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Man Behind the Mill: Tom Boughner of Pope & Talbot’s Mackenzie Pulp Operations


February 1, 2004
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Pope & Talbot’s corporate slogan is, “We plant, we cultivate and we create” and it is these values that the Mackenzie Pulp Operations inherited on June 15, 2001 when the mill became part of the Pope &…

Pope & Talbot’s corporate slogan is, “We plant, we cultivate and we create” and it is these values that the Mackenzie Pulp Operations inherited on June 15, 2001 when the mill became part of the Pope & Talbot organization. The pulp mill had been functioning since January 1973 and, to its 250 employees, it is simply known as the Mackenzie Pulp. Tom Boughner arrived as the general manager to the operation in 1999 and he says that one of the highlights of his 34-year career in the field of pulp and paper has been “achieving new annual production records, not just once, but twice; in 2002 and 2003.”

Pope & Talbot produces market pulp from softwood chips and sawdust at pulp mills in British Columbia and south of the border in Oregon. The company currently has the capacity to produce 830,000 metric tons of pulp. The company’s strategic focus and corporate structure encompasses the two complementary businesses of wood products and pulp.

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History

Pope & Talbot Inc. has prospered for over 154 years, enduring the cyclical highs and lows of the markets by continually adapting to the ever-changing conditions.

It all started in 1849 when Andrew Jackson Pope and Frederic Talbot left their homes in East Machias, ME, because they saw in the rough rawness of Gold Rush-era San Francisco an opportunity for business growth. Conditions were ripe for development, since there was a demand for supplies to be shipped to service the steady stream of newcomers to the region. The catastrophic fires in the area prompted major reconstruction and lumber became a precious commodity. Pope and Talbot both came from successful New England shipping and lumber families, so the two lost no time in seizing the opportunity offered on the West Coast. By 1881 they owned four sawmills, 150 thousand acres of timberland, 19 cargo ships, and land in Maine, California, Oregon and the Washington territory. Within the following ten years they formed six companies dealing in lumber, shipping and trading. Expansion into Canada started in 1969 with the purchase of several sawmills in Midway and Grand Forks British Columbia, and cutting rights to more than a million acres of timber in the region. In 1998 the company made significant efforts to focus on its two core commodity businesses, lumber and pulp, by purchasing a majority interest in Harmac Pacific, a Canadian based market pulp manufacturer with a large pulp mill in Nanaimo. In 2001, Pope & Talbot Ltd. continued its growth in pulp by looking northward to the Mackenzie region of British Columbia.

Mackenzie’s production

The Mackenzie mill, known for producing a fine grade of northern bleached softwood kraft chip and sawdust pulp was purchased in June of that year. It fit perfectly into the company’s existing operations, complementing the sawdust pulp produced at Halsey and the Harmac chip pulp.

The Mackenzie pulp mill is Canada’s most northerly softwood market kraft pulp mill. The unique characteristics of the fibre resource, (white spruce 40%, lodge pole pine 40% and alpine fir 20%) make Mackenzie pulp one of the brightest, cleanest and strongest pulps in the world.

A single line mill, Mackenzie has the capacity to produce 220,000 metric tons of market pulp annually: 108,000 tons of sawdust based pulp and 112,000 of long fibre pulp. Surpassing these annual capacities twice is something that is a source of great pride for all the 250 employees of the mill.

Community

The town of Mackenzie owes its name to explorer Alexander Mackenzie who camped in the area in 1793. His spirit of adventure and discovery symbolizes the community today, which was literally carved out of the wilderness in the mid-1960’s to service pulp and lumbering manufacturing facilities. Mackenzie lies at the bottom of the Omenica Mountain Range, with the Rocky Mountains to the east. It also sits at the southern end of Williston Lake, the largest man-made reservoir in North America. The lake was formed as a result of the W.A.C. Bennet Dam being built on the Peace River. In the center of town, the community triumphantly displays the world’s largest tree crusher used during the time of the dam construction.

Boughner’s contribution

“The people who live here in this northern community are special and I am proud to be a part of it,” Boughner said.

A native of Simcoe, Ontario, Tom Boughner graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in Chemical Engineering. His working career has almost exclusively been in the field of pulp and paper with career stops on both sides of the country. Before settling in Mackenzie, he worked in Dryden, Fort Frances and Marathon, (in Ontario), Prince Rupert, BC, and Saint John, NB. One senses that Boughner is content with his career and his lifestyle in northern British Columbia, in what can truly be called a forest-based community. “It is like a one-horse town, and that is what makes it special for me,” he said.

When the town’s only local radio station, CKMK was closed, due to the broadcast industry’s continuing consolidation, the citizens felt that their community was being abandoned. They reacted by forming the Mackenzie & Area Community Radio Society (MARS), signed 800 members and petitioned the CRTC to allow the community to run the station. On October 27th 2003, the station returned to the airwaves. In what he refers to as a spare time activity, Tom Boughher is the chairman of the Board of MARS. “His leadership skills in helping the community understand that we can win back our station was instrumental to our present-day success. He is very committed,” said morning man and station manager, J.D. McKenzie.

As the general manager of the pulp mill, commitment to his profession is singularly the most important driving force for Boughner.

“He has a unique ability to reach out and touch people on all levels,” said John Homans, power and recovery manager. “You can see him interacting with the employees whether it is on the production line, or in the lunch room.”

“It is the people who work here who make it happen, under the leadership of Tom,” added Brian Vance, kraft production manager.

Boughner told me that his favorite place in the mill is the operating control room, which as he put it “has a rejuvenating effect on me.” Tom Boughner believes in the company values and lives by them on a daily basis.

“I hope I never stop learning,” he said. He recently rejoined the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering with the aim of learning things from other process industries that would be applicable in the pulp mill. He now serves as vice chairman for the Process Safety Management Division.

When asked how he finds the time for all of his pursuits, he explained, “There is always time for the important things in life.”


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