The Pulp and Paper Centre at the University of British Columbia entered into a research partnership with paper manufacturing giant Lee and Man back in 2012. The research is aimed at creating new technologies and processes to convert fast growing, renewable bio-mass into high value chemicals and materials. The research aims to optimize and improve product quality in their current bio-conversion process to make it more cost-effective, thereby increasing their ability to make the most of this renewable resource. Lee and Man have provided over $500,000 in support of the partnership, which will continue through the end of 2015. Raymond Lee of Lee and Man is featured in the current issue of Ingenuity, the Applied Science magazine:
In 1998, Raymond Lee (BASc ‘93 ECE) watched the first ton of packing paper roll out from his mill in Dongguan, China, a mill that had taken four years to establish. Just over 16 years later, Lee & Man Paper is the second-largest producer of container board in the world and vies for the title of most-sustainable packing paper manufacturer as well. Lee recalls how he built his business — and what he learned along the way.
“My father was the one who encouraged me to go into business,” he recalls. “We saw opportunities in the paper business, because he had a handbag business in China. He would export these handbags, but we had difficulty buying paper to make the boxes for shipping. That was the reason I decided to give papermaking a shot.”
In China at that time, there were few paper manufacturers. Lee had to start his business from scratch. “My initial mill took four years to build, when it should have taken two. When we finally had production, there was a recession, and the price of paper dropped.” He credits his engineering education at UBC for helping him overcome many challenges. “I used my technical education from UBC, of course, but more important, my engineering background taught me how to analyze and solve problems. But because it was so challenging to start with, it just made it that much more rewarding when I started selling my first ton of paper.”
Lee & Man has made some innovative changes to the manufacturing process for packing paper and is also leading the way in sustainability. The mills use only recycled paper, and use less water and less electricity than other mills their size. “Back then in China, nobody cared about environmental issues, but from a corporate standpoint, it was important to me to make sure that this is one of the cleanest, most environmentally friendly companies in the world,” he says. He credits his time in Canada for his commitment to the environment. (Lee came to Canada at 9 years of age and says, “Canadians are natural environmentalists.”) He has both business and personal reasons for his sustainability push. “I want to build a long-term business, and the only way to do that is to be conscious of the environment.” Lee and his family also live at the Dongguan mill, so the cleanliness of the water, soil and air are something he can see every day. His advances in this area have been notable enough that he has been asked to consult with the China’s government to address the country’s environmental challenges.
Bringing sustainability consciousness to China isn’t the only advancement in business practices Lee has brought to the country: He also makes an example of giving back to his community, making philanthropic contributions to education. “The world is not always fair,” he says. “But education is one of the only ways to help young people to get ahead and get out of poverty.”
Lee acknowledges his family — his father is one of his personal role models — his education and his luck for his success and adds, “I know I am a hard worker, and nothing replaces that. Just being smart isn’t enough.” He is looking forward to continuing to develop his business, noting that there are always ways to improve.
Lee remembers his time at UBC with great fondness. If he had any advice for students, he says, it would be to practice communication skills, so they are able to explain their ideas to others. “And foster your people skills,” he says. “This is one of the most important things I have learned. Once you leave UBC, you don’t work with things anymore — you work with people. And it is the relationships I have formed and the people I have helped that give me my greatest sense of achievement.”
Photo caption: Dr. Lee received an honorary doctorate from UBC in May 2014 for his business innovation, commitment to sustainability, and his contributions to education around the world.
To read the Q&A with Dr. Lee, visit: http://engineering.ubc.ca/apsc-eng/spotlight/raymond-lee