Michael Schmit Knows “People Are the Name of the Game”

SWM International’s Michael Schmit on how mentors and peers impacted his success throughout his career

Photo: Greg Petriccione

Michael Schmit is the kind of executive who will namecheck several key people who have provided him mentorship or advice throughout his career. Gratitude is one of the most immediate and present qualities of Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. (SWM)’s chief accounting officer and corporate controller. SWM is a publicly traded, multinational producer of performance materials, including papers, nets, and films, headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia (NYSE: SWM).

“What I’ve learned throughout my career is that no one does this on their own,” Schmit says. “I’ve had several great mentors throughout my career, and I have had the opportunity to work with many talented and dynamic people along the way; that’s what it’s all about. Working and partnering with people across the organization is the key, and it really doesn’t matter what part of the business you’re in. People are the name of the game.”

At the time of speaking, Schmit had been with SWM for ten months, and the company is in the midst of a strategic transformation and growth process that Schmit now has a clear and present ability to impact, and he’s relishing the opportunity.

“The reason I made the move to SWM was that I was very impressed with the vision of our CEO, Dr. Jeffery Kramer, and our CFO, Andrew Wamser,” Schmit says. “Upon hearing the direction they wanted to take the company, I knew that my past experience would provide me the tools to drive real value in the accounting organization and help the company achieve its executive leaders’ vision.”

M&A on a Large Scale

Schmit’s previous experiences are steeped in large acquisition work, international team leadership, and a passion for driving process automation innovation from the accounting side of the business. While at Arby’s Restaurant Group, he assisted with its former parent company Triarc Company Inc.’s acquisition of the RTM Restaurant Group, and the relocation of the Arby’s headquarters from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Atlanta in 2005. In that role he had the opportunity to both build a financial reporting team and help the privately held RTM become part of a public company.

Michael Schmit SWM International
Michael Schmit, SWM InternationalPhoto: Greg Petriccione

“David Pipes, the CFO of Inspire Brands Inc., the current parent company of Arby’s, provided considerable mentorship in that role,” he explains, “and I had the opportunity to be part of a transformational deal early in my career that provided me with invaluable experience.”

Schmit would go on to Georgia-Pacific (GP) for a decade where he would handle the finalization of purchase accounting responsibilities for the Koch Industries Inc’s $21 billion acquisition of GP.

“I was hired by Lynn Ross, who led the corporate technical accounting and reporting team, and she has remained another exceptional mentor to me for a number of years,” he says. “GP provided me with broad experiences, and I worked with several truly amazing people while I was there.”

His last M&A contribution at GP was the $750 million acquisition of the Temple-Inland Building Products assets from International Paper Co., where he was heavily involved with the planning, due diligence, purchase accounting, and team integration of the acquirees.

The New Challenge

In joining SWM, Schmit has been tasked to support the company’s continued expansion on a global level. “This has meant taking over a worldwide accounting organization of nearly one hundred people, spanning North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, while supporting the company’s organic growth and acquisition strategy,” Schmit explains. “We strive to better support the business and advance from the traditional stereotypes of bookkeepers and back-office accountants to become trusted business partners and help drive better financial decisions. In doing this, we need to find ways to add more value in the long term without significantly increasing our costs.”

He says he has been well served by his predecessor but believes his own unique experience will add a new perspective to the conversation in both strategy and personnel. “I was fortunate to inherit a great team, including our Assistant Controller Cheryl Allegri, who is leading an ERP implementation in our Advanced Materials and Structures (AMS) business, and our Operations Controller Bob German, who is leading an initiative to significantly improve our manufacturing analytics capability,” Schmit says. “I have also had the opportunity to recruit some new leaders, including Jill Voorhees, our director of AMS accounting, who has added significant value since day one of her joining SWM.”

On the technology side, Schmit says his team is introducing the use of robotic process automation tools to streamline and organize data, so they can spend less time on low-value activities and focus their efforts on analyzing data to provide actionable insights to the business.

“We’ve been implementing BlackLine accounting software worldwide,” Schmit says. “People are sometimes initially reluctant to the change, but these tools really do work. As we identify additional opportunities, we will further leverage robotic process automation to enable us to add more value.”

“We need to find ways to add more value in the long term without significantly increasing our costs.”

Gratitude for Mentorship and Collaboration

Schmit mentions many other names when talking about his previous experience and those at SWM who are supporting the accounting transformation. He understands the impact that each person has had on his career. While he gives accolades to all of his mentors, he also includes his wife, Erika, who has been his biggest supporter, and his family, of whom he says being a father is the best job he’s ever had.

“All these people helped me build my career and prepare me for the journey I’m on right now at SWM,” Schmit says. “I am grateful for all of the experience and expertise I have gained throughout my career thanks to several tremendous mentors and coworkers, and I am hopeful that I am able to mentor and inspire others, just as it was done for me.”