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Celebrating 100 years of TAPPI

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Celebrating 100 years of TAPPI

May 11, 2015 - 05:27

BRUSSELS, April 1, 2015 (PPI Magazine) - A resurgent TAPPI is looking towards its second 100 years with great optimism

In 1914 a group of 30 pulp and paper makers gathered in New York City to form a new technical arm of the American Pulp and Paper Association. The objective was to create a forum where information relating to production could be discussed and disseminated. From that meeting grew the association that was formed in 1915 and known as TAPPI. 

It's no secret that the member association went through difficult times in the early part of this Century, even president and CEO Larry Montague calls them dire. But a huge effort on the part of its staff, the Board of Directors and even some key members coupled and with a renewed willingness to listen to its members turned the ship around. 

On the occasion of TAPPI's 100 anniversary, PPI had the opportunity to sit down with its Montague at TAPPI'S headquarters in Atlanta, GA. 

The face-to-face interview also provides a good background for TAPPI's resurgence. To Montague, face-to-face communication is all important. As he notes in this interview, "The big thing was that we needed to get back in front of our members. We had to go back to being member- not staff-driven. TAPPI is not an office."


PPI: In this age of instant communication, how do you keep an association relevant?

Larry Montague: I agree, new technology has really changed the landscape of information sharing, which is TAPPI's main mission. But in all truth, there is no more "instant" form of communication than face-to-face. Email, internet, electronic publication, "new media", the 24/7 news cycle - these things all keep the fires of information-sharing burning. But if you want to see how those fires get lit, sit in on a TAPPI Technical Committee meeting, or a Division Conference session on process improvement, or any TAPPI Course! It's inspiring what our members achieve. This is where the prevalent items of interest start the entire instant messaging topics. 

TAPPI went through some tough times a few years back; how were the difficulties overcome? What was the key?

You're right, Graeme - it wasn't easy. I pray every day that we will make the right decisions to keep TAPPI sustainable and meaningful for our members and our industry. It reminds me of what psychologist have begun to speak of what is perhaps today's largest mental health problem. This rapidly growing problem is what they refer to as FTT, which means Failure to Thrive. When you have this condition you are still able to function, but you have lost your sense of hope and meaning. FTT is not the presence of mental illness; it's the absence of mental, spiritual and emotional vitality. In ancient lists of deadly sins it was called "acedia", which translated means "weariness of soul and inability to delight in life". In my opinion, this was where our industry and our association were just a few short years ago. There were a lot of factors involved-including rampant industry consolidation, which always hurts professional organizations. By 2007 TAPPI had been operating "in the red" for 11 straight years-and that was before our national economic downturn of 2008! Fortunately, our past leaders had built a solid financial foundation; but it was scary, because our ability to provide services to our members was really being threatened. 

People don't realize how dire our situation was. 

So with our financial resources running low, TAPPI leaders-our Board of Directors, officers, and key members of the TAPPI staff-dipped into the Association's most valuable resource: its people. The Board approved changes to simplify the structure of the Association's project centers; TAPPI staff contributed cost-cutting measures; and members of the staff and board and I began visiting mills. 

One of the first things we did was to hold "King or Queen of the Day": one on one closed door sessions with the current staff. The rules were simple; tell me what things we could do to make TAPPI better. One of the suggestions that seemed to resonate throughout our team was to start listening to our members. We felt we really needed to get out there and talk to members. What did they need most? What worried them? What ways could they suggest to cut our costs while delivering more value? We did everything we could think of to encourage every member to offer ideas, strategies, and suggestions. And then we explored EVERY member idea. Basically, we crowd-sourced a survival strategy! You asked earlier how an Association can remain relevant. Well, ASK the people you serve, and they'll give you an earful. 

Meanwhile, TAPPI's Board also focused on longer-range activities, such as beginning the process of becoming an ANSI-approved standards provider and finding new ways to recruit the next generation of TAPPI volunteers. 

