The last month has seen pulp and paper mills in the United States struck by outside forces out of their control. Or were they? First, WestRock was reportedly invaded by a ransomware attack. We will not know what the damage was there until the next quarter's earnings are reported. Then, southern mills, especially in Texas but throughout the south, were crippled by a severe winter storm.
What are the learnings? Management cannot afford to be complacent at any time when it comes to outside threats. It is now obvious, if it was not before, that these threats can come in many shapes and forms and at any time. It is almost as if we need to add, figuratively, another guard on the parapet with a high-powered scope continuously looking for these threats. Insurance can offer some protection, but it cannot cover everything.
I am reminded of one of my old stories. You may have heard it before. Many, many years ago I visited the chief executive at a one-machine mill. I happened to notice something as I walked into his office from the parking lot. After we had exchanged pleasantries and settled into our chairs in his office, I said, "you are probably the bravest and most risk accepting CEO I have ever met."
Naturally, he wanted to know why.
At my request, he followed me to the parking lot. I pointed to the 44K electrical cables coming into the mill's substation. They were supported by two old pine 2 x 4s that were nearly rotted in two. Obviously, during construction the cables were supposed to be temporarily supported on these. Someone's construction check-out sheet had missed these critical supports.
This was an outside threat by feet--I'll bet these old boards were less than ten feet outside the property line if that.
Sometimes it pays to be paranoid.
Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.