“We have weathered the storms”: the Sappi Q&A
Sappi Europe CEO Marco Eikelenboom looks back on a turbulent 2023 for the industry – revealing his reasons for optimism in 2024
What have been the notable events of 2023 for you as Sappi Europe CEO?
The recent, major, macro-economic and geopolitical shocks, including energy prices, inflation and supply issues, have taken the industry and all of us at Sappi to a place we’ve never been before. The silver lining to all this has been that we, as a company, have weathered these storms and, despite some disappointing results, have shown a level of resilience that I haven’t experienced before. This is only possible when you have the privilege of leading a Sappi family that is committed to make a success out of any situation. This has been a true highlight for me in 2023.
What have been the toughest challenges this year?
Undeniably the toughest challenges have been the extremely difficult decisions on how to navigate unpredictable market conditions and specifically around our Stockstadt and Lanaken mills. The impact on so many of our dear colleagues is something that cannot be underestimated, and it has touched me deeply. Making big changes to our business is part of futureproofing Sappi Europe, but that doesn’t take away from how these decisions impact our people, their families and our communities. These are huge responsibilities on our shoulders, responsibilities I have felt every single day I have worked on these complex changes.
And what has made you most proud?
In a challenging year, I can say without hesitation that the outstanding resilience shown across the company has been a very powerful thing to witness and to feel. This collective resilience keeps us all going and brings us back to the challenge and excitement of building a strong future for Sappi Europe – one that keeps the company on course for future growth and well-positioned for a positive 2024.
Do you have any personal highlights?
My personal highlight is that I have been able to maintain my fitness for a job that requires a lot of energy, time and attention. Fitness brings me the clear mind and balance I need to be able to give this job the focus and energy it needs and deserves. I’m happy that this year I’ve managed to continue running, play tennis and watch my family develop into new areas.
Do you remain optimistic?
I am optimistic by nature, so I always seek a silver lining even during the most challenging times. The team that I work with is probably the most talented I have experienced, and this means I can be confident that we have much better times ahead of us. Optimism is a moral duty in this job, and I will respect that mantra every single day that I remain in the hot seat.
Do you think Sappi Europe is well-positioned for 2024?
After the bitter pill of a right-sizing exercise, I am confident that we can start working on making our business more resilient by investigating options for higher pulp- and energy integration. If these foundations are established, we will be ready for the next big growth opportunity. And, as I’ve said, I truly believe that the work everyone is doing already leaves us very well positioned for next year.
What will be the big issues facing the paper industry as a whole next year?
The transition toward a low-emission, circular and more energy efficient industry is one of the biggest issues for us all. The legislation we are facing in Europe is more complex and ambitious than in any other region – but it also gives us an opportunity to take the lead in decarbonisation and renewable energy supply. Evolving demographics and demand patterns will also be very influential. All of us at Sappi Europe are building a more sustainable world for the next generation, and it’s exciting to be part of that.
Finally, name three things you are looking forward to in 2024
New Sappi talent, assuming the role of Cepi (Confederation of European Paper Industries) chair at a time of great transformation and opportunities for our industry and finally the Euro 2024 European Football Championships! I think It’s going to be an exciting year all round!