I was originally from Buffalo, NY and a grandson of Irish and German immigrants. Most of my youth was spent in the small college town of Edinboro in northwest Pennsylvania.
Looking to attend an out-of-state Engineering School, I enrolled at N.C. State, and following graduation, went to Wake Forest MBA School. At NCSU, fellow students from Winston-Salem told me how much their parents, who were RJR employees, loved RJR with tremendous loyalty and gratitude. In addition, my roommate and I did a deep dive into personnel practices for an Industrial Relations course – and RJR stood out as an EXCELLENT employer, doing just about everything right.
I was a Summer Intern at General Motors in Michigan as a student and hired permanently in 1978, working as an assembly line supervisor and in Facilities Planning. GM was great, and I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience. After almost 4 years, my personal journey led me to relocate to North Carolina, and target RJR as a potential employer. So, I started a job search the old fashioned way: with a cover letter and resume via snail mail.
Coming to RJR
RJR was embarking on a major manufacturing modernization program in the early 80s, and I was privileged to join the Facilities Development effort. Our scope of work included design and construction of the Tobaccoville factory.
I then joined Human Resources to help right-size the organization and prepare our work force for higher skilled jobs of the future through communication and training.
Following that, I was assigned to the Tobaccoville start-up team, bringing the operation to steady state.
After A successful Tobaccoville start-up, and as I had no children/family ties, the company approached me about working internationally. Jumping at the chance, my new adventure began, having the opportunity to travel to almost 90 countries in my 30 years living outside the U.S.
My international career included:
- Starting-up a joint venture factory in Xiamen, China as Plant Director.
- Expanding our factory in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico as VP Operations.
- Starting-up a business in Central Asia, living in Kazakhstan – part of the former Soviet Union, as General Manager.
- Establishing a Global Service Function in Geneva HQ, Switzerland, as VP Customer Service.
- Aligning our Manufacturing structure following Japan Tobacco acquisition of RJRI.
- Expanding business in East Africa, living in Tanzania, as General Manager.
- Leading the Global Supply Chain Function in Geneva HQ, Switzerland as Senior VP.
Global Supply Chain can be defined as organizing company activities related to manufacturing and distribution through a trans-national network. For us, this centralized procurement, engineering, factories, logistics, and warehousing within one function, so our Market colleagues could focus 100% on Sales and Marketing. This approach facilitated a centralized view of process and cost optimization. This also helped find solutions during an interruption – which did occur when the Fukushima nuclear disaster hit Japan. Utilizing a central view of the whole picture, with one team, we could adjust our supply chain quickly to best avoid any negative impact.
Memorable Events at RJR
- Starting-up modern state-of-the-art facilities in RJR Winston Salem.
- Going through the leveraged buy-out as KKR buys RJR.
- Transitioning from a short-term, cash strapped RJR to a long-term Japan Tobacco mode.
- Being part of business start-up in the former Soviet Union following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
- Creating the Global Supply Chain, moving to a Global organization with consistent processes.
- Being part of several acquisitions, the largest of which was the integration of the former Gallaher Tobacco company, an almost $20 billion investment to enlarge Japan Tobacco, the largest international acquisition ever by a Japanese company.
- Following CEO’s lead, positioned our company as the most credible in the industry.
Some of my best memories involve learning about local customs. A key Tanzanian employee asked for a couple days off to visit his village in northern Tanzania. He is a member of the Masaii tribe, famous for hunting. This is a unique culture, where killing lions is considered a rite of passage. In order to get married, a young man meets with his potential father-in-law. Traditionally, when asked if he is strong enough to marry the daughter, the young man must show evidence that he has indeed killed a lion. Unfortunately, not so many lions are left – and hunting one is complicated. Still, the Masaii respect this tradition. So – when any lion dies for any reason – a group of Masaii boys line up to have their photo taken with the dead animal. When the truth came out, a dead lion was located – and our young employee raced home to get his photo taken, in full Masaii traditional costume, next to the dead lion. The photo must have done the trick. I am happy to report our young employee married a short time later.
I separated from the company (now JTI following the 1999 acquisition) in early 2016 as part of an Executive Board restructuring, I departed with almost 35 years seniority. After a search on where to move, we relocated to western North Carolina in Q1 2017, an area I always loved.
I am currently on the Advisory Boards of UNC-Asheville, as Chairman, and Lenoir-Rhyne MBA School. In addition, I have been an Adjunct Professor at both institutions. I have also helped my wife with her Vietnamese cooking school start-up, here in Asheville… mostly washing pots and pans.
LinkedIn under Bill SCHULZ
I met Bill Schulz in Geneva while calling at Japan Tobacco International to visit other former RJR people. We continued our contact, and it was a pleasant surprise when Bill retired and decided to settle in the Tarheel state, in Asheville. His stories about international life add a dimension that most of us in the U.S. never get to experience. GAH