CA: International Paper seeks growth culture
International Paper Co. would rarely fire someone for making a simple mistake.
That’s not how the biggest manufacturer based in Tennessee is run.
The company employs 53,000 worldwide from 1,600 people in Svetogorsk, a town in Russia, to 2,431 at its headquarters, which opened in 2006 in East Memphis.
An employer this big can’t offer the feel of a family-owned small business, but that doesn’t mean IP doesn’t try to maintain an extended-family-like culture as a way to foster professional growth.
Mark Sutton, Chairman and CEO of International Paper, “Employees are not something to be fixed,” Sutton said. “We are a people business. Employees are something to be engaged, and our role is to try to get employees to reach their full potential. If we never made an error, it probably means we are not innovative enough and aren’’t trying new things.””
Sutton tries to meet as many employees as he can. He holds quarterly town hall meetings in Memphis open to anyone who wants to question him or get updated about the company. On his regular visits to IP locations around the world, employees introduce themselves, show him the job they do and answer questions. Sonni Carlisle, an engineer at the mill in Georgetown, S.C., asked Sutton to pose with her for an employee selfie contest.
Being in the plant is nothing new for the Louisiana native. In a lot of big companies, the senior executives rose through the marketing and financial side of the company. Sutton began in the mills.
He hired on at IP in 1984 as an electrical engineer. For years he moved to different facilities before ending up in the top seat in 2015. Being on the other side of the manager/employee relationship, he understands the shame and guilt that overwhelms someone when they make a mistake.
That said, the company expects employees to followrigorous processes. When a mistake or problem occurs, supervisors get the details to see if the mistake is something that never happened before or if the process was something the employee knows how to do and simply let their guard down.
If that’s the case, then you probably don’t have to say a whole lot more because people are usually looking at their shoes and realize they dropped the ball on this one, managers say.
An essential component for any IP employee is volunteerism. The company, which sold off its vast forest holdings several years ago, has planted more than 9 billion tree seedlings in the United States, and donated $7.5 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for restoration and habitat conservation. Employees raised more than $1.6 million for United Way of the Mid-South and volunteered more than 1,200 hours in a single day.
New employees start with three weeks of vacation. The company provides subsidized cafeteria meals, maintains two nurses on staff and offers student loan reimbursement up to $9,000. The company also keeps a policy of internal promotions. shifting employees between locations.
Thomas Kadien, Senior VP Human Resources of IP, ““We have under 5 percent in (employee) turnover,”” Kaiden said. “”What we find is if you stay at IP four or five years, you become a lifer. Where we do lose folks is in the first five years of employment, because of geography, they miss their family or had different expectations.””
IP doesn’t reserve its suite in Fedex Forum for the executives, Instead, IP holds a drawing for employees to attend any event the complex offers. The company does the same for its suite at the Liberty Bowl.
And as the survey for 2016 Top Workplaces revealed, employees say they are happy to come to work every day; they feel challenged and like management listens to them.
Said one International Paper employee: “I have the opportunity to expand my skills and grow as a person.”
Large category runners-up
These nonprofits placed second and third in 2016 Top Workplaces’ large-employer category:
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare