From the February 2018 Issue of the ASPI Newsletter

Sonoco Invites Suppliers to Bring Innovation and More

It may not be surprising that Sonoco—an industry leader in pulp, paper, and packaging—would bring together a roomful of top executive leaders. But to invite a range of industry suppliers to join them? That’s a rare opportunity for customer alignment.

In September, Sonoco hosted ASPI’s Fall 2017 Customer Alignment meeting, giving members outstanding access to a major producer. Attendees from both sides commented on the benefits of the open communication. “This is my first ASPI meeting, and I’m pleased with how much information is being shared,” commented Greg Munoz, staff VP, global supply management and logistics for Sonoco. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

View from the Top

Sonoco President and CEO Jack Sanders welcomed attendees. “We’re not going to survive without our suppliers—you’re critically important to our success,” he said. He offered an overview of Sonoco’s history. The 118-year old company had grown and broadened considerably through its first century; by 2010, however, Sanders notes that the company had perhaps broadened too much.

Leadership set out to refocus with a strategy of optimizing—not only focusing on the sectors that had solid cash performance, but on those “closest to perfect” in their execution. “We needed to become more innovative—and we needed to become more systematically innovative,” he said. To make it work required the company to:

  •  Create discontent with the status quo
  •  Create a compelling vision of the future
  •  Identify the GAP/change required
  •  Get the right people in the right seats
  •  Align the organization to achieve the mission
  •  Communicate, communicate, communicate
  •  Stay the course

Ultimately, the company created a “One-Page Plan” that Sanders shared with ASPI Meeting attendees. Sonoco has designated six strategic areas that guide growth; each area also has its own one-page plan. “As you look for ways to align with Sonoco, these are the areas you need to look at,” he advised attendees.

M&A Strategy Insights

Rob Tiede, COO andexecutive vice president, led suppliers through the M&A strategy that Sonoco has used to optimize its portfolio. Suppliers learned where the company plans to grow its business, as well as gained insights into its critical markets. Industry analyst Adam Josephson followed with an economic outlook.

Rodger Fuller, senior vice president, paper/engineered carriers US/Canada and display and packaging, provided an industrial segment overview. He called paper and converting “foundational” areas for Sonoco. “These businesses have stood the test of time as a critical part of Sonoco,” he said. “We’re depending on industry suppliers like you to push back on us on innovation and ideas—we need your help, and we’re counting on your support.”

Although each speaker had fielded attendee questions, they also made time for a panel-style “Q&A” that gave meeting attendees a chance to learn more. This open dialogue was repeated often throughout the two-day event, and is a hallmark of ASPI’s Customer Alignment meeting.

The afternoon featured presentations from eight other Sonoco leaders, covering topics including sustainability, research and development, environmental health and safety, and the company’s innovative supplier diversity policy. Marc Ensign, Sonoco’sdirector, global category management, called supplier diversity “a perpetual opportunity machine” and outlined exactly what Sonoco looks for when choosing suppliers. Again, all speakers were happy to field questions from attendees, providing an outstanding level of engagement.

Voice of the Customer; Supply Management

The meeting’s second day featured a presentation from Palace Stepps, division vice president sales/marketing/technology for paper and adhesives. Stepps noted that Sonoco’s customers span a wide range and serve many different markets, which offers Sonoco suppliers plenty of opportunity. “There’s a lot we can do for our customers, and I’m going to tell you what we need from you to help,” he said.

Greg Munoz shared insight into supply management—again, focusing on supplier opportunity. He noted that Sonoco is strategically transforming its invoicing and payables process, and outlined what that meant for its vendors and supplier partners. The company is also changing its transport logistics to optimize shipment of goods across its supply chain. Munoz also outlined a list of key attributes Sonoco looks for in a supplier. These include:

  • Strong service orientation and technical support
  • Consignment programs
  • Subject matter experts
  • Use of data to improve quality and performance
  • Productivity driver
  • Bench strength
  • Extremely cost competitive
  • Large footprint of service capability
  • Supply security

Finally, Taylor Lane, director of global SPS, outlined the company’s Automation and Robotics strategy. Questions from meeting attendees were answered on every aspect of the presentations.

Mill Managers Take the Stage

The Mill Managers’ Roundtable provided a lively forum for information sharing. Tim Davis, division vice president/GM paper and adhesives US/Canada, moderated a panel of six Sonoco mill managers. Though the discussion was wide-ranging, attendees returned to two critical topics: safety and workforce development.

Panelists emphasized that safety was of paramount importance to Sonoco. “We’ve always spent a lot of time teaching employees to be safe on their job. Now we also spend time teaching people how to assess risk,” noted Matthew McCracken, paper division technical manager. “We get a lot of help from suppliers sharing what they’ve seen and learned.”

Sonoco puts tremendous effort into attraction and retention of talented young workers—in leadership, engineering, and hourly roles. The issue is also very important to the supplier community. The Sonoco panelists outlined the company’s strategies and successes.

The panel concluded with two questions at top-of-mind for everyone in the room: first, “how does Sonoco view the ideal supplier?” Second, Davis asked suppliers “how can we help you?” Both questions were addressed with comments from attendees and panelists. Steve Glenn, regional manufacturing manager, summed things up: “We rely on our vendors and partners… working with us every day, driving innovation, driving optimization, driving productivity.”         



Jack Sanders, Sonoco President and CEO


The Sonoco Mill Managers Roundtable