Profiles in Paper: Johnny Newsome
Q & A Interview with JOHNNY NEWSOME
Q: What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it?
A: One of my grandfathers, my father, and two uncles worked for Sonoco, and I saw from their example that I could make a good living there. So I decided at a fairly young age that I wanted to work for Sonoco, too. When I was in college, I worked part-time at the Sonoco recycling plant in Columbia, S.C., and every summer I’d return home to Hartsville and work in the Sonoco paper mill. Because I worked at Sonoco throughout my four years in college, I was basically trained to step right into the company’s recycling division full time after graduating.
Q: What have been your most rewarding professional achievements? Personal achievements?
A:When I began, Sonoco Recycling was primarily a plant model. Over the years we have diversified into other areas, adjusting to the changing markets, and now our recycling division has more than doubled its size to become an integral division within Sonoco. We’ve grown the division’s volume a lot, and we’ve been successful in our primary goal of providing supply security for Sonoco’s paper mills. I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by a great group of co-workers who strive to achieve our goals and have fun doing it!
Personally, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful wife and three great children. I enjoy being active in sports with my kids. My oldest son is a good baseball player—his high school team won the state championship last year—and I’ve coached him and been involved throughout his time in baseball. My daughter is playing softball now, and I’m working with my younger son on baseball, too. They’re keeping me young.
Also, I can remember deciding as a boy that I was going to buy the lot next to my family’s house on a lake near Hartsville and build my own house there, and that’s exactly what I did—and it’s still where I live today.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: Whether it be personal or professional, I’m passionate about interacting with positive people who make life enjoyable. The recycling business is a dynamic business, and the industry has undergone many evolutions since I began in 1990. You never get bored in this industry because there’s something new and different every day. I might get frustrated from time to time, but it’s a good frustration that keeps me working to overcome the challenges. Also, I really value the relationships I’ve established over the years through my job. They’re definitely business relationships, but a lot of them have developed into friendships as well.
Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
A: I hold two industry patents. One patent is for a specialized baler that transforms two low-density bales into one high-density export bale. The other patent is for a feed mechanism for a horizontal baler that allows the baler to process long paper tubes and cores without having to shred them.
Q: If you could improve anything about yourself, what would it be?
A: I’d like to spend more time with my family. I travel quite a bit, and when I’m not traveling, I need to be in my office catching up. At some point, I’ll retire and get that extra family time, but right now there are just too many work demands.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: My family loves to vacation on the South Carolina coast. I’m a member of a hunting club, and I like to boat and fish. I also enjoy riding the Harley I’ve owned since 1995.
Q: When and why did your company decide to join ISRI and the PSI Chapter?
A: Sonoco has been a PSI and ISRI member for many years, primarily for the networking benefits and the market and industry information.
Q: Have you held any volunteer leadership positions within PSI?
A: I haven’t held any PSI leadership positions. With three active children, significant work-related travel, and a demanding workload, my time is limited and has to be prioritized. I have been involved in several PSI panel discussions and subcommittees over the years, however.
Q: What benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?
A: I’ve learned a lot about the industry, and I’ve networked with others in the business. My involvement has allowed me to make contacts outside of our core region, which has helped me from a national business perspective. Our industry needs representation, and I feel PSI and ISRI are great groups to do that for us.
Q: What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall paper recycling industry today?
A: A few of the major issues include the shifts in China and its buying activity, the quality changes specific to mixed paper, and the current down markets. Educating the public about recycling—especially about what is acceptable at the curb—remains an ongoing challenge. And then there’s the ongoing consolidation of the North American paper industry.