Alberni CEP ‘hopeful’ about new Catalyst man

Alberni CEP union officials gave a tentative head nod to new incoming Catalyst CEO and president Joe Nemeth.

Catalyst has a new man at the helm. Vancouver Island raised Joe Nemeth was named president and CEO last week. He was in town to tour the Alberni facility and chew the fat with local CEP officials.

If first impressions count for anything then officials with CEP Local 592 look forward to working with Catalyst’s new man.

New Catalyst Paper Corp. CEO Joe Nemeth rolled through Port Alberni last week to see the new operation, meet civic leaders and have a sit-down with local union members.

“We only met him briefly when he was here. It was more of an initial meeting and introduction,” CEP 592 president Jim Van Dusen said. “We do look forward to more in-depth talks later though.”

Catalyst’s board of directors hired Nemeth as their new president and chief executive officer, but the he doesn’t take the helm until Oct. 1.

People see the mill structure and see the products they make, but it’s the people who make the mill work that left the biggest impression on Nemeth.

“They really know what they are doing. They want to see it succeed. There are good people here and they care,” Nemeth said.

The lanky president walks with a gait that denotes comfort in a mill; Nemeth seems more comfortable wearing a pair of safety boots. And he’s no stranger to the Island.

Nemeth makes his home in Langley, but was born in Victoria where he grew up playing soccer.

His resumé includes a B.Sc in Forestry from the University of British Columbia, and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario.

But Nemeth isn’t just a man in a suit. He’s worked in the forest industry for more than 30 years. He’s worked in the woods, in Youbou at a mill, then in sales and marketing before becoming manager of the former Elk Falls mill in Campbell River.

“I’ve worked in the industry from cradle to grave,” he said.

All those things have credibility with the local CEP, which has 175 members working at the Alberni mill. “He’s personable and from the Island and we consider that a good thing,” VanDusen said.

The foundation is eroding in the traditional paper market, but where others see decline Nemeth sees transformation. He wants to explore opportunities in non-traditional paper markets, he said, as well as look at taking advantage of biofuel production.

The Alberni operation can be successful, and Nemeth said he has a three-pronged plan to make it so. The plan includes operational excellence, like cost efficiency and safety; margin improvement through  better quality and more efficient paper production; and strategic options, like biofuel energy.

“We asked about his plan and he talked briefly about it with us. He has a good vision so we’re hopeful,” Van Dusen said.

Nemeth may be an Islander, personable and a man with a plan, but he’s a company man who’s coming in when the company is hard hit.

Catalyst’s website notes that it posted a $28-million net deficit on $263.4 million in pulp and paper sales.

With the initial meeting over, union officials say that more substantive talks lay down the road. “We didn’t raise any concerns with him at this time. But we look forward to more in-depth talks with him later,” Van Dusen said.

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