Fastmarkets RISI has announced that Tony Smurfit, CEO of Smurfit Kappa Group, has been named the Fastmarkets RISI 2021 European CEO of the Year. The award will be presented at the Virtual Fastmarkets RISI European Conference in March. The European CEO of the Year Award is nominated by a group of investment analysts, industry consultants and commentators covering the European and global pulp and paper industry.
The reasons cited for Mr. Smurfit’s win largely centered around his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and the company’s continued investment in future growth. One analyst recognized “the company’s resilient performance during the pandemic” as well as “their recent front-footed approach to investing to capitalize on the sustainability opportunities that are emerging in their end markets.”
Smurfit Kappa is the fifth largest containerboard producer in the world. The company operates with a top capacity position in Europe along with notable positions in Mexico and Latin America, as well as North America. In early December, Smurfit Kappa’s stock hit a record high, which was eclipsed this week. Becoming CEO in 2015, Mr. Smurfit has since “delivered total shareholder returns of 180% against a market (FTSE100) of 17%,” an industry contact said.
Following 18% profit margins in 2018 and 2019, Smurfit Kappa was on track to another 18% margin year for 2020 – with sales of 8.3 billion to 8.4 billion Euros, based on a Fastmarkets RISI PPI Pulp & Paper Week estimate, and a company-guided EBITDA of 1.46 billion to 1.48 billion Euros.
A second nominating analyst referred to Smurfit Kappa investments decisions as “clear management leadership, calling the trough on Covid-19 box demand and investing for multi-year box volume and sustainability growth ahead.” A further analyst praised Mr. Smurfit’s “positive management behavior” during the recent Covid-19 outbreak and cited this as a reason for his win. The analyst was particularly impressed by the company’s recognition of their “humble hero employees who kept customers supplied with boxes during the worst of Covid-19.”
According to Smurfit Kappa, since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Tony Smurfit virtually visited more than 250 plants, and the Group also paying back government relief funds it received and provided a fourth-quarter bonus to employees.
When told of his win, Mr. Smurfit commented, “I am very happy to receive this very prestigious award mainly for the recognition it reflects on all Smurfit Kappa Group employees who tirelessly and selflessly worked to ensure our customers are supplied by our beautiful and essential products.”