Alumni Spotlight: Travels & Tissues – At the Helm of a global paper company

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Donald Lewis, ’86 BSBA

Dan Lewis, ’86 BSBA

If you told Donald Lewis 30 years ago that he’d one day be a president of a multi-billion-dollar company, the YSU marketing student would have probably said the only thing he wanted to manage was Professor Hashmi’s international business course.

“It was my favorite class at YSU, but I had no idea I’d end up working in international business,” said Lewis, president of SCA Americas, a division of a leading global paper company. “You don’t really know what world is out there when you’re in college.”

Like most YSU students in that post-steel era, Lewis put himself through school, working full-time for Stambaugh’s, a local hardware chain, and taking night classes. Graduating with a BSBA in marketing and a wealth of real-world experience, Lewis began a progression of business roles for different companies that would eventually help him land his first big opportunity.

The offer came in 1992 from start-up paper company Encore in New York. As executive vice president of sales and marketing, Lewis took Encore’s sales from zero to $100 million in 10 years.

Shortly after, Encore sold its company to SCA, and Lewis became part of a $14 billion global company overnight. He now manages all of the company’s napkin, tissue and paper hygiene businesses in North and South America – the division produces nearly $3 billion in annual sales and maintains top brand and market positions across several countries.

“Actually, one of every two napkins you use away from home is ours,” said Lewis, who noticed SCA’s napkins even on the YSU campus.

Managing the operations, communications, legal, and human resources departments of 23 plants in 23 cities, Lewis says there’s “absolutely no typical day.” In a matter of hours, he can go from a mergers and acquisitions meeting with an investment banker in New York to an executive team meeting in Sweden to talk about product category direction. It’s a career where traveling is a fact of life.

“How do I balance?” asked Lewis. “First, I have a wonderful wife – I could never do it without her. Second, I’ve always worked really hard to spend individual time with everyone in my family when I’m home. It’s not unlikely for me to fly home for three hours just to make a soccer game or band concert.”

And the traveling does have its perks. Lewis has covered the Austrian Alps on snow mobiles, raced the Grand Prix track in Monte Carlo, spoken in the renowned Nobel Hall in Sweden and stood on the Equator.

“You get to do a lot of really wonderful things. But it also comes with a fair share of altitude sickness and layovers,” Lewis laughed.

It seems like a life that would challenge anyone, but Lewis has never been a stranger to hard work. He says YSU taught that virtue from the beginning and advises today’s business students to take note. “Work hard. Don’t feel limited. Take some risks after school,” he encourages.

Since Lewis’ appointment at SCA, the business has received many prestigious awards for customer service, sales and ethics excellence. Lewis himself was also recently honored by YSU’s Williamson College of Business Administration with an Outstanding Alumni Award in 2013.

“I usually focus on the business getting the recognition,” said Lewis. “It made the WCBA award special; I really appreciated that.”

Lewis holds dual residences in Canfield and Philadelphia. His wife of 29 years, Leslie, is also a Penguin graduate and “the best thing YSU could have given me” says Lewis. They have three young adult children, Donny, Lauren, and Brett.

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Fall 2014.)