Our competitive advantage is people, say execs at PacWest

Pulp & Paper Canada
June 15, 2015
By Pulp & Paper Canada

The theme of this year’s PacWest conference was Leveraging our Competitive Advantage, and the executives speaking on the opening panel generally agreed that our competitive advantage in the pulp and paper industry is our people.

Brett Robinson, president and CEO of Canfor Pulp, reflected on the changes in the industry over his 26-year career, and noted that things seem impossible until someone pushes, and then they aren’t impossible anymore. His personal favorites among the competitive advantages of the Canadian industry: fibre, sustainability and people.

“We have decades of experience operating our assets, and know our mills, the technology and the business as well as anyone else in the world. We know how hard we can push, we know how tight we can run our costs, we know how to push this business to its limits.

“Anybody can buy a pulp mill, but at the end of the day, it’s the people who make the difference. I believe our number one competitive advantage today is our people, who dream about the impossible, dare to try, and deliver the change,” said Robinson.

No other industry has employed as much advanced industrial technology as the Canadian pulp and paper industry, he commented.

Carol Lapointe, mill manager of Domtar’s Kamloops, B.C., pulp mill, spoke about Domtar’s journey since it merged with Weyerhaeuser’s uncoated freesheet business in 2007. Company executives recognized that Domtar was a leader in uncoated freesheet, said Lapointe, but it was a leader in a declining market.

In 2011, Domtar began to move into the personal care business, making acquisitions and changes to its product line. Lapointe noted that Domtar in its current form incorporates employees from: E.B. Eddy, Georgia Pacific, Great Northern, Weyerhaeuser, Willamette, Indas and Associate Hygienic Products.

“We are very successful at getting our employees working together,” he concluded. “We are developing and implementing a “One Domtar” approach to how we operate as a system.”
Domtar is moving resources into critical performance gaps across the system, said Lapointe. One example is bringing employees from other mills to assist during a shutdown at the Kamloops site. Five or six years ago, that would not have happened, he said.

Discussing diversification at Alberta Newsprint, general manager Mike Putzke said, “Engaged people and community are our competitive advantage.”

During the industry downturn in 2009, Alberta Newsprint had to re-think its assets, recalled Putzke. He deemed those assets to be: supportive owners who invest for the long term; engaged, entrepreneurial employees; strong government partnerships; and the mill’s location in the heart of oil and gas country.

Alberta Newsprint made it a goal to have a portfolio of five thriving businesses by 2018. The company ran a two-day session for employees to introduce the concept and do some brainstorming on what those new businesses might be. Now, mid-way through 2015, Alberta Newsprint has also developed ANC Timber, ANC Power and ANC Transload.

Promising business ideas are investigated by teams of volunteers who are empowered and given the budget and resources to do trials and develop business plans.

In addition to the opening presentations from executives, PacWest offered technical sessions, short courses and roundtable meetings for mill managers. More than 350 people gathered for the event, held from June 10-13 at Whistler, B.C. The conference and trade show are organized by PAPTAC and the IBMP, a group of suppliers to the Western pulp and paper industry.

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