You know that saying: "Ask and you shall receive?" Well, our strategy worked. We've been operating in the black since 2008. Since then, TAPPI has steadily increased attendance at events, published more books, added new publications around key issues, launched a print magazine and created several new volunteer groups and four new divisions (i.e. PIMA, Nano, Young Professionals and Tissue). 

The great part of the story is, it didn't only work for TAPPI and TAPPI members. Other organizations saw what we're able to do on the business side, and they came to us for help. We're now providing association management services to ASPI, PIMA, NAPIM, FPS, and PPSA. It's really win:win: it's a new revenue stream supporting TAPPI products and services, and all of these other organizations can capitalize on our experience to improve products and services for their members. We're providing links between industry organizations that can share resources and help each other. I'm so proud of our members and our staff for making it all work in a way that benefits the industry. 

100 years: What are some of TAPPI's significant milestones?

As an organization-strictly as an organization-our milestones have been growth in membership and the fact that we're still even here. Most organizations can't make it to 100 years. 

But if you look at what TAPPI members have done within the organization... well, I wouldn't know where to begin. Certainly Standards comes to mind. Today TAPPI Standards, created by our members within the structure of TAPPI, are used around the world. They have literally changed our industry. 

And how can we count the important industry advancements that TAPPI members first presented at TAPPI conferences or otherwise published or shared through TAPPI? Peter Massey and on-machine coating... George Tomlinson and recovery boiler technology...Johan Richter and the continuous digester...Peter Wrist and headbox design...and so many more... all these greats are TAPPI Gunnar Gold Nicholson medalists for their work. So, more than "TAPPI milestones," I think we've been successful by providing a forum for industry milestones, and by supporting and publicizing and rewarding our members' milestones. 

Other things that come to mind as "TAPPI Milestones" include: 

TAPPI's contributions to the American war effort for both World Wars: TAPPI members worked with the government to define research areas, and their published research helped supply the chemicals and packaging products needed at home and abroad. 

The establishment of student chapters-we had our first student members in 1919, and established our first student chapter in 1968. Today there are TAPPI student chapters at 31 schools in several different countries. (Montague adds that the student summit has been held for 18 consecutive years and is still growing. Students are receiving two to three job offers each, either permanent, co-op or internships.) 

Our first PaperCon back in 2008: 2008 brought together engineering, pulping, coating and management people into one unified conference. So much can be accomplished by bringing together all the sides of a mill or plant. This event is now one of the largest technical and management conferences for the pulp and paper industry and hosted over 2,000 attendees last year. 

The role TAPPI has been able to play in creating a Nanotechnology Roadmap to provide new avenues for scientific advancements in nanocellulose, supporting new products and new markets to keep our industry thriving into the next century. 

I think our TAPPISAFE, the first industry-supported safety orientation and verification program, is on the way to becoming a milestone for TAPPI, and for our industry. It's a critical area, and we're building a framework for safety that we feel will make a lasting difference. 

How does globalization of the industry affect TAPPI? How can the association benefit from it? 

One reason TAPPI was founded was as part of a strategy to strengthen the North American industry, and particularly its technical community, in the face of mounting global pressures - that was a new idea back in 1915, but it's something that has only increased exponentially since then. 

Today, TAPPI sees the idea of reaching beyond national borders as a strategy for growth and opportunity. Our stated goals have always involved information sharing, standards development, and supporting technical advancement. A globalized industry-with stiffer competition, more rapid development of new products and processes, and a more mobilized workforce-demands those things. 

A global industry also demands channels for communication between papermakers around the world. TAPPI has been developing relationships with our international sister organizations since post-WWII. We now have established relationships with more than 30 organizations in countries throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. We have publication agreements with some of them-to bring research done here to other countries, and to bring the latest developments from other countries to our members. 

That "instant communication" you talked about earlier has helped us get the word out about TAPPI and grow internationally. We're already a truly global organization; we have members in 66 different countries. Actually, about 21% of TAPPI members are located outside of the United States. 

