Donna Cassese, class of 1976

In 1994, Sappi Westbrook shifted to the manufacture of release paper only. “If we’d stayed with printing and publishing, we never would have made it,” says mill manager Donna Cassese.

Not making it is anathema to Cassese, who herself represents change. The first woman to manage the Westbrook mill, Cassese grew up in the Bronx and, as a forestry major at the University of Maine, was the first in her family to attend college. A self-described “mill rat,” she’s more than capable of giving a slick Power Point presentation — replete with a show-and-tell of products that use Sappi paper (a soccer ball, Nike cleats, an automobile dashboard, a thousand-dollar Gucci jacket) — but the production floor is where she really comes alive. There, in steel-toed shoes and safety glasses, she zeroes in on gauges and machinery, greets every employee by name.

“Donna is sincere and caring and smart,” says operations manager Mike Standel. He pauses. “She’s also driven to see this mill succeed.” Indeed, during the week, Cassese lives onsite, a couple hundred yards from the mill’s boiler. Asked about hobbies, she struggles: “Hobbies?. . . Um, I work a lot.”

Cassese took over as manager of the Westbrook mill two years ago. Her single-mindedness has paid off. For Sappi’s 2009 fiscal year, sales have increased by 30 percent. The company, which also has a mill in Skowhegan, currently accounts for half the state’s exports to Brazil, and more than a quarter of its exports to China.

Read the entire article in the January 2011 issue of Downeast Magazine at