On January 1, 2023, Ahlstrom gave a warm welcome to the company’s new President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Helen Mets. With Helen settling into her new role, we caught up with her to find out more about her career and her vision for the company.
What can you tell us about your background before joining Ahlstrom?
It’s sometimes hard for me to believe, but my career in the materials industries stretches back more than 30 years. During that time, I’ve worked at Avery Dennison, Pon, and – most recently – DSM, where I was Executive Vice President and CEO of the Specialty Materials business. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in the UK and the USA, leading companies with a truly global footprint spanning North America, Europe, China, India, and Brazil. All my experience, goals, and values have led me here, and now I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone at Ahlstrom – as well as our customers and other stakeholders!
How do you think Ahlstrom is contributing to a better world?
The way I see it, people and companies need materials. But we also need solutions to help us solve global challenges and preserve the Earth’s resources. That’s where Ahlstrom can help: we hold a unique position as a materials company with sustainability deeply embedded into our strategy. At the same time, global megatrends – such as the increased awareness around the health of both people and planet – are creating opportunities for our business that we must seize.
Our purpose – to purify and protect with every fiber for a sustainable world – really embodies Ahlstrom’s determination to have a positive impact on people’s lives, whether it’s purifying air and water, protecting people from harmful chemicals, or protecting the environment from plastic pollution. With our solutions, we help our customers and wider society improve circularity, save resources, reduce fossil-based plastic and use of harmful chemicals, and protect people against harmful pathogens. Ultimately, as the world shifts toward more sustainable ways of living, our high-quality materials will only become more relevant and make a bigger contribution to a successful transition.
What do you see as the main strengths of the company?
First and foremost, our main strength as a company is our people: a group of immensely talented colleagues, based all over the globe. Our people’s expertise is our greatest strength, transforming fibers into advanced, sustainable specialty materials that address the biggest challenges facing customers, consumers, and our planet today.
Indeed, a key strength of our products is that our materials are mainly based on renewable wood fibers, sourced from certified and sustainably managed forests. Building on this, our technological strength is an asset we should never overlook. Our core capability is turning fiber-based materials like paper into high-performance specialty materials, with the help of different technologies, and delivering them with sustainability features, such as being recyclable. And finally, we add value through collaboration and customization. Ahlstrom’s dedication to creating tailored products and solutions to customers and working with customers and partners to solve problems is something I hugely admire. We realize that we can’t do it alone.
How would you describe your mindset as Ahlstrom’s new CEO?
Above all, I believe in putting customers at the heart of everything we do. As a B2B company, our impact is to a large extent through our customers. And to be able to deliver the best solutions to our customers, we need to deeply understand their objectives and challenges – and, in some cases, our customers’ customers’ challenges!
Replacement and reduction of non-renewable materials such as fossil-based plastic is a good example of a challenge with no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, we need to ask: how can we help our customers replace non-renewable materials with fiber-based solutions in this or that application? Of course, these kinds of solutions can’t be developed in a vacuum. A customer-centric mindset also applies to our collaborations with up- and downstream partners. Putting the links in place to make our value chain as strong as possible is critical - we cannot do this alone. In turn, this will enable us to deliver on our purpose and accelerate the transition to a sustainable world.