Mark Sutton named North American CEO of the Year

Fastmarkets, the industry-leading cross-commodity price reporting agency (PRA), has announced that Mark Sutton, CEO of International Paper, has been named the 2021 North American CEO of the Year.?

Fastmarkets started the award program in 1999. Mr. Sutton will accept the award and give a keynote address on September 28 at this year’s Fastmarkets North American Conference. This hybrid event will be hosted virtually and in person at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, MA.

International Paper is undergoing a mini-transformation worth more than $2 billion, during a world-altering Covid-19 pandemic, with the planned spinoff of its global papers business and selling additional non-core assets. This is $2 billion for a company whose 2020 annual sales were $20.58 billion.

The spin-off and asset sales, Sutton explained, is a way to “simplify” the company, focusing on the industrial packaging business (containerboard and corrugated boxes, especially in the USA) and on global cellulose fibers (absorbent pulp). By streamlining the portfolio, the company will focus on the geographical markets and product segments where it can create the most value for customers and shareowners. International Paper already is the largest North American containerboard producer by capacity.?The company’s global cellulose fibers business largely serves customers in absorbent hygiene and medical use market segments. Analysts seem confident that International Paper will look to further integrate its huge US containerboard and corrugated converting plant system.

During the pandemic, Sutton saw International Paper employees, in a manufacturing sense, as essential workers who needed to “work at a higher rate” and be “versatile” while at the same time “staying as safe as possible.” Sutton credits International Paper workers for further developing an already collaborative teamwork approach in how they worked. He proudly told Fastmarkets’ PPI Pulp & Paper Week that 85% of International Paper’s 48,000 workers continued to keep operations running at mills and plants each and every day during the pandemic. Their safety rules were simple: “come to work, stay safe,” and look out for each other.

Speaking of the company’s performance, Sutton said that they have “turned up the dial and accelerated our customer focus.” Along with producing a very good product, the company is refining its commercial strategy and customers should expect a more agile and more commercially-oriented organization.

About Mark Sutton

Mark Sutton grew up in a “DuPont” family in southwest Louisiana where he learned point-blank?about industrial manufacturing. Today, he speaks wholeheartedly about safe, trusting manufacturing for employees like it’s in his blood. His two major influences have been his father, David Sutton Sr., and his father-in-law, the late Air Force Major General Thomas Craig.?“My dad taught me about perseverance,” Sutton said, “and he taught me the value of people?making products.”

Sutton was born in New Orleans and raised a short distance away in La Place, LA, a town on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River in St. John the Baptist Parish. A DuPont Chemicals plant called DuPont Pontchartrain Works was nearby in Reserve, LA, where Mark’s father worked for most of his career in petrochemicals. His father was a manager. Mark worked a summer at a plant and would later attend nearby Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.

Sutton studied electrical engineering at LSU and thought he would work in the petrochemical industry like his father. But when Sutton graduated in 1984 from LSU, a recession caused him to expand his job search and he landed at International Paper, where he has worked for 37 years. He started in 1984 as an engineer at the Pineville, LA, containerboard mill.

In 1994, Sutton became mill manager at the then-International Paper lightweight packaging paper and pressure-sensitive material Thilmany Packaging manufacturing operation in Wisconsin, where he learned about leadership and how important the mill manager is to a local community. He once described a mill manager as a “local CEO.”? From his experience, Sutton understands management’s important connection to the workers who make the company’s products, and this connection was especially important during the pandemic.

From being a mill manager, Sutton continued to move up the leadership ranks at International Paper.? In 2000, he took over the $1 billion corrugated packaging business in Europe. He became International Paper’s CEO in late 2014, replacing two-time North American CEO of the Year, John Faraci.

Now on the verge of his 60th birthday, Sutton looks back and credits his father and father-in-law for helping him learn about industrial manufacturing and leadership. He is especially proud of the company’s focus on giving back. In the past three years, International Paper contributed nearly $70 million to signature causes in local communities. He also led the company in creating measurable, robust targets to drive sustainable outcomes for people and communities, the environment and customers as part of its Vision 2020 and Vision 2030 goals. Peers credit Sutton for his approach.

“For years, Mark has been a dedicated leader in our industry,” American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) CEO Heidi Brock told Fastmarkets RISI’s PPI Pulp & Paper Week. “As the immediate past board chair of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), he has been an advocate for our industry’s safety and sustainable practices.”

“Mark is passionate about our industry’s remarkable sustainability story,” Brock added. “And he is a thoughtful, inclusive, and collaborative leader. He facilitates the open exchange of ideas to drive innovation and growth. I can honestly say I am a better leader and person for knowing Mark Sutton. We are fortunate to have him as a leader in our industry.”

Originally published in Fastmarkets RISI’s PPI Pulp & Paper Week on July 15, 2021 by Gregory Rudder.

To attend Fastmarkets’ North American Conference, please register here.

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