Creating Value Through Comprehensive Restructuring

With world commodity prices in turmoil on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, Neenah Paper, a publicly-traded paper company, decided to divest or close its Nova Scotia pulp mill. The mill was a large capital intensive asset and a cornerstone of the rural forest product economy in Nova Scotia.

It was a high cost business and a complex corporate carve-out, and no buyers emerged in the midst of the financial crisis’ market volatility. The mill was threatened with liquidation—but we chose to invest. Our analysis showed Northern had every reason to not just survive, but thrive.

The mill’s primary product, Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft pulp, is a product with growing global demand. Nova Scotia is one of the few places where the trees for this product grow. 
We spotted the opportunity to acquire and invest in the business, streamlining its operations, attracting new customer relationships, introducing new forest management practices, simplifying job descriptions, and introducing an early retirement program to bridge the company’s unionized workforce to a high performance work organization.

Seeing the key levers to value, we were able to improve Northern’s cost structure and achieve global competitiveness, allowing the company to thrive again. By diversifying Northern’s customer base, aligning labor and government interests and engaging with the Province’s natural resource strategy to cut costs and raise productivity, we led Northern to operate at full capacity during the downturn even while many of its competitors had to close.

Confident in our leadership, the Province of Nova Scotia partnered with Northern to purchase 450,000 acres of timberland in 2010. The company has ultimately become part of a large global forest products company. Northern demonstrates that while even strong companies face challenges in a turbulent economy, we are able to transform viable but underperforming old economy companies into highly competitive global businesses.