Features

Doug Balyeat – Pratt Industries Inc.

Thinking in and outside the box

They’ve got the construction process at peak efficiency. Pratt Industries having assembled paper mills and box factories in other Southern and Midwestern locales, it broke grounds for its most recent such operations in December 2021 in Henderson, Kentucky. Everything’s on target for September’s ribbon cutting.

“The nice part is we’re working with many of the same players who built our previous mill in Ohio,” Doug Balyeat tells Vanguard in March from Pratt’s U.S. headquarters in Atlanta. “Everyone knowing each other and doing what’s expected and working in Pratt’s interests, we’ll get this one built on budget and deliver—or overdeliver—to our bondholders and our customers.”

Balyeat is among those having a role in satisfying those investors as well as ensuring the rest of the project proceeds. Formerly a certified public accountant who, with a little prodding from a lawyer friend, left Ernst & Young to pursue the law degree he’d long wanted, Balyeat is a two-fer with his legal and financial know-how.

Doug Balyeat | Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary | Pratt Industries Inc.

Doug Balyeat | Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary | Pratt Industries Inc.

Both have been in much demand in Henderson, where Pratt’s latest $750 million project takes shape. Balyeat’s been immersed in all facets, from the planning and permitting to contracting and compliance and so forth.

When done, a 500,000-square-foot factory will produce corrugated sheet and boxes from recycled paper from a slightly bigger facility, with prospected clientele including Kentucky’s burgeoning distribution and logistics industry as well as pizza chains and big-box stores. The facilities are expected to employ more than 300 while likely leaving untold numbers of trees standing; Gov. Andy Beshear lauds it as a clean and green initiative, as do other leaders in the Bluegrass State.

“It’s a fascinating process,” Balyeat says. “This turning of raw land into an amazing campus where we make an amazing sustainable product, a corrugated box made with our 100 percent recycled paper.”

On the money

Balyeat’s been through it a few times or more. A founding partner of his own firm in Greater Atlanta, he left it in October 2007 to be Pratt’s vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. Pratt already envisioning a mill in Louisiana, Balyeat recalls a steep learning curve.

“My first big financing deal while at Pratt and right during the recession,” he recalls. “It showed the company’s commitment to grow under any conditions. I was heavily involved but had much help from the financial side.”

Since then, he’s collaborated with his finance friends on other projects—Pratt buying Robert Mann Packaging Inc. and its dozen-plus U.S. and Mexican operations in 2015 and the following year acquiring Minnesota Corrugated Box Inc. More recently, the company’s built a nearly 500,000-square-foot facility in Ohio for recycling containerboard.

Each such project seems to entail its own issues, with COVID-19 a concern when the bulldozers arrived at the Henderson site. Balyeat was among the executives looking out for everyone’s safety, with temperature gauges and personal protective equipment secured and workers divided into shifts to ensure appropriate distancing. Though the worst of the pandemic is mostly in the rearview, the company still requires guests and employees to submit to tests upon arriving at headquarters.

“Safety’s an area we won’t compromise,” he says.

Tech meets recycling

And bring technology into the recycling picture and suddenly a corrugated box becomes exciting. It only gets more so, he says, with digital processing enabling the custom printing the company’s clientele has been demanding. Balyeat says he sees the future in customized packaging and all the better that it’s coming from 100 percent recyclables.

“If you can tear it, we can take it and turn it into new paper,” he says. “Sustainability is on everyone’s tongue and our customers see that.”

In-house law provides him with a greater role for doing it. A certified public accountant from 1991 to 1995, he so often told colleagues how he’d like to be a lawyer that one of them essentially told him to put up or shut up. He excelled on the LSAT and enrolled at Wake Forest University School of Law where he excelled in its corporate and taxation curriculum.

He honed his skills in tax law, financing and transactions as an associate with two Atlanta area firms, Alston & Bird and Paul Hastings. He then co-founded Balyeat & Associates in 2005. Two years later, Pratt came calling, but it entailed some soul-searching for Balyeat.

“I was hesitant about working for just one client but hands down it’s the best professional decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “There’s never a concern about being bored. I don’t like slow and Pratt’s anything but slow.”

At home in-house

Often-times he likens it to Whac-a-Mole or being tossed curve balls from a pitching machine. But it’s all part of being in-house, offering the dual skillset of law and accounting.

He’s also not doing it alone, Balyeat having junior lawyers and a few paralegals. There’s no being siloed, he says, not with the company growing and all divisions needing to collaborate.

With the company’s growth comes challenges. At least now it’s a relatively small paper-recycling industry and talent is at a premium. Balyeat says innovative practices have made recycled paper as good as or better than the traditional kind. Georgia noted for its pine trees, Balyeat appreciates how Pratt isn’t decimating forests. Furthermore, the company’s environmental creds have been celebrated by Al Gore, Tony Blair and Ted Turner.

So, the 53-year-old married father of two small children is asked, how can this business model be sustained?

“By there being no us-versus-them mentality,” he says. “As long as there’s a ‘we,’ we’ll figure out how to get over whatever the hurdle.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: May 11, 2023

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