The inward focus of Lewiston’s biggest employer follows a growth spurt that began in 2010 with construction of a new tissue plant in Shelby, N.C., and the purchase of a smaller competitor, Cellu Tissue.
Now, “we’re focused a lot more on generating free cash flow on our latest investments,” says CEO and President Linda Massman.
Massman spoke with the Lewiston Tribune this month for the first time since being named to the top spot at the private-label tissue and paperboard maker. She has been in the top position, with a base salary of $700,000, since January.
The former Potlatch plant along the Clearwater River is the company’s largest factory.
“It is the one facility where we do everything the company does nationwide,” Massman says.
“Everything” means manufacturing toilet paper, paper napkins, paper towels and facial tissue for grocery stores, along with paperboard that becomes paper plates and sake containers in Japan.
Massman says Clearwater spends millions each year in maintenance at Lewiston, not counting upgrades this year that will cost $20 million to do things like improve safety and efficiency.
But the company has no plans to move the more than 100 people from its corporate headquarters in Spokane to the ranks of those at its only Idaho site.
“We are pretty well grounded in Spokane, and that will probably be our headquarters for the foreseeable future,” Massman says.
Lewiston-Clarkston Valley residents have watched Clearwater carefully since its founding five years ago. The company began operations in 2008 when Potlatch Corp. separated most of its manufacturing into Clearwater Paper, a new company. Potlatch retained its land holdings and almost all of its sawmill operations. At the time, the economy was on the skids, and no one knew if manufacturing would be profitable on its own.
Massman credits the company’s financial strength to expanding consumer products and optimizing paperboard. More than 70 percent of Clearwater Paper’s tissue products wind up on supermarket shelves. An additional 26 percent is split almost evenly between big-box retailers and dollar stores. The rest goes to drug stores.
Just before becoming chief financial officer at what became Clearwater Paper, Massman was vice president of finance and corporate planning at Supervalu, the Minnesota company that bought most of Boise’s Albertsons Inc. grocery-store chain in 2006 and sold it to Boise’s Albertson’s LLC this year.
“I saw firsthand how important store brands were to a retailer’s success,” she says.
Massman has been a part of almost every major decision at Clearwater Paper since its beginning. She was one of its first executives, joining a team Potlatch assembled to lead the new company.
“I had no hesitation,” she says. “I saw only opportunity.”
Massman rose at Clearwater even though it’s the first time she has worked at a manufacturer. Her gender in the male-dominated industry hasn’t been an issue, Massman says.
Clearwater has improved its paperboard product mix by selling more upper-end paperboard with a higher profit margin that is used to package items such as cosmetics, and less of the cheaper varieties that are used for things like paper plates.
After two years, Clearwater will take on new initiatives that will be shaped by a number of factors, such as what the market looks like for the company’s products, Massman says.
“We’re constantly looking at the landscape,” she says.
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