Mike Segal: The Paper Chase

Mike Segal always keeps one eye on the weather. When you ship paper, water damage is a constant concern.

“You need watertight equipment and good procedures for managing equipment integrity,” says Segal, director of logistics at Sappi Fine Paper North America, a division of Sappi Ltd., a global company headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The North American business makes coated fine paper for magazines, books, print advertisements, and other high-end products at four mills in Maine and Michigan. From his office in Portland, Me., Segal oversees transportation and warehousing in a network that also includes five regional distribution centers and several smaller facilities.

Although Segal mainly serves North American customers, he also oversees the domestic legs of Sappi’s international imports and exports, as well as customs and regulatory compliance.

Third-party logistics providers handle day-to-day decisions at Sappi’s regional DCs and mills, but Segal and his team stay close to those operations. “We’re interested in developing and maintaining direct relationships with carriers,” he says. “We also want to understand why services cost what they do.”

An effort to understand the “why” behind the “what” gave Segal, a process and production engineer, his first taste of logistics at his company. A supply chain management class he took for his M.S. in engineering management led Segal to examine Sappi’s transit times to particular locations. Five years later, in a leadership academy at Sappi, he joined a project aimed at streamlining order fulfillment.

Those two forays outside his core discipline helped make Segal a viable candidate when Sappi needed a director of logistics for North America.

Segal strives to make it easier for customers to conduct business with Sappi by streamlining processes and the network. His team seeks out process improvements, plus continuous moves and other smart routing opportunities.

Sappi’s efforts to simplify life for its customers are complicated by the fact that the company serves four distinct sets of constituents. Sappi ships mainly to paper distributors, who look for a high-value product from a responsive vendor. But it also has to please the distributors’ customers: end-users who order print jobs, designers who specify paper for those jobs, and printers who need the paper to arrive on schedule and perform well on the press.

Meeting all those needs while driving down costs—and keeping the paper dry—isn’t easy. But Segal loves the challenge of devising a plan and seeing it succeed. “When you set a goal, then not only deliver on it, but exceed it, there’s nothing better,” he says.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you’re not at work?

My son plays three sports, so I’m on the board for football, coach basketball, and help with baseball. I’m also an avid dance recital attendee, in support of my daughter’s involvement in ballet. Otherwise, I hang out with my family, work around the house, and play golf when I can.

Ideal dinner companion?

My kids. They will be teenagers soon and getting on with their lives, so I don’t like to miss a chance for us to eat together as a family while we can.

What’s in your briefcase?

As an engineer, I can’t go anywhere without an HP calculator. I have a stack of business cards, a road atlas, some logistics magazines, and my laptop. I also carry a paper loupe—a magnifying glass used to examine print jobs.

If you didn’t work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

I’d like to be a college professor, focusing on organizations and management.

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