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Thought Leader Interview with Greg Gibson

Thursday, June 22, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Allison Hudson
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NPTA performs quarterly interviews with thought leaders; articles such as the one below are included in Paper Merchant Insider, NPTA's members-only newsletter designed to keep members connected with industry events, each other and all things NPTA. Learn more about NPTA member benefits and join our community today.

Moving Confidently—and Safely—into the Future

Greg Gibson is an industry man through and through. He joined Champion International in 1982 and worked in various decision-making roles until late 2000 when International Paper acquired the company. Since then, he has run a variety of businesses for International Paper, both paper-related and box-related in the United States and Europe. He currently serves as Vice President and General Manager of North American Papers.

His longevity makes him an excellent person to discuss the changes and challenges the paper industry faces. So what’s the single biggest challenge, in his view?

“Declining demand and the corresponding implications of that,” he said. “The question that all of us need to be asking is: ‘How do we make paper and print more relevant than it is today?’ Part of that challenge is that people look at a choice of print or some form of electronic communication. How do we combine those two for a more effective total solution?”

Gibson believes this is a critical time for the paper business, one in which companies and decision-makers and staff should be asking a lot of questions:

  • How well do we understand how our customers are changing?
  • How well are we anticipating that change?
  • What is the role of the Internet?
  • Where do people go to get their information?
  • How is the industry stepping up to that opportunity?

“We all know how we as consumers go about shopping,” Gibson said. “The Internet is a place where we go to get information a lot of times before we make a purchasing decision. We as an industry and companies within the industry have to adapt to how the consumer is changing.”

At the same time, Gibson insists there must be a focus on internal operations. Companies can’t lose sight of their employees and their well-being in the drive to stay relevant and profitable. One way International Paper is doing that is with an increased emphasis on safety. The company has always had such a focus. But avoiding and preventing serious accidents had become an ongoing concern that management vowed to improve.

“It was a real frustration for our company that we had people getting hurt, which affects them, their families, and so forth,” Gibson said. “We really put a focus on safety. Instead of just looking at accidents that happened and trying to understand why they occurred and what we should do differently to avoid that accident in the future, we started focusing on leading indicators such as behavioral-based safety. We’re now looking for potential safety hazards and are reporting on near misses. We do a lot of safe behavioral observation.”

“The whole concept is not only looking after your own safety, but looking after the safety of your colleagues,” Gibson continued. “I am really pleased to say that this program has made a significant difference in the seriousness of accidents and the frequency of accidents happening at International Paper. It’s not just a North American focus either, but wherever we operate across the globe. Safety is never one of those things that you can check off and say, ‘We’ve accomplished it!’ But we’re proud to say that we are keeping our people safer than they have ever been and are creating safer places for them to work each and every day.”

Instead of safety being an initiative or a company buzzword, Gibson and his colleagues made it a core value of the company. “A core value isn’t just something you turn on and turn off when you are at work,” he said. “If it’s done properly, whether you are at work or at home, there really is no difference in how you think about personal safety or your family’s safety.”

Gibson believes participation in industry groups like the National Paper Trade Association (NPTA) is critical for the business to survive and thrive. After all, there are causes greater than the issues a specific company faces. “NPTA is a wonderful way to attack these bigger issues such as the relevancy of print, government regulations, truck-weight regulations, postal reform, and so forth,” he said. “Those are all examples of things that are greater than what an individual company is dealing with. I think it’s really important that we have a venue where we can come together and talk about those issues, then figure out what collective action to take.”

That’s why Gibson is personally getting involved as one of NPTA’s newest board members. “I’ve been to all of one board meeting,” he said, with a laugh. “I take my hat off to those current members serving on the board and also the past members who have served. To take the time to try and make the industry stronger is important. I see a lot of positive momentum at the board level in terms of the initiatives being worked on. It’s a wonderful industry, full of great people. The biggest impact we need to be thinking about is how to make paper-based communications more relevant. There are a number of forces working against us, which we see every day. But there are still plenty of ways to win and be successful in this market.”

NPTA's 2017 Q2 issue of Paper Merchant Insider is now available. Click here to access the full publication.

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