Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six Paper Companies

My full-time, professional working career began in November of 1977 at Wright State University and continued at Hobart Corporation in 1980. But most of my career, 37 years in total, was spent at paper companies which produced a variety of coated and uncoated papers. Although there were six different names involved, I stayed in the Dayton, Ohio area during all the name changes. But in reflecting on my journey, I realized that every company change had a different, defining emotion, which I’ve bolded in their stories below.

The journey started at The Mead Corporation when I was hired as a mainframe systems programmer. The emotional memory from when I started there in February 1981 was Intimidation. I was in downtown Dayton on the 21st floor of the second tallest building working for a four billion dollar company. I felt like I landed in the big leagues surrounded by incredibly talented individuals and not really knowing if I would fit in or measure up. But the next 21 years were incredible as I moved up into management, ran the network group for awhile and directed the SAP technical group during that project’s initial four-year run. When people ask me where I worked, Mead is the answer, the place I felt most at home.

In August 2001, I walked into a management meeting to find out I was the last of our group to learn that Mead and Westvaco had agreed to a “merger of equals”, a term that has no real meaning since ultimately one company buys the other, and I was Stunned. This was my first real experience in having my apple cart upset and not having a clue what the future held for me. Fortunately it was decided that the IT group would be centered in Dayton and that I would report to the new CIO, the same VP that led the entire SAP project. That fortune only lasted a few years before it was announced that all corporate groups would be relocated to Richmond, Virginia. I am forever grateful to myself for not making that move and staying put in Dayton.

I was without full-time employment for the next ten months, doing a little consulting work, looking for my next job and best of all, planning my wedding. My wife took a big leap of faith, agreeing to marry this guy without a job. We wed in January 2008, and I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before, worried about getting a job. When NewPage, the former Papers division of MeadWestvaco, offered me a job following their acquisition of Stora Enso North America, a wave of Relief washed over me. Not only did I get back to the ranks of the fully employed, but I re-joined some of the colleagues I had said goodbye to back in 2005. But after 8 years, my apple cart would be turned over again.

In late 2014, Verso Corporation, a near-bankrupt paper company based in Memphis, Tennessee announced it was buying the financially-stable NewPage Corporation in one of the strangest deals I’ve ever experienced. Now this was the fourth paper company, but the others worked out OK, so I wasn’t overly concerned until the first joint meeting and I got introduced to their highly dysfunctional group of executives, and then the emotion was Anger. I was mad this was happening and I immediately knew my time there was short. The Department of Justice filed suit against both companies and after a year of work limbo, Verso acquired six of NewPage’s paper mills with Catalyst Paper, based outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acquiring the Rumford, Maine and Biron, Wisconsin mills.

Catalyst Paper needed to stand up a U.S. operation quickly and was able to hire a number of NewPage’s Ohio employees as part of the deal with Verso. I was so Thankful when I was extended an offer and couldn’t say yes fast enough. When I first met the Catalyst management team, I was very impressed. It was 180 degrees opposite of the pompous attitude that Verso demonstrated. Unfortunately, but out of necessity to insure that the I.T. system split would be success, I had to be Verso employee for four months to help launch the separation activities before becoming a Catalyst employee to complete the transition. Given the alternative would have been looking for a new job at the age of 59, it was worth putting up with the pain.

Finally, in 2018, as I was lining up my retirement date, Catalyst Paper sold the U.S. operations they had bought three and a half years prior to ND Paper, a large, China-based, financially-strong paper company, returning control to people who were paper-makers, after thirteen years of being owned by all types of equity and debt organizations. When the announcement was made, I was quite simply Calm. I moved up my retirement date to match when I thought would be the proper time to leave, grateful that the colleagues I was leaving behind would be in a better place.

So that’s the story of my 37-year paper career, staying in the Dayton region as the paper industry seemed to revolve around me. For all the changes, I’ve been fortunate to work for mostly great companies and always awesome colleagues. So the final emotion is Gratitude, that even for all the changes, it all worked out for the best in the end.

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