Keith Wilkins


  • Born and raised in England.
  • Studied modern languages (Major in German) at Cardiff University, Wales.
  • Subsequently qualified as a UK Chartered Accountant and joined Price Waterhouse in Germany for 5 years before moving to the USA.

Coming to RJR

I joined RJR in the Spring of 1978 when I was 31 years old as an internal auditor, which was my first job outside of public accounting. This was a major move for me as it took me for the first time in my life to work in the USA and was a first move outside of public accountancy, where I had spent my working career to date since university.

The move to RJR was, in terms of salary and seniority, a definite downward move, as I had been an Audit Manager at PWC. However, it made a move to the USA possible. This was something I just had to try, having no immigration issues on account of having an American wife. RJR was a major diversified business that seemed to offer many forward career paths. I was attracted by the opportunity to live and work in the USA and to join a major multinational company that offered several potential future careers.

Memorable Events at RJR

Joining Internal Audit as an entry-level auditor was a means to an end. I was obviously an expensive hire for RJR for such a junior position, given that they had to import me and my household (wife and 1st child) from Europe, and I was quite amazed that they offered to hire me with all moving expenses paid. This was my first experience of a company where money was always available.

The Internal Audit department was on a major recruitment drive in response to the new Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, where the company had significant exposure, particularly in the Sea Land business, and a huge amount of money was being thrown at this issue. The department’s work comprised mainly uninspiring compliance audits at remote sites to keep the company safe from the newly enacted Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (to which I owed my recruitment). My time in Internal Audit mercifully did not last long. The “compliance” audits at Sea Land terminals were not exactly stimulating for the brain.

After 1 year, I was hired from Internal Audit by RJR Archer, the packaging division of RJR, mainly as the result of working on an Archer audit issue at a plant in the U.K. I then spent the next 3 years working in Archer Accounting and Archer Financial Planning and qualified as a Certified Management Accountant.

In 1982, I moved to live as a US expatriate in Bern, Switzerland as Controller of a flexible packaging plant that Archer acquired that year.

Leaving RJR

This assignment lasted through 1987 when the Swiss company was sold as part of the major RJR restructuring at that time. I was also obliged to take my leave of RJR and elected to stay in Switzerland rather than return to Winston-Salem in the middle of a local management lay-off.

After RJR

After my departure from RJR, I stayed in the Packaging Industry for most of the remainder of my career My career stumbled for a couple of years, working in Switzerland, the U.K. and California. I found my feet again in the Packaging industry in 1993 when I joined Alusuisse, a Swiss international aluminium group. My initial assignment was as controller of a large flexible packaging plant on Lake Constance, just across the border in Germany, in order to manage a fundamental restructuring.

From 1993 until my retirement in 2007 I progressed through various promotions from being initially responsible for a business with sales of $200 million to appointment as CFO of a multinational packaging business (Alcan Packaging) with $6 billion in sales from 150 companies in 30 countries. In that time, Alusuisse merged with Alcan (a Canadian aluminium group) and with Pechiney (a French aluminium group) to form the largest aluminium company in the world at that time with significant packaging interests (50% of the approximately 100,000 worldwide employees of the new combined group were in the Packaging Division for which I was responsible).

My work entailed traveling extensively throughout the world. My principal home office physically moved in 1998 from Germany to Neuhausen Switzerland, in 2002 to Zürich, Switzerland (with a second office in Montreal, Canada) and in 2004 to Paris, France, where I retired in 2007. When I retired from Alcan, it was the largest aluminium company in the world and Alcan Packaging had leading worldwide positions in specialty packaging with some 50,000 employees at 150 plants in 30 countries.

My Alcan and RJR worlds met up for a while in 2006 or thereabouts. At that time, the Archer packaging business was being offered for sale. Alcan Packaging’s three North American business sectors (pharmaceutical, food and tobacco) all took a look but only tobacco proved to be of interest. The money-maker at Archer was still the tobacco packaging business and specifically the high volume, hinged-lid cartons (HLC’s), where Alcan Packaging’s North American tobacco packaging business was the U.S. market leader with three dedicated plants. So, there was definite interest in the tobacco packaging business but not in the plant and equipment nor in the employees.

A deal was made to simply acquire the Tobacco Company HLC business under a multi-year contract and to build a dedicated new plant in North Carolina to service this business. In other words, just to acquire the “fillet steak” of the Archer business and to service it with a state-of-the art plant. The investment application that I approved at division headquarters in Paris made abundant financial sense. But I must confess that I shed a private tear!

I have fond memories of my many colleagues at RJR, both in Winston-Salem and Bern. RJR was a warm and friendly culture. They left lasting impressions, but none as permanent as Gene Johnson (my boss at Archer Financial Planning at the time), who managed one morning to cleanly take out my two front teeth with his squash racket at the Winston-Salem YMCA. I am now on my second set of replacement front teeth 30 years later!

I still have a few active ongoing friendships from those days even though I now live on the island of Gozo in the Mediterranean.

Contact Information


Keith Wilkins and I never met while we were at RJR.  Our mutual friend and former colleague, Tom Pierce, introduced us several years ago.  I prevailed on Keith to share his impressions of RJR as one who not only came from a different corporate culture but also a foreign country. His perspective on RJR during its final years of empire shed light on the way “outsiders” looked at the goings-on inside RJR. Keith’s assessment was brutally frank, and, I believe, right on the money. GAH