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IP getting new manager next month

IP’s Brad Biggar speaks Monday while incoming mill manager John Grover listens.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[12/04/01]Brad Biggar, manager of the International Paper Co. mill at Redwood for five years, introduced the new manager of the mill and said good-bye to Vicksburg Monday in a short talk before the Vicksburg Exchange Club.

Biggar, 61, will retire officially at the end of December. John Grover will step in as mill manager Jan. 1. Grover, 35, arrived in Vicksburg last week from Wisconsin.

The local IP mill employs 360 people and makes Kraft linerboard for corrugated cardboard boxes and other applications.

“I’m very excited to have him here,” Biggar said of Grover, noting that Vicksburg is his first assignment in the South.

“When I talked to John for the first time after he had accepted the mill, I told him as far as I am concerned he was the luckiest employee of International Paper … because he’s coming to the Vicksburg mill. There is no doubt in my mind … that Vicksburg is special,” Biggar said.

When he was first stationed at the Vicksburg mill in the 1980s, Biggar said he gave credit for its success to then-manager Cecil Bailey. But, he said, when he returned as manager, he realized the mill employees made the biggest difference.

“They are, without a doubt, the best,” he said.

About three years ago, IP began a change in its organizational design. The people at the mill made the changes work, he said.

“The only way for the mill to be successful long term is for the people who really own it (the employees who spend there careers there) to be involved in the day-to-day operation and decision making,” he said. “They have welcomed that change with open arms.”

The result is that people from other IP mills have come to Vicksburg to see how the changes can be made to work.

The model for the way things are done at the Vicksburg mill, Biggar said, began with an employee-involved safety program that was moved into the production areas.

He said the paper industry had gone through hard times during the past two years and made some fundamental changes in the way of doing business. Formerly, when there was a drop in demand, the mills kept turning out paper to be placed in inventory. Today, they don’t make a product until there are orders for it. The result is most mills, Vicksburg included, operate at about 80 percent capacity. Instead of shutting down for 73 days as in 2000, the mill ran the process slower in 2001 and avoided closing down.

Another change in IP is that it has divested itself of parts of the business in which it did not do well.

Grover received his bachelor’s degree in pulp and paper science and engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

He began his career with James River Corp. in Green Bay in 1989. He joined IP in 1992 at the mill in DePere, Wis. Before coming to Vicksburg, he worked at the IP mill in Kaukauna, Wis.

He and his wife, Diane, have three children.