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Interview with John Lafave, Senior Vice President, Pulp and Paper Sales and Marketing, by Aidan Starosta

One of my favorite parts of working at Resolute Forest Products is that everybody I have run into so far has been friendly and happy to sit down to have a discussion about forestry, and John Lafave is no different. John is the Senior Vice President of Pulp and Paper Sales and Marketing, sitting right under our President and CEO, Remi G. Lalonde. If you climb my side of the corporate ladder, he is my great-grand boss!

John is not the first person in his family to be in the forestry industry: His father was a pulp salesperson. After John finished his Economics degree from McGill University, he went to Toronto for a couple of months and then got a call from his father’s former company recruiting him. Since that moment back in 1998, John has been working in the forestry industry, progressing his way through various companies and positions. He started with Repap Enterprises, who manufactured higher-end paper for magazines and catalogues. A Finnish company, UPM, bought Repap, moving him to Connecticut. After about three and a half years with UPM, John switched companies to Abitibi, which eventually became Resolute Forest Products. For the past 11 years, John has been working as the Senior VP of Pulp and Paper Sales with logistics responsibility.

Something I have noticed through my interview series with various people at Resolute is that the forestry industry provides a level of work-life comfort that keeps people in it. I think that various benefits and a strong culture allow Resolute to retain its employees. Additionally, because forestry is a niche industry, staying in it allows individuals to get a deeper insight into the products and grow their careers. This is something that has been critical to John’s success. It takes time to get to know and build credibility with the people you deal with internally and externally, especially in sales where customer relationships are key for business continuity.

Speaking of longevity in an industry, John has left a company only once over his career, which has spanned almost 35 years. The only reason he left a company was to work specifically for a Canadian company. Although John was offered to go into the railroad industry at various points in his career, he chose to stay with Resolute because of the internal and external connections he has made, while also maintaining commitments to his wife and children.

When John brought up his immediate family, I decided to ask him about the work-life balance Resolute offers. Nowadays, there is an emphasis on maintaining a good work-life balance. This varies from person to person, but John has found that even with a high position, he was able to spend time with his family. Resolute offered a work-life balance that was fitting for him, which is also part of the reason he is still with the company. In John’s current position as an SVP, he typically works about 50 hours a week, but the amount differs from week to week. Recently, there was an acquisition of Resolute announced in July. Because John serves an important role in the company, he ended up spending more time working for several of those weeks to ensure everything on his end was properly prepared.

The last thing I talked to John about was Resolute’s future and the company’s allure for new generations of workers. He was happy to talk about the sustainability and diversity aspects of forestry and Resolute. 

John believes one of the biggest draws to the industry, and Resolute in particular, is our commitment to sustainable forestry. We harvest trees to produce lumber and then take the residuals of the tree bark as energy and chips to produce pulp and paper. Our process ensures there is negligible waste, and each tree we harvest is used purposefully. Additionally, John pointed out that Resolute’s lineage is traceable over 200 years. I observed that Resolute has adjusted to the eco-consciousness of the globe over time, and we plan to continue to succeed for years to come.

In terms of diversity at Resolute, John emphasized the importance of equal opportunity employment. More women are in senior and executive roles than ever before. Additionally, we are a company that hires globally, and our mills are filled with younger people eager to set foot into the industry. Not only has Resolute diversified in terms of employees, but our products are diversified as well. John explained that pulp will always be used in various hygienic and household products, lumber will continue to be needed for architecture, and even though paper usage may decline in the future, Resolute’s paper business is not going anywhere any time soon.

I would like to take this time to thank FPAC for presenting me with this opportunity to share my experience with you all. My largest takeaway from this experience of interviewing various people in the company has to do with the sheer size of the forestry industry. Because there are so many different components that go into the industry, anyone can find enjoyment in working in some part of forestry. Everyone who I have talked to is passionate about their part, whether it is in logistics, sustainability, or sales – and that was just from the people I interviewed! The sheer number of possibilities allow anyone to be able to find success in the industry.

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