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The Man Behind The Mill: Andr Legault of Papier Masson in Masson-Angers, QC

In early April 2001, a press release reported that Papier Masson had set a new world TMP production record in a 72 hour run by producing 2277 BDMT of newsprint grade TMP pulp on a single line of two s...


November 1, 2003
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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In early April 2001, a press release reported that Papier Masson had set a new world TMP production record in a 72 hour run by producing 2277 BDMT of newsprint grade TMP pulp on a single line of two stage refiners. According to Andr Legault, vice president of operations and mill manager, the mill ran at this rate for three consecutive days, beginning on March 27, 2001. During this time, plant availability was more than 99.5% with only three short production interruptions. Peak operating rate on the main line was 760 BDMTPD.

In October 2002, another press release highlighted the fact that Papier Masson was recognised as one of the 35 best employers in the province of Quebec by the Watson-Wyatt/Affaires PLUS poll. This was as a result of the company’s dedication to a policy of providing a safe and pleasant working environment. At the time, employees received close to 10,000 hours of training at a total cost of $600,000. This month’s column starts with these two releases since they illustrate what is most valued at Papier Masson: the process and the people.

“You can achieve incredible things when you show respect to the people who work the mill,” said Andr Legault.

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Like many mill operations in Quebec, Papier Masson has a long and rich history which dates back to 1930 when James Maclaren Industries opened a bisulfite pulp mill and a newsprint mill in Masson. Within a year, hydro-electric stations were added at both High Falls and Masson. The original newsprint mill used two 234-inch wide Fourdrinier paper machines which together produced 160,000 metric tonnes of newsprint annually.

The year 1959 saw the addition of a new mechanized pulp mill. In 1980 Noranda Mines assumed ownership of Maclaren Industries. A year later, the pulp used to make newsprint was improved from a low-yielding bisulphite pulp mixture which allowed conservation of approximately 50% of the raw wood by weight into usable pulp, to an ultra high yield process that used 85% of the raw wood. In 1985, after half a century of use, the two Fourdrinier machines were retired and replaced with an ultra-modern double wire Beloit unit.

In 1987, Maclaren became a subsidiary of Noranda Forest Incorporated. Rapid modernization continued in this period with the construction of a clarifer. The late nineties saw major ownership changes at the mill operation, and on December 18, 1998, a group of private and institutional investors purchased the newsprint mill. Chairman and CEO, Ashok Narang, recalls that time when “after visits and analyses, I could see that this mill was a healthy and vigorous company staffed by a strong dynamic team. What better way to show a community one’s affiliation than to name it Papier Masson Lte?”

Andr Legault, a native of Cornwall, ON, recalled that as a teenager he spent two of his summers at the local Domtar mill. His fascination with the process of papermaking started in early life. After graduating from Queen’s University with a degree in Chemical Engineering, pulp and paper became his calling. Next year he will be celebrating his 25th year in the industry, and he still finds a fascination with the paper machine, which he refers to as “the heartbeat of the mill”.

“It is my favourite part of the mill and once a day I walk down to see it,” he says. As vice president of operations and mill manager, a position that he has held since 1992, his office is just a three-minute walk from the “heartbeat” of the mill. “That is one of the great advantages of working at Papier Masson,” adds Legault. “We are all in close proximity to each other.”

Legault explains that it is precisely this proximity that helped to create the unique working relationship between management and employees that the company enjoys.

In 2000, the mill underwent modernization with the start up of the new thermo-mechanical pulp (TMP) plant that replaced the former pulping facility. At a cost of $158 million, the new plant made considerable reductions in the impact the operation had on the environment.

The modernization also forced Papier Masson to lay off almost 30% of its work force, a major consideration in a town where a significant number of employees are local and also have lengthy associations with the plant. Legault recalled that through the continued efforts of the Re-Classification Committee, “more than 90% of the laid-off workers obtained new employment.”

Human resources manager Jacques Thriault says that the exceptional relationship that the company had working with the union was instrumental in collectively finding solutions to the situation that modernization had created. He adds, “To this day the relationship with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Local 11 is so strong that we list their web link on our website.”

In the mid-eighties, Andr Legault was involved in the introduction of the new paper machine at the mill. In 2000 he was equally instrumental in the start-up of the TMP facility. In the process, he has also gained the respect and support of his colleagues as a strong decisive leader. Paul Clment, service manager, has known Legault for 17 years and referred to his friend as “a hard working achiever”. Human resources manager Jacques Thriault adds, “you can ask him anything and always rely on a prompt answer.”

“Andr is one of those unique mill managers who is capable of making decisions on both a short term and long term level,” says Ashok Narang, adding, “this is his major asset.”

When away from the mill, 49-year old Legault takes pride in his family life, his golf game, his work with PAPTAC and his involvement with the community’s United Way campaign. He is a balanced man, always ready to share yet another anecdote about the successes achieved at Paper Masson.

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