Pulp and Paper Canada

Features Q & A Women in Forestry
The power of persistence: Q&A with Victoria Popnikolov, plant manager at Cascades

March 6, 2024  By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

Who: Victoria Popnikolov

Role: Plant Manager at Cascades Containerboard Packaging – Scarborough

Employer: Cascades


Lives in: Mississauga, Ontario

Years in the industry: 8

With a background in engineering in Physics and a passion for packaging, Victoria Popnikolov emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and sustainability in the industry. Popnikolov highlights the supportive environment at Cascades and encourages women to pursue careers in the pulp and paper sector, emphasizing the role of mentorship, teamwor, and persistence in achieving success.

Pulp & Paper Canada: What is your current role at Cascades?

Victoria Popnikolov: I’m currently a plant manager for one of our sheet plants division, Cascades Scarborough. My role as a plant manager is to oversee the operations, make sure that we’re aligned with our corporate KPIs, goals and the vision of how the business will develop and serve our customers.

P&PC: What is your background and how has it helped you with your current role?

VP: I have a background of Engineering in Physics from back home. When I came to Canada, I decided to continue my education and to concentrate in a certain area of expertise. I picked packaging as my continuous education. So, I took a packaging course at Humber College. From there, I landed my first packaging role as a packaging designer, at the Cascades Vaughan division where I worked for five years. I was always very much driven to and interested in the production side of our business. I expressed my desire to get more involved on the production side. I was given an opportunity to join the succession team as a production manager in succession. This happened approximately two and a half years ago. And that is how I ended up at the Scarborough facility. From there things quickly developed and I had an opportunity to apply for the plant manager role in succession. So overall, I spent two and a half years in succession, here at my current location. Just before last Christmas, I was awarded the role of plant manager for Scarborough.

P&PC: What motivates you to work in the pulp and paper industry?

VP: Well, the packaging industry and the operations behind the packaging industry have always been my passion since I started my course at Humber College. There, I was given an opportunity to pick between design and the structural part of the business. The structural part of the business was a lot more aligned with my engineering background. And once you get yourself in the packaging world, things quickly develop and that passion for the perfect packaging solution has been driving me to continue to grow within the industry and within the company as well. For me, it’s that passion for the perfect box, the perfect solution that we as a company can offer.

P&PC: What does your day-to-day look like in your current role?

VP: It varies a lot. As a plant manager, I start my day making sure that the team is aligned amongst themselves. Health and Safety has a big role to play in my day to day. I do safety talks or participate in safety discussions. We have to make sure that we have the right process to meet the needs of the day and all the tasks are appropriately lined out. We have few meetings that are set in our schedules that are exactly for that purpose. Make sure that shipping is aligned with production, production is aligned with the CSRs, CSRs are aligned with the customer and obviously the overall process is aligned financially and logistically. It’s like a lot of dots that we have to make sure are properly aligned when we’re moving forward. So, my typical day would usually start with a floor walk. I get that opportunity at the beginning of my day and the beginning of the shift to meet with everyone on the floor and establish this connection with the production team. And after that, I meet with the management and supervisory teams to make sure that we’re aligned and we have a clear path for the day.

P&PC: What would you consider as your favourite moments and top successes?

VP: For the production side in packaging, continuous improvement is definitely one of the best projects and continues to be the best project in terms of the motivation factor. Continuous improvement doesn’t finish within the walls of our factory. It is so much more than that. It’s servicing our customers, meeting their needs and being better and better in terms of how we deliver our product, how we produce our product and how we answer the needs of the customers and the market. We all know that the packaging world has been developing very quickly. So, to continue to service and to optimize those processes through sustainability, through improving the way we produce, has definitely been one of the most exciting parts of the business for me and my development so far.

P&PC: What do you do to stay on top of the latest developments, trends and requirements of the market?

VP: Being part of Cascades, we’re obviously very customer and sustainability driven. Overall, the vision of how the packaging industry is developing is through sustainability and optimization. We’re always on top of the new trends and looking at how the market develops. This is not only up to me. There is a very big workforce that stands behind researching the market, researching the world trends, the sense of sustainability factor, and the needs of that market. I feel that this is definitely a driving factor for my personal success. It’s not just me; it’s the whole structure of our company that is moving in the right direction.

P&PC: As a woman in this industry, have you faced any challenges?

VP: I believe that we’re entering an era where women are perceived generally in a completely different level from what they were 20 years ago, or probably even 10 years ago. I have never come across any roadblocks due to my gender. I haven’t come across anyone preventing me from developing or doing good work because I am a woman I would say that I’m very blessed to work for a company and in an industry that that has been transformed in a very short period of time. I’m definitely very proud of the fact that I’m a female in this still predominantly male environment. But the number of women within our organization and the women within the pulp, paper and packaging industry, are definitely growing every year. It’s amazing to start seeing that transition and be part of that new future. Challenges are always there regardless of our gender. We always have to make sure that we approach every situation with a lot of respect to everyone else, regardless of their position or gender or knowledge and experience. So, this is one thing that everyone out there should have in mind and hopefully, we’re going to continue developing in the right direction.

P&PC: What do you think the industry should do in terms of encouraging more women to pursue careers in the pulp and paper industry?

VP: I think that exposure and us being supportive of each other is a very big step in that direction. As I mentioned before, I’ve been very fortunate to work for a company that has opened its doors for a lot more women, not only in terms of different roles, but also with the support. Women generally are very nurturing creatures. If we see that support out there, that someone has given us the trust to go and prove who we are and what we’re capable of, this is all we need to continue developing our success. That would be the biggest factor for leaders across the board – to find that person that they believe in and support them with their growth.

P&PC: How can the industry create an environment where women continue to work here?

VP: I believe for a person to continue to grow in an industry, especially for women, the teamwork is a very big part of it. If we have that willingness from the rest of the teams to open their minds, it will create an environment where more women stay around. Just give us that opportunity to develop and the support and we’ll be right there, more than happy to help.

P&PC: Have you had mentors and supporters who have helped you grow into a strong leader?

VP: Oh, 100 percent! My first supervisor Terry Clarke had allowed me to be his right hand as a designer. He actually made me believe that I can be more than a designer. And from there I had an opportunity to present my vision and my desires to our general manager, Steve Cousins, who was very supportive and had given me the opportunity to join the succession team. And I was very blessed to have another mentor Toni Lionetti, who has been on-site support for me throughout those two and a half years in my succession role. Having strong leaders guiding me in the right direction has definitely been a blessing.

P&PC: What would be your advice for the next generation of women who want to come into this industry?

VP: I say, dare to dream. Define your goals, be focused and have a clear understanding of how you are going to get to your desired position or career goal. It’s really hard to get to where you want but being persistent and continuing to grow yourself as an individual within your area of interest is the winning factor. If we put the work there, someone will notice us and the success will follow.

P&PC: Any parting thoughts/comments that you would like to leave our readers with?

VP: I think sustainability is a very, very important part of the of the pulp and paper industry. It is in women’s nurturing nature to care about the planet. Sustainability could definitely be a leading factor in more women joining the industry because we know that we’re part of something bigger. And hopefully, what we can contribute will make a difference for the future generation, for our children and for the planet.

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