Thursday, May 29
by Mathieu Régnier, Paper Advance
On this first day of the PACWEST Conference, the coverage team met Robert Dufresne, Vice-President, Pulp and Paper Operations, Resolute Forest Products. PAPTAC Councilor.

Robert Dufresne has the overall responsibility of five mills operations in Canada and in the United-States (St-Félicien and Fort Francis, Canada, Coosa Pines, Fairmont and Menominee, USA). Before his vice-presidency, he was in charge of a mill in St-Félicien, Quebec. He worked there as general manager for one year but had arrived in the Resolute team with an extensive mill operations experience. In St-Félicien he had the overall responsibility of the operation of a one-line kraft pulp mill (1020 tpd) and of the management of about 230 employees.

You are now Vice-President, Pulp and Paper Operations at Resolute but what does the mill manager in you take back home from an event like the PACWEST Conference?

Historically, PACWEST was always a well-attended event and gathered a large number of mill representatives. In comparison to other conferences of the circuit, PACWEST offers a very hands-on and practical perspective on issues mill managers have to deal with on a regular basis.

The conference allows me to liaise with colleagues and this is a rare opportunity in our business where there is so much to do. In dedicated parallel sessions for mill managers, we discuss approaches to solving common challenges. This year, we had discussions on health and safety best practices, shutdown practices as well as on recruitment strategies. Meeting with experienced colleagues allows the development of concrete approaches to problem solving. A lot to take home!

Apart from the networking, what stands out from PACWEST conferences?

PACWEST is known for the quality of the technical papers presented. Most are a very good blend between research and industrial applications. It is also very easy to discuss the papers with their authors since the conference’s program is not too charged with sessions. Less people on the site also mean more opportunities for in-depth professional exchange. PACWEST is also recognized for the quality of its trade fair. The suppliers of materials and equipment are accessible and always have interesting technologies at hand.

Do you see a need to have a pulping forum that could be similar (even if on a smaller scale) in the east?

With regard to organizing a similar event in the east, I believe it would be difficult to replicate PACWEST on the East Coast. We have very little kraft mills in operation and they are quite distant from each other in comparison to those in Alberta and British Columbia. Also, production in the east is more diversified than here. As such, I am not sure about the relevance of a similar event in the East.

PaperWeek offers a similar podium for exchanges and is also recognized for the quality of its trade fair. The two conferences are very different but touch upon different topics. I don’t think two large pulp and paper events are too much in one year. PaperWeek and PACWEST complement each other very well.

With the 100th Anniversary of PAPTAC in 2015, what is your take on the current state of the industry and its most important needs if we consider the recent successes of regional conferences such as PACWEST and the Atlantic Branch?

There is more stability in today’s industry than there were just a few years back. Companies are more disciplined. Flooding the markets is thus much less likely. We also have a much better understanding of the global economic situation and our employees are more sensitized to what this represents for companies. This allows us to look to the future with more confidence.

Workforce renewal will be one of our biggest challenges over the next couple of years and this was widely discussed this week. It is a growing need and a key priority in the forest products industry. We also need to market ourselves differently to attract young talents in fields such as mechanics, engineering, equipment operations or mill management! We have to attract the best. The presentation on human capital this morning was especially interesting in that regard. Lasting strategies to improve recruitment and retention concerns high-level management as much as HR teams.

Networking remains essential to maintain our competitiveness and each Canadian plant should collaborate to meet global competition. I believe that on this level, PAPTAC is a key player. It offers ideal podiums to help and catalyze cooperation between industry people.