Colombia Purdue Initiative — CPI

Nicolás Pombo


From newspapers to cosmetics, forest products affect our lives every day. Some of them are easy to see, such as wood and paper from trees. Others are not so apparent, such as their synthesis into items like clothing, medications, and cosmetics. Recognizing that forests need to be properly managed, companies like Smurfit Kappa have invested resources in their sustainability. Purdue Alumnus Nicolás Pombo responsibly manages and improves 70,000 hectares of forests at Smurfit Kappa Colombia, a leading paper-based company.

As the Director of the Forestry Division, Nicolás Pombo oversees the management of 22,000 hectares of natural protected forests and 42,000 hectares of productive plantations of pine and eucalyptus. The area of protected forests constitutes the biggest private reserve of natural forests in the Colombian Andes. "We have identified there 483 flora species, 473 avifauna species, and 59 mastofauna species," says Pombo. The pine and eucalyptus area not only produces the renewable raw material for industries like packaging, furniture, and construction, but also creates environmental benefits and seeds of development: "The forestry plantations protect the soil against erosion, regulate water currents, and absorb CO2." This area also generates more than 2,600 direct jobs in the rural sector and positively impacts the life of the surrounding communities. "To extract the wood, we have built and maintained more than 1,800 km (1,118 miles) of rural roads that are used by the neighbor communities for transport and commerce of their agricultural products," he continues.

Forestry innovation, also part of Pombo’s role, is key to Smurfit Kappa Colombia’s productivity. Forty years of forestry research has allowed them to produce more wood per hectare and achieve growths similar to pine’s growth in Chile and eucalyptus’ growth in Brazil. "Our research is focused on genetic improvement, best sylvicultural practices, and phytosanitary protection of forestry plantations," Pombo explains.

In addition to the Forestry Project, Nicolás Pombo is a board member of foundations that do community outreach in areas like education, income generation, basic sanitation, and rural housing improvement. "At El Caracolí, we have a child development center that is attended by 400 kids under five years of age from low-income families. Fundación BiblioTec promotes the building, improvement, and operation of communitarian libraries and reading rooms in the Colombian southwest region."  He is also a member of the board at Smurfit Kappa Colombia Foundation, an entity that improves the quality of life in urban and rural communities in the areas of influence of the company.



When asked about the reasons behind his successful career, Nicolás Pombo says it is the result of his permanent search for excellence through five elements: "continuous improvement, team work, leadership, time management, and high productivity under pressure." His story certainly demonstrates his pursuit of excellence.

Nicolás Pombo with his kids in West Lafayette, IN, during his studies at Purdue.

In his early career, Nicolás received a Civil Engineering degree from Universidad de Los Andes and a Master's degree in Environmental Engineering from Marquette University. He joined Smurfit Kappa Colombia as an Environmental Engineer in 1988 and got involved in the design, set up, and operation of waste management processes and contamination control systems in all four operation facilities in Colombia. He also cofounded the Committee of Environmental Issues of the Colombian National Industrialists Association (ANDI) and the Colombian Chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (CECODES).

In 1999, Smurfit Kappa sponsored Pombo’s studies at Purdue, where he pursued a Master of Science in Industrial Administration (MSIA) from the Krannert School of Management. In 2002, he started working for the forestry division as a Controller and then promoted to Director of Forestry Operations. Currently he is the Director of the Forestry Division.


Smurfit Kappa and Purdue 

Smurfit Kappa Colombia is part of the Smurfit Kappa Group (SKG), one of the largest producers of corrugated cardboard packaging, pulp, and paper in the world. One of their basic tenets is their commitment to the environment. For 14 years, SKG has had the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainable forest management, which promotes the responsible management of commercial forest plantations and natural forests around the world.

Pombo is one of 15 people working at SKG who have advanced their careers through Purdue programs. "We value Purdue's excellent technical and research quality, its diversity, and its academic excellence," says Pombo. Additionally, they value the study atmosphere and the low cost of living found in West Lafayette, Indiana. Most of the Krannert alumni working at SKG have prominent positions and their preferred program is the MSIA at Krannert. "We like the MSIA program because it is designed for people with high potential and several years of practical experience in the industry, who want to learn new managerial skills and tools or hone their existing ones. It is an intensive and strict one-year program with a high benefit/cost ratio," he explains.

The relationship between Purdue and Smurfit Kappa was started by recently-retired board member Roberto Silva, who pursued the MSIA program in the 1960’s. After returning to Colombia and holding several positions in the production area, Silva was promoted to Financial Vice President, then President of Smurfit Kappa Colombia, and finally, CEO for the Americas. "More than a CEO, Roberto led the continuous improvement program at SKG and has been a recruiter and trainer of talents," Pombo adds. Part of his training strategy was sending high potential employees to Purdue, specially to Krannert.

The Purdue-Smurfit Kappa collaboration continues today in different ways: In 2015, Nicolás Pombo offered a seminar on forestry management at Purdue and in 2016, he participated in exploratory meetings about potential areas of association: "Last year, we received various members from Purdue in our forestry operations to explore new forms of collaboration between Purdue and Smurfit Kappa," he says. Additionally, there are two SKG executives currently studying at Purdue and there will certainly be more in the future. The relationship between Purdue and Smurfit Kappa will continue to be fruitful for both organizations.


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