Forest products CEOs expect bumpy 2013: PwC

They identify operations effectiveness, innovation and new business models as top priorities for growth.

March 11, 2013

VANCOUVER—Forest, paper & packaging (FPP) CEOs are less confident about revenue growth over the next 12 months than their peers in other sectors, but are more optimistic about their company’s revenue prospects in the next three years, according to PwC’s 16th Annual Global CEO Survey.

“The CEOs of forest, paper and packaging companies are a resilient bunch. Recently they’ve faced challenges such as shifting demand and markets, a bumpy economy, overcapacity, environmental issues and rising costs,” said Bruce McIntyre, leader of PwC’s Forest, Paper and Packing practice in Canada. “CEOs have identified their top three priorities: enhancing operational effectiveness; investing in innovation and R&D; and developing new business models.”

McIntyre says, “FPP CEOs are intensely focused on trimming any fat from operations.”

The survey found 92% of sector CEOs have implemented a cost-reduction initiative in the past 12 months, and 89% are planning to in the coming 12 months. This result is higher than the overall average of 70% of CEOs across all sectors in the PwC survey. Some of the cost reduction reported was through staff cuts, which are expected to continue, with 18% of FPP CEOs reporting plans to cut their workforce by more than 8% this year.

R&D and innovation is a top priority for 42% of FPP CEOs in the next 12 months—a full 10% higher than the overall average across the entire CEO Survey. Almost three-quarters of the FPP CEOs said they will make changes to increase capacity for innovation and R&D.
Half of the FPP CEOs surveyed have entered into a new strategic alliance or joint venture in the past year, 34% completed a cross-border M&A and 32% completed a domestic M&A. “The high degree of transactions and partnerships reflects the broadening uses being found for fibre such as bioproducts, biofuels, and textiles.”

CEOs reported plans to conduct even more deals in the coming 12 months, with 58% contemplating a strategic alliance or joint venture, 47% a cross-border M&A, and 34% a domestic M&A.

Other key findings from the FPP CEO Survey include:

  • Every FPP CEO surveyed said that customer service was a key differentiator, the only sector in the full survey where 100% reported that customers influence their strategy.
  • 75% of FPP CEOs worry that energy and raw material costs could pose a threat to growth, far more than the average across the overall survey sample.
  • 95% reported that supply chain partners are influencing their strategy, and the large majority of CEOs are increasing efforts to engage with them.
  • Nearly three quarters (71%) of FPP CEOs plan to increase their company’s focus on reducing their environmental footprint, while 18% will continue at their current levels.

“While trends for the FPP sector are very similar in Canada to those found worldwide, there are some notable differences. We don’t think staff reductions will be as severe in Canada; in fact we’re hearing concern from some Canadian forest products companies about the looming shortfall of qualified labour. If the US housing market rebounds and demand from China continues to grow we could have a labour shortage in Canada,” McIntyre concludes.

The survey includes responses from 1,330 interviews conducted in 68 countries during the last quarter of 2012, including 38 FPP CEOs in 15 countries. This year’s survey looked at key items on CEO agendas around the world including confidence in growth, current threats like the availability of talent, approaches to leadership and the need to rebuild trust. By region, 449 interviews were conducted in Asia Pacific, 312 in Western Europe, 287 in North America, including 120 in Canada and 167 in the US, 165 in Latin America, 95 in Central & Eastern Europe, 50 in Africa and 32 in the Middle East.

Download survey results at