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Paper Matters - An interview with Antony, Country Manager UK & Ireland

13th September 2018

This month we talked to Antony to find out more about International Paper UK, his role in the business and why Office Papers still matters as a product category.

Tell us about International Paper and what you do…..

To put it simply, we are one of the world’s leading producers of fibre-based packaging, pulp and paper.

Our business success and the impact we have on people and the planet are intertwined, we transform renewable resources into products that people depend upon every day, and when you think about it - that’s pretty cool.

The products we manufacture help the world go around, so to speak. We make packaging that allows products to be shipped, stored and displayed around the globe.  We make fluff pulp which is used to make hygiene products such as nappies, feminine care and adult incontinence and we manufacture innovative pulps used for non-absorbent products such as textiles, construction materials and filtration products. Our pulp is also used to manufacture both tissue and paper products, all of which provide quality and convenience to our everyday lives.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do as a company. Our story (which is steeped in history dating back over 120 years - and getting longer!) starts and finishes in the forest, and it’s the core of our entire business. We don’t just value our roots, but we place a huge emphasis on ensuring the world’s forests are sustainable and will be there for generations to come. We address this topic with confidence, assuring that 100% of our fiber comes from responsibly managed forests. Period.

International Paper is a brand I believe our partners and consumers can trust in. We make paper, pulp and packaging products that our clients and consumers can trust from both a quality and sustainability standpoint. We are here for the future and what we do matters.

You manage the UK & Irish papers business for International Paper - how does this differ from other business areas you operate in globally?

The business that the team and I manage falls under the Paper operations of International Paper.

Our UK and Irish team focuses on Office Papers as a core product range and we provide a large range of quality products to meet every requirement in this segment. In fact, we offer the widest assortment of products linked to one supply chain and service proposition than any other manufacturer in the industry. Our products and brands allow consumers to doodle, advertise, file, educate and of course communicate with. We have the breadth of range to meet all business and end user printing applications, requirements and we focus on the manufacture of both IP Brands and customer private labels.

So, when you think about International Paper in the UK or Ireland you are really thinking about uncoated paper - with a clear focus on Office Papers. We are true specialists in this area and have a very experienced, not to mention terrific, team of people who manage this. We have a very friendly and professional team in Krakow that manage day to day customer services and operations and we have a very experienced commercial team based in the UK dealing with a great set of customers daily who work with us to ensure our products, services and brands make it to the right areas and consumers in the market.

How has your role developed at International Paper and what do you believe are your priorities?

My role in the UK business has changed over the past three to four years. I have taken a step back from Direct Account responsibility, as I have confidence and trust in my team to manage this and they have full responsibility and accountability around this. I am sure some of our customers are happy with that step back. My role has taken more of a strategic direction along with looking after our people from a management perspective.

From a strategic position it's about understanding how we deliver value to the right channel combined with the right brand, the right product and right service offering. That’s a high priority to me currently. It’s about understanding the market itself, the macro and micro factors that affect it and drive and shape change. One size does not fit all and traditional channel structures in relation to how Office Papers are sold and distributed are changing. We see new channels emerging, along with changes to consumer buying behaviour and technology, which all impact on how the value chain in this product area operates.

The ability of our partners to secure the necessary credit coverage hence their ability to supply certain businesses has changed which has also impacted on our ability to place our products in the correct intended area of the market. Consolidation continues to increase in certain channels and competition is strong which is healthy and keeps us on our toes.

We need to become more agile and deliver and demonstrate more value with what we bring to our customers and the different resellers of our products in the market. It’s about making the value propositions clearer and making it easier to sell the different products we have to the different end user segments.

From a people perspective, my role is all about support and development. Motivating my team to continually push for better and grow as individuals as well as part of our team. It’s about creating a culture of development, learning and results orientation. This should in turn enable them to deliver solutions and more value to our customers. I enjoy this part of the role. Last but not least it’s about stock management, internal administration and projects and ensuring we position ourselves correctly for the future considering the changing nature of the marketplace.

We’re hearing more and more about the decline in paper usage…how do you view that moving forward when thinking about office papers as part of your business?

That is a good question and an important one. For me I really like paper. Different segments are seeing improvements in demand across the paper industry and the focus on plastics and the environment that is playing out in the consumer market will generate a lot of new opportunities for fibre based companies. Our industry is a leader in sustainable and recyclable product manufacture and distribution and we will see innovations and developments in the future that will meet consumer demands and expectations. Office Papers as a market segment is still very significant and you can still create value and deliver results in a declining market if you can demonstrate value and value means a lot of things to different end users.

Not everyone wants the cheapest and lowest quality product. There is a market for economically priced products but that is driven largely by the end application and a lot of the time this area of the market grows through lack of attention and incorrect value sell. We all do not buy for the same reasons and application requirements and fundamentally this is where value tends to get lost. We need to understand why different channels and different consumer groups are purchasing paper, thus ensuring we offer the right product for the right application or requirement.

It’s up to manufacturers like ourselves and our distribution partners to show how to deliver more value and this is where brands and the right selling, communication, content and marketing tools come into play. The market is changing and so too are the channels, end-user expectations and the decision-making processes. We need to become more relevant, innovative and agile. We can no longer rely on old ways and expect different positive results. We need to get better at understanding our customers businesses, what’s keeping them up at night, basically getting better at delivering products and services that are seen as valuable to the right end user segments.

We are here to help. We may not always have all the answers, but we will continue to innovate both products and services to ensure we get the right product to the right end user groups with the right value proposition. We continue to invest in the office papers category.

And finally, is the future bright for the paper industry?

I work in a great industry. It’s large, relevant and constantly changing. We spend a lot of our life at work and sometimes the products and services we sell may not seem that sexy in comparison to others, but they matter. And that’s what is all important – what we sell no matter how sexy is important.

The products and services we offer as a company and those same products coupled with our distributors services help the world work, play, express, ship, store, communicate, design and they allow us to create, think, challenge, ponder, decide and convey feeling. These things matter. Paper matters.

I love the part the company play’s within the industry and my role within the business. And from an industry perspective, we are second to none in terms of sustainability and our approach to the environment, and I find that a great motivator which needs to be talked about a lot more.  Paper is far from dying, in fact I see fibre based products gaining a new lease of life as markets and businesses look for more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to ensure their futures.

Office papers is not just a commodity if you understand the solutions it can bring, across the spectrum of applications that exist for it today.

Paper matters, it’s a canvass to create on, it’s a tactile product that conveys meaning, makes ideas come to life, and communicates feeling. It can be positioned as a cheap commodity for throw away applications , therefore no need for a brand , service look or feel , or it’s a whole lot more than that and allows a business or individual to express themselves and their values , ideas and products and services. It can demonstrate quality, feel and purpose. Paper is a tool to think with, it improves focus and sets us free to imagine without restrictions or distractions. It makes things real, it’s tactile, fully recyclable and renewable.

I’d like to thank our customers for their business and support, and for taking the time to find out more about International Paper in particular the UK team.