Modern Manufacturing: The Road to Mill Management

Have you ever taken the scenic route? It might take a little longer to reach your destination, but the journey itself can be just as enjoyable. You could say the same about careers in the pulp and paper industry and at Domtar, including mill management positions.

The path to mill management is not a straight line from woodyard to control room to superintendent. Just ask Allan Bohn, general manager of our Ashdown Mill.

While earning degrees in mechanical engineering and business management, Bohn completed an internship and worked as a co-op student in the engineering group at what was then called Mead Paper Company. At the time, he expected to spend his career as an engineer and grow within those ranks. But as he made contacts around the mill, he realized his career might take another path.

Allan Bohn
Allan Bohn, Ashdown mill manager

A Can-Do Attitude

“I kept a positive attitude,” he says. “When leadership was looking for people to take on different projects, I volunteered, so they gave me responsibility right off the bat. I received varying experience on all aspects of the business and mill departments.”

Bohn’s willingness to take on more responsibility, even outside his area of expertise, allowed him to quickly progress from engineering projects to roles of increasing responsibility in mill maintenance — first as a planner and finally as maintenance superintendent — where he used continuous improvement tools and practices to improve safety and reduce costs.

He continued on the maintenance career track when he arrived at the Plymouth Mill, which at the time was a Weyerhaeuser mill. The mill became part of the Domtar network through a merger in 2007, and soon Bohn’s career took another unusual turn.

Domtar had an opening for senior director of corporate health and safety, who would be responsible for making companywide improvements in safety culture. When leaders asked Bohn to consider the role, despite not having a background in safety, he thought, “Why not?”

“I’ve always been passionate about safety, so I decided to do it,” says Bohn, who by then had progressed from engineering and mill maintenance to operations management. “It was an excellent opportunity to interact with senior leaders, spend time working with other sites and make a bigger impact at Domtar by adding value in a different way. I was able to build on the great work already in place by Marty [Barfield, my predecessor and now current Kingsport Mill manager], and to learn as I went. You never know unless you try.”

Preparing for Mill Management

The experiment worked well, and in the two and a half years he held the position, Bohn and his team introduced the human performance improvement (HPI) principles that are still in place today. This work has expanded the company’s safety performance beyond compliance to improve our defense against serious injuries.

From there, Bohn returned to Plymouth Mill, this time as mill manager.

“I knew I could do the job,” he says. “I knew the mill and was confident in myself, having had opportunities to see other facilities.”

His strong leadership and success at Plymouth allowed him to transition last year to oversee Ashdown Mill, which has the largest number of employees in the mill system.

Career Growth at Domtar

Today, the leadership of Domtar’s Pulp and Paper divisions is confident in all of our colleagues’ ability to succeed, and it encourages everyone to take on new challenges. That’s why Domtar recently launched a new mill leadership development program to identify current staff with the potential to join mill management and to provide opportunities that will enable career growth.

“Our mill leadership development plan is an excellent way to help us grow our leadership pipeline and position staff for potential leadership positions in the future,” says Human Resources Vice President Lisa Yankie.

Yankie’s team has identified 10 high-potential leaders from across Pulp and Paper to take part in the program. Not all of these leaders currently work in a mill. During the next year, they’ll be exposed to different parts of the business to give them a well-rounded view of the organization.

Bohn’s experience can offer inspiration to those who haven’t been on a traditional path to mill management.

“I always ask young people where they’re looking for their next opportunity,” he says. “I encourage them not to pigeonhole themselves into just one thing, but to find additional ways to add value.”

Yankie says, “Diversity of thought and experience goes a long way in making successful leaders. Our intent is to show our employees you don’t necessarily need to have a background in operations to succeed as a mill leader.”

Bohn encourages young professionals to have confidence in their abilities and to be open to opportunities that can lead to mill management or other exciting career advancements.

“You can’t manufacture opportunities, but you can be confident in yourself and understand that it’s okay to leave your comfort zone,” he says. “Leadership wouldn’t ask you to do something if they weren’t confident you could succeed.”

Learn more about working at Domtar by visiting the careers page on Domtar.com.

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