Technical experts from universities and research institutions around the world are frequent presenters at TAPPI events and contributors to TAPPI Journal: in 2012, SuperCorrExpo featured exhibitors from 57 countries and more than 1,200 international attendees; in 2014, PaperCon attracted speakers and attendees from 25 different countries. 

In 2013, TAPPI created a new vision statement that reflected its place in a globalized pulp and paper community: "TAPPI is and will continue be the International Center of Excellence for the forest products, pulp, paper, packaging and related industries." 

What are some of TAPPI's new initiatives? How did they come about?

I already mentioned TAPPISAFE; we feel that can be a game changer for both suppliers and mills. It's all about getting every pulp, paper, and allied industry worker home safe at the end of every day. The program has been developed "for the industry, by the industry" to deliver OSHA awareness-level safety orientation to the workforce and suppliers while maintaining all records in a centralized database. Our Advisory Committee of safety professionals from all aspects of the industry has already developed the TAPPI 

SAFE Basic Orientation content based on safety best practices, and we've also added 20 new safety training courses and a new GateCheck system to the program. It's really exciting. 

We're constantly developing new membership groups, publications, and events to keep TAPPI members on the forefront of our industry's developing "areas of opportunity." Examples include our International Nanotechnology Division; our Nonwovens Engineers and Technologists Division (NET); and the International Bioenergy and Bioproducts Conference (IBBC). 

What do you see as some of the new issues that the industry must face in the near future? How will TAPPI help the industry with new challenges?

We talk about the "retirement tsunami"; workforce development is really critical. The world today cannot get enough of chemical engineers and mechanical engineers. TAPPI can help educate these young engineers about our industry, attract and energize them. We play a strong role in that today, and that will continue over the next 100 years. 

There will continue to be environmental pressures, and as we feel the effects of climate change around the world those pressures will only increase. Again, TAPPI is in a unique position to help, not only through sharing new research, but by promulgating new industry standards that cut waste and help mills operate more efficiently. Through student outreach, TAPPI also serves as a contact point for young scientists in new fields of study like alternative energy. 

Cellulose is an unbelievable product that is going to be used in ways you and I could never think of alone. It's an exciting time for our industry! TAPPI needs to remain responsive to these new avenues, and continue to provide the forums needed to share information as it develops. And those forums may change; we need to be ready for that too. There will be new methods of disseminating research, new ways to publish and communicate, new partner industries that we can learn from. We've met those changes before, and we'll keep doing it. 

Where do you see TAPPI in five years? How does TAPPI thrive for another 100 years?

For starters, I'd love to see TAPPI keep growing our international membership. That's easy to say but not so easy to do. We're exploring a way to get TAPPI representatives into other countries as "boots on the ground" in places like China. That would make it a lot easier for us to set up international conferences and events. 

I'd love to see TAPPI grow in the information side too; I think there is so much opportunity for TAPPI to contribute and expand into research, publication, and other information-sharing on an international scale. 

In the end, the best way for us to thrive is to keep listening to our members tell us what they need, and to be ready to respond. Just as it did for our founders, the future will have opportunities that we can't even imagine now. You may see TAPPI play a role in airplane manufacturing - in TV and cellphone manufacturing - we won't know until the next generation of TAPPI members make those discoveries and then share them through TAPPI! 

Into the Future

Why should someone join TAPPI? Montague summed it up succinctly: "Knowledge and networking." 

Looking into the future, nanocelluose and the rise of the pellet industry are of interest. "We need to stay in front of nanotechnology." 

Also, Montague has no intention of repeating the sins of the past and ignoring the membership. "We are spending quite of bit of money to upgrade our website, to provide more information, to answer our members' need better, to be more user friendly." But this will not preclude Montague's belief in the value of face-to-face communication. "This is where it all starts." 

To conclude, let's send congratulations to TAPPI's two oldest members, one even older than TAPPI itself: Borje Steenberg, a lifetime member who was with the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. He was born in 1912. 

In the US, TAPPI's second oldest member is Charle Huntoon, who is 99 years and lives in Portland, ME. 

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