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May 5, 2014
On the record

Jennifer Miller, of Sappi Fine Paper, on how to succeed in the global marketplace

PHOTo / James McCarthy
PHOTo / James McCarthy
Jennifer Miller, executive vice president of coated business for Sappi Fine Paper North America, says succeeding in the global marketplace involves listening to customers.

The University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation took an upbeat approach at its 64th annual Paper Days in Orono, focusing on career opportunities for students with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The second day's keynote speaker, Jennifer Miller, executive vice president for Sappi Fine Paper North America's coated business and its chief sustainability officer, took it a step further with her address titled, "What you need in order to be successful in the global marketplace."

The company, which operates mills in Somerset and Westbrook, also is a global company. Its parent, Sappi Ltd., is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with manufacturing plants in seven countries on three continents, sales offices in 35 countries and customers in more than 100 countries. Miller is responsible for aligning sustainability strategies and goals with business plans across the company's North American operations. The following is an edited version of her talk.

Mainebiz: Why the focus on the global marketplace?

Jennifer Miller: It's hard to imagine a business that isn't really global. For example, even for the farm-to-table food sector, customers' expectations and price points are going to be set by apples from Chile. So I think what you do need to do is expand your horizon line and think about what it is that makes any business truly successful and sustainable over time.

MB: You mention six principles you believe will help any business do just that. What are they?

JM: 1. Listen to customers: That will allow you to focus on the right things you need to be doing as a business. It will allow you to respond faster than your competition, hopefully, or at least more effectively. And it will enable you to avoid a lot of wasted time. It also will allow you to really come up with business strategies that create value for them in different ways.

2. Take responsibility end to end: When I entered the work force, 'responsibility' was all about the product and its performance. Certainly, that's very important, but in today's environment you don't want to limit it to just that. It's very important for any business to really take responsibility for its products' sourcing, to make sure it's working with very good and strong suppliers. Also, to take responsibility for the manufacturing itself, to pay attention to safety within your work environment and for every step along the way … down to your customer's end experience.

3. Act now: This goes down to the customer experience: it's all about the smart consumption of our products. [As a manufacturer of coated papers] we know that in certain quarters, the effectiveness of print and the use of paper are being challenged … [the notion that] direct mail is junk mail. So what Sappi has done is engage in customer education. We talk about how effective direct mail is — when it's properly designed and, as importantly, when it's properly distributed. So we've educated our customers on good 'list hygiene' — making sure, for example, that they aren't sending catalogs for parkas to folks who are living in Tucson, Arizona. In the world of 'big data' there are very good ways to make sure the mail that goes out and ends up in a consumer's mailbox is intentional, invited, welcome and, yes, effective as a medium that cuts through the clutter in a way that's very different than electronic media.

4. Focus: Don't try to do everything. Don't try to be everything to everybody. Identify that true core.

5. Invest for the future: The way that you really ensure your business and your company is going to be sustainable over the long haul, over the ups and downs of the economic cycles, is that you have to ski half way down the mountain. You can't be skiing five yards in front; you have to anticipate where you want to be. You start making the investment five years before you expect to see a return.

6. Stay open to possibility: That's probably the most important one. Have the courage to change your mind and to change your course of action when you are confronted with new facts. All of us, no matter how old we are, can find ourselves in a state where we are just treading water.

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