Interview with Marco Levi

Marco Levi
Marco Levi
President & CEO

You need to follow the numbers all the time to make the right decisions...
Marco Levi talks about the nonwoven industry and the management in this industry with Mary Christine Joy. Ahlstrom is a reputed name in the global nonwoven industry based in Finland. The company was founded in 1851 by Antti Ahlstrom, but its international expansion started taking place after 1963. The company is a family business and is operational in various industries today. Marco Levi was appointed as the president and CEO for Ahlstrom on June 16, 2014. He is responsible for the achievement of goals and set up of strategies in the company. Before Ahlstrom, he has held several managerial designations in various companies including that of a lead representative at Dow Polyurethanes.

You were recently appointed as the president and CEO of Ahlstrom. Can you explain a bit about Ahlstrom as a company and its vision?

Ahlstrom is a high performance fibre based materials' company operating globally, with net sales of approximately € 1 billion per year. We aim to grow by offering products that enable a clean and healthy environment - such as clean air and water. Ahlstrom is very well known in the industry, especially for its filtration business: we are the number one provider of high performance filtration materials in the world.

How do you see Lithuania as an investment destination for nonwoven companies?

For a company like Ahlstrom, customer service simply has to run smoothly, since we are serving customers all over the world; and our customers depend on us for meeting their own schedules and deliveries. I see great potential in Lithuania, especially in different kind of service industries, since there is so much talent in Lithuania with university level education, business and language skills, etc. I was quite impressed with our newly recruited employees when I met them during the recent inauguration of our customer and finance service center in Vilnius.

Nonwoven industry is a booming industry in the whole of textiles, majorly because it has a high profit margin. Do you agree? Please elaborate your views.

Nonwoven industry offers major opportunities for sustainable growth, since it uses a lot of raw materials that can be renewed and recycled for a wealth of applications. I think every industry has to fight really hard to meet customer needs, and that way maintaining healthy margins. There is still of lot that needs to be done, eg in convincing consumers and customers that single use materials are in many cases a more sustainable solution than traditional materials such as cotton.

With a strong track record in the leading global materials' technology business, what are the latest technological innovations that you see in the nonwoven industry today?

There are many great innovations in the market and many in the pipeline, but the most important trend overall is doing more with less. With this, I mean that we continuously look for opportunities to use lesser raw materials, energy and water, and still achieve the same or even better level of product performance with competitive cost.

How can nonwoven companies increase their profit margin? Can you give your views on the same?

I think the key here is to really focus on developing and selling products that customers want and need, instead of pushing technological innovations that do not have market appeal. At the same time, maintaining a competitive cost structure is essential.

You were granted retention shares at the time of your appointment as the president and CEO of Ahlstrom. What are retention shares and why is it so important in a multinational company like Ahlstrom?

I do not wish to comment on my personal remuneration. As a general comment, I can say that reward and recognition plays a key role in any multinational company at various management levels, since competition for the best talent is intense.

Can you give us the latest applications of nonwovens, especially in filtration and healthcare?

One Ahlstrom product that I can mention here is Ahlstrom Flow2Save, which is a high efficiency air application designed to improve indoor air quality, which is especially important in public buildings such as hospitals and schools.

You have played various roles as a senior management in many companies. What have you learnt from all such experiences about management?

I am a salesman by nature, so alignment with customer strategy is what you do to keep the customers loyal and happy. I believe in simplicity and speed in achieving goals. You need to follow the numbers all the time to make the right decision, and you need to have your people engaged and on board with what is being done.

I would like to quote one of your earlier statements - "The changes in operational and management structure will help to clarify the priorities for each business". Can you explain this viewpoint of yours?

Sure. These changes have been recently made by me in the structure and organization, and are linked to the need to simplify. We have an operating model which has been designed for a bigger company, so there is a lot of work to do. By simplifying our structure and organization, I believe we can much better assess what is important for us and who is accountable for what. Defining our priorities right will help us to achieve faster execution and serve our customers even better.
Published on: 14/11/2014

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of