Profiles in Paper: Levell Hairston

Last revised: March 17, 2023

Levell Hairston is International Paper's Vice President and General Manager of Recycling.

Born: I was born Oct. 21, 1980, in Pascagoula, Miss.
Education: I earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University in 2003. My professional credentials include the Emory Market-Based Value Creation certificate and Six Sigma Certification for both the Black Belt (when I worked for Dow Chemical) and Green Belt (during my International Paper tenure). I’m also a graduate of IP’s Leadership Institute.
Family: My wife, Tuesday, and I have three sons and a daughter who range in age from 5 to 12. We all live in Collierville, Tenn. 
When and how did you enter the recycling industry? After working for Dow Chemical, I joined International Paper in 2006 at our Riverdale mill [in Selma, Ala.], which is a consumer of recovered fiber. In September 2020, I was named an officer of IP and was promoted to vice president and general manager for the recycling business. I feel like my career has come full circle since I now supply recovered fiber to Riverdale and our other containerboard mills. In between making paper and supplying fiber, I served in various engineering, manufacturing and leadership roles in IP’s printing paper and global cellulose fiber businesses.
What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it? I joined for love but stayed for the culture. My wife was working for IP when we met. The company gave us the opportunity to have a dual career in the industry. We quickly realized IP had cultivated a workplace where employees were treated like family. And to be honest, papermaking is also really cool. So, I was hooked.
What have been your most rewarding professional achievements? Personal achievements? Professionally, I feel most rewarded when I can positively impact the careers of my team members. Personally, I have felt the most rewarded when coaching my kids in sports and watching them grow and develop throughout the seasons. 
What are you passionate about? First, I am passionate about safety. Every person who works or comes on site to an IP facility deserves to go home at the end of the day the same way they arrived. My most important role will always be as a safety leader. Providing an inclusive workplace with diversity of thought for my IP family is also something that means a lot to me. Having a safe and open environment allows all of us to achieve our stretch goals and overcome adversity.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people. I like all genres of music. I especially love listening to Y2K Country on Sirius XM while driving home from a long day at work.  
If you could improve anything about yourself, what would it be? I continually focus on honing my communication skills. In my opinion, great leaders have a vision that is effectively communicated to all levels of the organization. It’s vital that every team member knows what we are trying to achieve and how we plan to achieve it.
What do you like to do in your free time? I love spending time with my family, playing sports, traveling, or watching movies.  
When and why did your company decide to join ISRI and the PSI Chapter? ISRI has a long and respected history of advancing recycling, and I felt joining ISRI was an excellent opportunity to add value in that area. Recycling policies remain in the spotlight for legislators across the country, and our expertise is critical to recycling’s continued success. ISRI’s role in ensuring that recovery rates continue to improve through legislation that takes a market-based approach makes a big difference toward achieving positive outcomes.
What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall recycling industry today? IP is a leading global supplier of renewable fiber-based products. The recycling ecosystem is global in nature, but locally driven. Our customers and communities are looking for IP and the recycling industry to develop economically sustainable solutions, such as the recovery and reuse of renewable fiber-based products to help reduce waste. 

Reprinted with permission from the ISRI PSI Chapter.