A New Vision for Industry Leader IP

It takes time to turn an ocean liner—and in the pulp, paper, and packaging “ocean,” International Paper has been the Queen Mary. The company is one of the largest producers in the world; prior to the 2021 spin-off of its global printing papers business into Sylvamo, IP had held the Number 1 spot on the Paper360° Top 75 Manufacturers since its inception in 2006. Today it takes the second spot, after China’s Nine Dragons. Sylvamo itself debuted on the 2021 list at Number 32.

IP marks its 125 year anniversary this year, but that is not the only milestone worth noting: the launch of its rebranding initiative this past March introduced a new corporate logo and a revamped website. The rebranding is a logical extension of the company’s “Building a Better IP” effort, begun in 2021, which comprises a set of business initiatives designed to strengthen IP’s strategic focus by concentrating resources on creating value in its most advantageous markets. These steps have positioned the company well for an industry in which agility is becoming increasingly important.

“We are changing,” commented Mickey Rivers, procurement operations manager, at a recent ASPI Customer Alignment meeting hosted by International Paper (see sidebar, page 28.) “IP used to be very risk-adverse—but we are not the big ship we used to be, needing a long time to make a turn.”

To learn more about the re-branding initiative and what is ahead for this industry leader, Paper360° Editorial Director Jan Bottiglieri spoke to Jessica Seidner, communications director at IP.

P360: What was the impetus for International Paper to begin the process of re-imagining itself—did it begin with market changes, customer pain points, leadership challenges…?

Seidner: A lot of things came together at once that led us to start reimagining the company. First was the spin-off of the papers business, which resulted in a simplification of our value offering, to be more focused on corrugated packaging and cellulose fibers as our primary businesses. This focus provided us with an opportunity to accelerate commercial relationships, improve operational performance, and emphasize investment excellence to drive profitable growth.

We are also celebrating our 125th anniversary this year—hitting this tremendous milestone gave us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we want to go as a company.

a figure creating value through focus
Fig. 1 (Image: International Paper).

What has been the most exciting or energizing part of the changes? What have been the most daunting?

Being more focused on our two primary businesses allows us to zero in and focus on what those customers need and how we can best serve them. Yes, it has also been daunting; we are undergoing a huge amount of change at one time.

On the brand itself, we’ve had very little change to our logo in more than 60 years so it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity. There is a huge piece of change management that goes along with that. But it’s about more than a logo—our culture is shifting to become more customer-focused, collaborative, nimble and inclusive. And that takes time and deliberate effort.

“The IP Way” has been a business philosophy that pervades every aspect of operations. How has that philosophy evolved with the new re-branding?

The IP Way—doing the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, all of the time—continues to be a guiding principle for our company. That’s not changing, but we have been working to simplify our messages and our vision to focus on what matters. For us, that’s built into our core values:

  • Safety
  • Ethics
  • Stewardship
  • And we have recently introduced two new values:
    • Think the Customer
    • Include and Engage

In 2021 IP spun off its global printing papers business into Sylvamo. How did that help set the stage for this new re-branding? Were there unforeseen challenges or benefits to the separation?

A key driver for the rebrand was to signal a change to our stakeholders—that includes customers, investors, employees, and others. At the end of the day, we are a different company today than we were two years ago, and we needed a visual representation of that change to reflect who we are today and in the future.

Regarding the spin-off itself, spin-offs are always complicated, but the transition team did a tremendous job; and they did so successfully in the middle of the pandemic. We hoped when we spun off the papers business that the transaction would create increased value for both companies, and we are seeing that play out today.

As a global leader in pulp, packaging, and paper, how does International Paper see the “paper industry” of the future?

We are optimistic about the future. We know there is a market for manufacturing sustainable products that people depend on every day.

We are fortunate to be in an industry that relies on renewable resources, and to be able to offer a sustainable solution to our customers. It’s impossible to discuss industry trends in any sector and not mention sustainability. Stewardship has always been a core value for IP and it’s now becoming increasingly important to commercial clients and consumers, leading to rising demand for sustainable packaging.

IP is well-positioned to grow with our customers over the long term through our diverse portfolio of products and services and our strategic relationships with a large number of national and local customers across a broad range of attractive end-use segments.

A strong industry benefits every manufacturer. What lessons can other paper, pulp, or packaging companies take from IP’s experience to help them thrive in the industry of tomorrow?

As an industry, we can always do a better job of telling our sustainability story—it’s a really great story. And when we work together to talk about the benefits of responsible forestry, the recyclability of our products and the renewability of our raw materials, our whole industry benefits.

Additionally, I think we all have to realize that change is constant. Our industry—and our world—is experiencing a rapid pace of change and it will likely only accelerate.

And that requires a culture change. No longer can we do things the way we always have. We must think differently, take responsible risks, collaborate in new ways, become more agile, and listen to new, diverse perspectives. This means that all of us must be catalysts: lead by example, shape the future, and enable change. 

International Paper by the Numbers

  • 250 Facilities operating in 25 US states and 10 countries
  • 39,000+ Employees globally
  • 21,000+ Customers around the world

Reported for 2022:

  • US$21.2 billion in net sales (up 9 percent from 2021)
  • US$931 million in capital investments
  • US$250 million of earnings improvement generated through Building a Better IP initiatives

About Leslee Masters