My work allows me to wander around a number of pulp and paper mill sites and talk to many managers, staff and other professionals.
After 43 years, I am more convinced than ever that, within certain broad parameters, the differences in operations making the same grades of paper boil down to one thing—people and their managers. In fact, I think if it were possible to build identical mills and staff them with disparate humans, the resulting performance would be wildly different.
This is verified in sports. After all, in a given sport (futbol, American football, basketball, baseball, cricket and so forth) every team has the same “equipment.” It is only the people that make the difference in winners and losers.
Yet, every mill I enter wants to engage in a discussion about equipment and processes. Equipment and processes must function and be maintained, but relative to the whole enterprise, it is almost as if we are talking about whether the basketball is properly inflated or not. Yes, there are a lot more “basketballs” in a paper mill to check for inflation, but their significance to producing a winning enterprise is no more important than that sole basketball on the basketball court.
Of course, a great team starts with great management. I have seldom seen a great papermill led by a poor manager. It is a mistake to think the people are going to rise up and overcome poor management. It is the same mistake as thinking new equipment or a new process will fix a mill with a flawed team.
So, board members and executives, a warning. I like to spend capital just as well as the next engineer, but please make sure it is really capital that you need to fix your subpar mill. Don’t add an expensive mistake to the costly one of having a team that is less than ready for prime time. I have seen this movie too many times.