Q&A with David McDonald

Dave McDonaldDave McDonald has published over 60 papers in refereed journals. He is a fellow of both TAPPI and PAPTAC and has received many awards including PAPTAC’s highest technical award, the John Bates Gold Medal. Dave is a Senior Advisor for the Marcus Wallenberg Prize and, as a physics graduate student, he was supervised by Bertram Brockhouse, the 1994 Nobel laureate in physics.
Dave gave a seminar on Wood Mechanics and the Implications for Refining at the ERMP Steering Committee meeting on November 19th. We took the opportunity to ask Dave some questions to gain insight into his successful career and experience.




Give us your career story in a nutshell. We’d love to hear what brought you to where you are now.
I have worked for over 38 years in the forest industry starting my career with Abitibi-Price, as a Research Associate/Mathematician. After 6 years with Abitibi, I joined Paprican in their Papermaking Division, then became Program Manager, Mechanical Pulping and later, Vice-President, Research and Education. With the creation of FPInnovations, I became Vice-President, University Programs and Strategic Partnerships. I am currently President of JDMcD Consulting Inc.

Prior to joining FPInnovations you successfully set up a network of educational centres. Tell us a little about why you thought this was important to do.
As Vice-President of Paprican, I had an important role in the creation of the Sentinel Network in Bioactive Paper and the ArboraNano Business-Led Network of Centre of Excellence, as well as acting as the Chairman of their Boards. I believe that in order to make progress on difficult challenges you need the best people with a diverse set of competencies working as a team. Breakthroughs are made at the interfaces of different disciplines. Canadian universities have some of the finest researchers in world and enthusiastic students who are motivated to work in a green industry. That was my motivation for helping to create these networks.
As Vice-President of FPInnovations, I was the architect of the NSERC Forest Sector Initiative which created four additional university research networks. Later, as a consultant, I assisted in the formation of FIBRE, the umbrella organization for the eight forest sector research networks.

What are some major accomplishments the network had over the years?
The training of over 400 students in the area of emerging products and green technologies is the greatest achievement. They will be the future leaders of the green economy.
The other major achievement was to interest world-class researchers from fields outside the forest sector in our challenges. They have brought new perspectives, technologies and enthusiasm to our industry.
The fact that the university researchers were able to work together within their networks and between networks under FIBRE, is an achievement that is unique to Canada.
There have also been important discoveries about cellulose, lignin, paper and wood that will be the basis of future commercial products.

You have a long history of working in this industry across this country. What do you foresee as the biggest challenge for the next 20 years?
The biggest challenge for the industry will be the transition to new products. Clearly, there will be further declines in printing and writing grades. Also, there will be increased competition for pulp producers from those in the southern hemisphere. The Canadian industry has to differentiate itself from its competitors either by identifying the superior properties of our fibres or creating new value-added products.

The partnerships and initiatives you lead must have social as well as strategic business goals. How do you work to balance these and make sure both are achieved?
You have to listen to your stakeholders – those directly involved in your projects and those indirectly involved in your community and country.

Do you think there are benefits for industry to partner with University/academia to tackle challenging problems?
No organization is big enough or has all the resources or has all the competencies to solve the most important challenges. That is why it is necessary to form partnerships with academia for the specialized knowledge, equipment and resources. An excellent book on this subject is “Chesbrough, H. W., (2006). Open business models. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press”

What are some direct benefits of working for the P&P/Forestry industry, specifically in Western Canada?
The forestry industry is going through a sea change and can no longer do business as usual. The next few years will be an exciting time for people with new ideas.

What industry related blogs or books are you currently reading?
I am reading “Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson”. This book is a scathing account of the failure of Canadian companies to recognize the global nature of today’s businesses. They are several sections devoted to the Canadian forest industry.

Any advice to current students considering pursuing a career with P&P/Forestry/Research institutes?
Develop your soft skills. Take advantage of every opportunity to improve your oral and written communication, volunteer to organize events and learn to work in teams. Potential employees will assume that your technical skills and knowledge are solid. They will be looking for how you will function in their organization.