were experts at manufacturing and forestry. Meanwhile, I was an educator. I was an expert on people. As such, I knew people were the biggest secret of all in making our company more successful, and LSU showed me how to get it done.”

Bailey first joined RoyOMartin in 2005 after working as a teacher in Allen Parish for 12 years. After continuing her education at LSU and getting her master’s degree in leadership and human resource development in 2017, she was promoted to vice president of human resources at RoyOMartin. There, she created WoodWorks, a high school outreach, training and internship program from which the company continuously recruits, and Women in Manufacturing, an initiative to broaden access to opportunities in a still male-dominated industry. Her latest addition is Girls Can Too, a mentor program for middle and high school students to learn about manufacturing.

“You never hear ‘I want to grow up to be a manufacturer,’” Bailey said. “But manufacturing can be exciting and challenging, and is just not sold that way. With all the automation we have now, women can be manufacturers same as men, and manufacturing offers great careers and opportunities. I believe we have a responsibility as a company to help educate students about the careers available to them in our industry.”

“Early in my life, I thought there were only two choices—teacher or nurse—so I chose to become an educator,” Bailey continued. “Even though I loved being a teacher, had I known about manufacturing and what people actually do here, I may have chosen a different path.”

Bailey and her team have continued to build professional development programs for RoyOMartin employees, such as Pay for Knowledge and Skills, where workers can learn and grow at their own pace as they continue their education, allowing employees to decide the size of their paycheck. RoyOMartin University and other programs, meanwhile, offer leadership training. Further, the children of employees can receive scholarships to attend any public university, including LSU, or technical or community college in Louisiana. RoyOMartin has about 120 students on scholarship right now.

“Education is embedded in everything we do; almost everything comes back to education,” Bailey said. “The founder or our company, Roy O. Martin Sr., was a teacher before he purchased his first sawmill in 1923. The family’s love of education is what attracted me to the company in 2004, and I have tried to continue that legacy by helping our company become a learning organization.”

“Sometimes we do so well growing people that they leave us for bigger and better jobs,” Bailey added. “We still consider that a success. It’s a win for our community and for those individuals and their families.”

About a decade ago, RoyOMartin’s healthcare costs kept climbing while employees had difficulty accessing healthcare—sometimes missing a day of work just to sit in a waiting room. Roy O. Martin III, the third-generation chairman, chief executive officer and chief financial officer for RoyOMartin, decided to do something unusual about it. Martin, a prominent LSU alumnus and donor, received both his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his Master of Business Administration from LSU. At the time of the healthcare crunch, he happened to be part of the same running club as another successful LSU alumnus, Dr. Brian Elkins, who received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at LSU Baton Rouge and then went on to complete medical school at LSU Health Shreveport. They talked, ran and talked some more, and in 2013, Dr. Elkins signed on as the medical director of Legacy Health & Wellness, a comprehensive primary care clinic for RoyOMartin employees and their families. It’s located in Alexandria, between the original RoyOMartin plywood facility in Chopin and the more recent oriented strand board, or OSB, plant in Oakdale.

“I don’t know how many times I told Roy ‘no’ before deciding to take this on—I somehow just didn’t understand what he was trying to do—but I’ve come to fully embrace this model,” Dr. Elkins said. “I’m honestly surprised not more large companies are doing it. Of course, it couldn’t be done in all states. In some places, corporate practice of medicine isn’t allowed. But here in Louisiana, it saves RoyOMartin a lot of money while we, as part of a five-person care team, are able to treat our patients like they’re family. Our goal is not to make money, but we save the company a good amount.”


Roy O. Martin III says “reckless confidence” led him and RoyOMartin, Louisiana’s leading wood products manufacturer, to partner with LSU and LSU Health Shreveport alumnus Dr. Brian Elkins to build a primary care clinic for employees as well as LSU alumna Donna Bailey to put education at the core of company culture. 

– Photo courtesy of RoyOMartin.

How much? According to Martin, he spends about half to a third, compared to his competitors, on healthcare for employees. And when the cost of drugs went up, RoyOMartin added a pharmacy.

“Roy is an innovative leader and, together, we’ve been able to make better use of every dollar the company spends on healthcare,” Dr. Elkins said. “And as a doctor, I really appreciate the opportunity to do everything I can for my patients.”

Dr. Elkins keeps a gratis appointment as associate professor of clinical family medicine at LSU Health Shreveport, for which he used to direct the residency program at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, knowing from experience that people who train in Louisiana tend to stay in Louisiana, thus helping to improve local healthcare access.

“Sometimes it seems the gap between healthcare providers and businesses and between educational partners and businesses is a mile wide,” Bailey said. “At RoyOMartin, we’re trying to solve close the gap. Through WoodWorks, we’ve educated thousands of students and have hired many into our company—at one point, 30 percent of our production workers at our Oakdale facility came straight from our WoodWorks program. With our newly implemented Girls Can Too, our desire is to attract more young women to the industry. We can only do that by building relationships with our educational partners and, together, changing the perspective on manufacturing as a career.”

“Now, our workers are thriving and their families are thriving,” Bailey continued. “Having the clinic means our people can be seen right away when there’s a problem—it’s easy and affordable—so it doesn’t end up in a surgery or disability.”

Elkin and Bailey

“Yeah—I went there!” 

– Photo by Elsa Hahne/LSU.

Bailey says she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for her master’s degree from LSU.

“My education gave me what I needed to put these programs in place,” Bailey said. “It gave me the confidence and the knowledge to explain why and convince others to do what I knew was right. Our company has exploded with leadership development because of my education at LSU, and leadership isn’t only about production numbers—it’s about being a coach and a teacher. We’re passionate about safety and sustainability, and professional development is just as important. That’s what LSU did for me; LSU showed me how to develop world-class leaders. I’m sitting in a vice president’s seat, but I’m really a teacher at heart.”

Most years, turnover at the Oakdale plant has been 5-10 percent, and participation in RoyOMartin’s Pay for Knowledge and Skills career development program at the Chopin plant has tripled, increasing from 32 percent to 94 percent.

“It’s human nature to want to learn, grow and succeed,” Bailey said. “The change at our plywood plant alone resulted in millions of dollars in profit in one year—$11 million. There’s a science to growing people, and LSU gave me that. Growing people is partly about removing obstacles to make them less scared to fail, and the entire time I was in the master’s program, everything I was given, I was taking back and using immediately at the company.”