Tim Wight remembers how excited he was to start work as an engineering intern at our Port Huron Mill in Michigan in 1991. Today, as the mill’s general manager, his passion for the work hasn’t changed. Learn about Wight’s path from intern to mill manager.
Learning About Pulp and Paper
Wight was studying paper science and engineering at Miami University of Ohio, but unlike many of his fellow students, he had not had any exposure to the pulp and paper industry through his community or his family. “A classmate had interned at Port Huron and encouraged me to check it out,” says Wight. “He was really enthusiastic about it and said there was a wide range of trial work going on with wet-end chemistry.”
Wight landed an internship of his own, and the experience was a positive one. “I was treated as a full process engineer; I wasn’t just crunching numbers or finding myself stuck in some corner of a lab,” he says. “I worked on things that were important to the business. After my internship, I was excited about making a career in the industry.”
Growing Through Experience
After Wight joined Domtar, he quickly found that operations interested him more than the technical side. “The company made it possible for me to follow a path that suited my strengths,” he says.
He started working on one of the paper machines as an assistant superintendent, and then added responsibility for a second machine. Eventually, Wight became production manager.
The Port Huron Mill makes publishing, technical and specialty paper grades, primarily used for books, food packaging and medical products. Process engineers play an important role in shaping the final product, participating in the development and refinement of new grades to meet customers’ unique specifications.
To fully understand the end-use requirements, engineers work directly with customers, something that Wight has always enjoyed for both the professional challenges and the personal interactions.
“Early in my career, I had the opportunity to visit one of our medical gown and drape customers to help resolve a barrier property issue they were having,” he says. “After talking with them and seeing their hydroentangling and treatment processes in person, I had a much better understanding of adjustments we could make to help them address the issue.”
Paying It Forward
After moving through several managerial roles, Wight became mill manager in late 2013. What’s kept him engaged along the way is Domtar’s unique blend of growth opportunities, interesting products and great people. And now, this mill manager is helping develop the next generation of young engineers.
Wight recognizes how much he’s learned through the experience that led to his current mill manager position, so he makes an effort to give young engineers the opportunity to work on projects outside the status quo, such as grade development and trial work. For these types of projects, the engineers are responsible for assessing and prioritizing opportunities, developing a plan and leading and executing the work.
“We go out of our way to give our interns work that helps them develop and contribute to the mill in a meaningful way. Many interns end up joining as full-time Domtar employees, just like I did 27 years ago,” Wight says.
Garrett Fisher is one such employee. Fisher joined the Port Huron Mill in 2018 as a process engineer, after internships the two previous summers. As an intern, he felt more like a full-time process engineer than an intern. He regularly ran trials that had the potential to save the mill as much as $500,000 a year.
As a full-time employee, Fisher continues to strengthen his managerial and communication skills. “I had never been in charge of anything in college, and now I guide teams to complete projects,” he says. “Fortunately, I have experienced colleagues who can guide me along the way. I could not ask for a better opportunity.”
In addition to the type of on-the-job learning that led Wight to his current mill manager position, all Domtar employees have access to My Knowledge Tree, an online learning platform with thousands of resources covering topics like leadership skills and operations management. Many of the courses on My Knowledge Tree can be used to apply for industry-recognized certifications. Employees can seek project management certification, for example, which Wight says is particularly appealing to new graduates who might aspire to one day become a mill manager.
“Ultimately, interns today are looking for the same things I was,” Wight says. “They want to apply classroom learning to the real world, develop and grow as an engineer, and feel like they’ve brought some value to the company that hired them.”
Thanks to Wight, and others like him at Domtar, interns have a wide range of opportunities that can help shape their careers or even set them on a path that might one day lead to a mill manager position.