Q&A with our CEO

President and CEO since 2006, and part of Tembec since 1989, Jim Lopez has a future-minded perspective on the forest products industry. His answers below address questions about where Tembec has been, and where Tembec is headed.

Q: What has the company focused on over the last three or four years?

A: Reshaping Tembec for the better. The key has been exiting businesses where we were not competitive, or not in a position to be among the industry leaders, or lacked a significant differentiator. This meant closing unviable operations and divesting non-core assets. Our other priorities have been competitiveness, costs and our balance sheet.

Q: Will consolidation continue in the forest products industry?

A: Yes, because consolidation creates stronger and more focused companies. Here’s an example: We sold our hardwood flooring assets in late 2011 to a leader in that business. So they strengthened their core, while we left a business where Tembec was a small player and we’ll use the sale proceeds to strengthen our core. That’s a win-win.

The same thinking applies to our sale of the Skookumchuck, BC, NBSK (northern bleached softwood kraft) mill in 2013. We were not in a position to become a market leader, so we exited the business, and that sale put us in a better position to invest in other assets in our portfolio.

Q: How competitive are your manufacturing operations?

A: Productivity is up and costs are down. Our sales per employee, a broad measure of productivity, increased by nearly 40% between 2006 and 2012. In that period we cut SG&A (selling, general and administrative) expenses in half. Our manufacturing facilities are now either low-cost operations or have that potential with additional investments.

Our strong balance sheet positions us to invest in our future, while retaining the values and guiding principles which define the way we do business. Some projects currently underway in green energy will reduce costs while improving productivity and environmental performance, so the benefits will be broad.

Q: What will Tembec look like in future?

A: We will be a forest products company like very few others. Tembec made over $500 million in capital expenditures in the 2011-2015 period focused on two areas: green energy, mainly cogenerated electricity; and improving our manufacturing operations in all businesses. All this will strengthen and stabilize earnings through the cycle, and make Tembec less dependent on commodities driven mainly by the state of the economy. And our eyes are open for opportunities, as our industry consolidates.

Q: Will you focus on any one business in your portfolio?

A: Specialty cellulose, which has high margins and is enjoying steady growth. Tembec is the number two player in that business, globally. We like businesses where we can be dominant and provide value our customers cannot easily find elsewhere. We concentrate mainly on specialty cellulose rather than lower-priced commodity dissolving pulp, but produce some commodity grades. Specialty cellulose has more stable demand than lumber, pulp or paper, so it provides more stable revenues and earnings.

In 2012 our Tartas, France, specialty cellulose facility completed a $21 million (16 million euros) project that will increase its production of green electricity. And a long-term cogeneration contract will contribute to a steady revenue stream.

Q: What is the centerpiece of your investment plan?

A: Game-changing capital expenditures in green electricity. In 2012 we launched a major investment project at our Temiscaming specialty cellulose operation – the largest in many years in our industry. The new facility began generating power in January 2015, initiating a 25-year supply contract with Hydro-Québec. It will improve costs, productivity and environmental performance, and increase green electricity capacity to 50 megawatts, producing steady long-term revenues through the economic cycle. This $273 million project can also accommodate a future capacity expansion of the specialty cellulose facility. We plan to grow our production capacity gradually.

We already cogenerate electricity at four operations, so we know that business, and the Temsicaming project uses proven technology. Our debt service will remain manageable.

Q: What are the roles of specialty cellulose and electricity in your portfolio?

A: Complementing the cyclical nature of our commodities – lumber, pulp and paper. Don’t forget that lumber, which has been down for a few years now, will provide big upside for Tembec once the US economy and housing start growing again.

The key is this: The steadier nature of specialty cellulose and electricity mean we will not be reduced to waiting for lumber or pulp to turn around, to generate attractive earnings.

Q: What is the role of lumber for Tembec?

A: Softwood lumber remains a core business for Tembec and it will give us upside when housing begins a sustained improvement.

Tembec is one of the few companies with Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification for all our Canadian forestlands. And we believe our longstanding commitment to responsible forestry is a real differentiator in a commodity business like lumber.