ASPI 2017 Spring Meeting




Spring 2017 Meeting Report

Insights on Markets and Leadership

With a focus on learning from customers and honoring excellence, ASPI’s 2017 Spring Meeting in Sarasota, FL attracted a strong member turnout. The meeting featured a program of speakers from core customers, a market forecast, and the presentation of ASPI’s two annual awards.

Strategic Insights

Following a brief welcome from ASPI President Keith Kemp, attendees welcomed Rodger Fuller, senior vice president of Sonoco. He offered insights into Sonoco’s successful growth and shared new innovations in packaging being development by this $5 billion global provider. Fuller noted that rising OCC prices were prompting Sonoco to explore new ways to capture that value stream. “Our future is skewed toward consumer and protective packaging, though we remain committed to industrial packaging,” he said. Expanding margins and optimizing operations will be key to growth. Fuller invited ASPI members to learn more about this dynamic company at the Fall Customer Alignment meeting, which Sonoco will host (see below.)

Expera Specialty Solutions is a new company with roots that go back to 1883; it was formed through the merger of Thilmany Pulp and Paper with Wausau Paper. Steve Myers, Expera’s vice president strategic initiatives and integrated mills, spoke to meeting attendees about the successful integration and the company’s market position. He also addressed Expera’s strategic approach to energy efficiency and capital expenditures in light of increased Boiler MACT regulations.

Glen Sanders, senior director of sourcing for Verso Papers, discussed Verso’s approach to operational excellence. The company uses “gap analysis” to help hit its targets. He told ASPI members that suppliers can play a key role in that process. “We don’t do a good enough job of tapping the potential of key suppliers,” he said. “Our suppliers know more than us, and we always want to speak with subject matter experts. My job is to make it compelling enough for you to bring them in.”

Business sustainability is a key concern for Domtar Paper, according to Michael Garcia, president of Domtar’s pulp and paper division. Currently, 52 percent of the company’s cash flow is generated by declining businesses; Garcia shared the strategy that Domtar is using to drive business to growing markets through what he called “fiber innovations.” Deploying capital to growth areas is part of that strategy, and a strong supplier base is imperative. “What I would ask of (suppliers) is to remain viable and successful. I want you to be able to navigate the changing industry as successfully as we do,” Garcia said.

The Spring Meeting’s final presentation came from Economist Rod Young, RISI, who offered a forecast of the North American paper industry through 2018. He said the new US presidential administration is causing uncertainty in the general economic outlook, particularly regarding trade policy. Expected movement toward deregulation could be a positive for industry, though inflation is expected to accelerate over the next two years. He expects the tight jobs market to lead to wage inflation. Containerboard demand growth is accelerating, as is the demand for paper and board, though at a slower pace.


Honoree Spotlight

ASPI offers two awards each year: ASPI Customer Executive of the Year, and the ASPI Excellence in Leadership Award. Both of ASPI’s 2017 honorees accepted their awards in Sarasota.

Michael P. Doss, president and CEO, Graphic Packaging International, was named 2017 Customer Executive of the Year. This award is the highest honor ASPI can bestow on an individual, and is granted to a paper industry executive who has demonstrated extraordinary effectiveness in working with a range of suppliers to enhance their company’s productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Doss told meeting attendees that, for GPI, part of that effectiveness is due to well-defined strategic priorities: investing in core businesses, making strategic acquisitions, and returning capital to shareholders. The company’s vertically integrated business model offers “tremendous operating leverage,” he noted. “Our customers are struggling; we need to help them be relevant. Innovative packaging can help.” He also noted the importance of working closely with the supplier community.

Jack Bray, vice president, manufacturing operations for Domtar Corporation, accepted the 2017 Excellence in Leadership Award, which honors senior level managers within the paper industry for unique and creative leadership of their employees and key suppliers during major projects.

Bray gave attendees insight into Domtar’s highly effective leadership development programs, including “iGrow,” which offers individualized programs for development in key areas. Other programs are specialized for every level of leadership within the company. Domtar’s vision is to be the leader in innovative, fiber-based products; he said employee development is critical to that goal. “Our leadership efforts cascade all the way down,” Bray said.


Don’t Miss the Next Opportunity

The Fall 2017 Customer Alignment meeting will be held September 27-29, 2017 in Myrtle Beach, SC. Hosted by Sonoco, the meeting will include breakout sessions and panel presentations, and will offer attendees outstanding access to a major producer. As Keith Kemp, ASPI president, commented, “Sonoco has been actively planning and is fully invested in a successful Fall Meeting. This will be a great opportunity to understand how our key customers operate—and how we can help.”