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General Manager, Paper Marketing

Companies like Canfor sell their forest products all over the world. An important component of selling any product is communication with customers. Canfor needs to find out what each customer needs, determine how to make that product and how to get it to the client quickly. This kind of customer service is critical in the fiercely competitive global paper markets of today. Developing customer relationships is an essential role for the General Manager of Paper Marketing.

Peter Rolvink, who is located at Canfor's corporate office in Vancouver,  manages the worldwide sales and marketing of paper produced at Canforís Prince George Paper Mill.


The Job

Peter works with the all sides of the product equation, the customer, the sales staff and the mill that makes the product. Peterís goal is to develop these relationships into niche markets where Canfor will be able to not only sell more product, but more profitable types of product.

In the paper business "types of product" refers to the different qualities or grades of paper that can be made. The paper mill uses pulp (which is cooked wood fibre) from the pulp mill side of the operation and manufactures it into paper. The paper machine that processes the pulp can modify the strength, thickness and colour to produce paper for different end uses. For example unbleached pulp can be:

  • made into thin strong paper for use in cement bags
  • bleached and then made into paper where the surface is smoothed for use as sugar or flour bags,
  • bleached and then coloured so it can be used for consumer packaging

The profitability of each grade depends on how difficult the grade is to make and how many competitors are making that product. Obviously, a company wants to sell more of the most profitable products. Part of the general managerís job is to analyze world markets and determine which products to target. To complete this analysis, Peter visits prospective customers to discuss their product needs and the price they are willing to pay for that product. These prices are then compared with the cost of production. Products with the highest returns are selected for further development.

New product development requires a combination of skills:

  • someone has to have the idea or identify a potential market (usually sales/marketing)
  • someone has to determine how to make the product (usually Research & Development / Mill)
  • the mill has to successfully produce and ship to the customer for feedback.

Peter and the mill manager work closely together to lead the sales, mill and research personnel to bring these new products to the market place and satisfy customers' needs.

One of the most rewarding parts of a general managers' job is motivating that team of people. According to Peter, " The better job I do at encouraging our sales force to find and service those profitable customers, the more profit for the company, and the more fun we will all have."

Forming a team which works in unison and with great cooperation between departments is an important leadership achievement. Peter says, " If there is one thing that sets the paper business apart its that we encourage our staff to determine for themselves how they want to work in their area of responsibility. They decide how they can best apply their skills." This empowerment has led to highly effective teams.

Communication is a critical part of the general managerís job. Along with the team communication, are the on-going discussions with customers and business contacts. The purpose of all of this "chat" is to create business opportunities for Canfor. Opportunities include, developing new products, reducing costs, entering new markets and maintaining customer satisfaction through excellence in product quality and customer service. Peter advises, "Information and opportunities most often come from other people, so you need to network and keep your eyes and ears open."

Communication with customers and business contacts often means extensive travel. Peter has had some great experiences meeting customers. "One of the most interesting customers I have met was the Prime Minister of the state of Sabah on the Island of Borneo. When you meet someone like that they treat you like a foreign dignitary," recalls Peter.

Peter communicates daily with sales staff, research scientists, mill technicians, and customers from around the world. Peter notes, "You have to be a diplomat, a coach, and a friend."


The Path

The skills and abilities that Peter needs for the general manager position were developed through a series of education and work experiences.

Peter has a Bachelor of sciences degree from UBC and a marketing diploma from BCIT. He worked for a packaging company for three years, building his expertise in the packaging and paper field. "I was responsible for BC and western USA and then moved to Ontario with the same company." recalls Peter. Peter started with Canfor 11 years ago as a marketing assistant involved in developing marketing plans. From there Peter moved into sales for four years, focusing on the Asian market.

Along with his education and experience, Peter has a set of personal traits or natural communication and leadership skills which have proven invaluable in his position. A general manager also needs excellent analytical skills and logical thinking abilities combined with creativity. This combination ensures you can not only develop great ideas but actually implement them. Peter's natural diplomatic abilities and finesse have been essential in the development of customer relationships. Mechanically inclined, the ability to prioritize, highly organized and tenacious are other inherent characteristics that Peter recognizes as factors in his success.


That's Cool

One of the fascinating parts of being a General Manager of Paper Marketing is travelling the world. Peter has a burning enthusiasm for learning new things. "I have a passion for new experiences, whether it is seeing new situations, meeting new people, or gaining new understandings about the way the world works," admits Peter. He enjoys the travel involved in his position because of the learning that can take place.

Peter has been to many countries and has met people from all walks and styles of life. For example:

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico, Costa Rica, England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Israel

Travel has provided Peter with a fascinating but sometimes disturbing opportunity to study the world. " I have seen desperately poor people living off garbage in the garbage dump, and phenomenal wealth where a golf game can cost $400 Canadian per person and a bowl of shark fin soup (an Asian delicacy) can cost $50 US!" remarks Peter.



Working overseas can be exciting, however, Peter has several stories that illustrate that you need an adventurous spirit to survive!

  • In China he had to eat sea cucumber with a smile, in spite of the fact his stomach was doing flips!
  • While visiting Tian'anmen Square, exactly 1 year after the massacre, Peter underwent nerve wracking scrutiny by officials carrying large machine guns.
  • Even safely on the ground is no assurance! Peter had a land rover adventure in the jungles of Borneo. Travelling with a sales agent along a dirt road, Peter was told the story of how the week before the agent had been driving along the same road and hit a water buffalo that was owned by a farmer. According to the agent, if he was caught, the farmer would have killed him, as the life of an agent was equivalent to that of a water buffalo! Peter says, "Judging by his driving skill I could see that he had the potential to kill many more water buffalo so I made him stop and insisted on driving. He wasnít happy about it but we both managed to survive the trip!"

Adventures such as these can be unpleasant and scary, but also thrilling. Peter thrives on these unusual experiences.


The Best

According to Peter, the best part of the general manager position is the ability to feel like you are running your own business. "You get to meet people and situations that challenge your way of thinking about the world and yourself" remarks Peter. As a general manager Peter has influence over many aspects of the operation. "This provides almost a sense that itís your own business. This feeling is very empowering and I think that our CEO would like more of us to have that feeling." remarks Peter.

Peter also values how his adventurous travel experiences have challenged and improved his thinking. " When you experience other cultures, you soon begin to realize that there are different ways of perceiving the world that are equally valid. This can be a real moment of enlightenment, when you realize you are at home in many cultures and you truly feel like a citizen of the world." states Peter.



A position such as Peterís is extremely busy, with most of our customers a long plane trip away. Peter suggests that students that are considering a job with lots travel and responsibility should chase their dream, but also consider what kind of lifestyle is involved. Peter suggests, "Make sure you understand exactly what your career choice entails, if you like being in an office and being home regularly you should choose something else". When asked to give students some advice, Peter grins" Eat your vegetables, listen to your mother and marry the right personÖ.I always had problems with the listening to my mother part! " which indicates that a sense of humour might be another of Peterís assets!


The Person

Peterís philosophy can be summed up with the following quote, " Lifeís an adventure, have fun, and keep positive".



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