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Canterbury Students Get “Eye-Opening” Tour of Graduate’s Company

Jim Norman

A highly successful company with an environmental conscience and a great culture—that’s Mohawk Paper, and 17 members of the Canterbury Business Association (CBA) and Sustainability Club saw it up close and personal during a recent visit to the Cohoes, New York-based company. 

Chairman, CEO, and Canterbury School alumnus Thomas O’Connor, Jr. ’74 and his staff took students on a tour of the facility, talked about the company’s history and philosophy, and treated them to lunch. It was an extraordinary learning experience for all—a first-hand look at how to effectively manage all aspects of a business.

“Visiting Mohawk was very inspirational and educational, as it showed us the depths of what it takes to manage such a company,” said CBA member Eva Berkovich ’24. “The organization and complexity of the paper mill amazed me. For business club students such as myself, it was eye-opening to experience the ‘behind the scenes’ of such an operation.”

Zachary Lord, CBA faculty lead, was impressed with how much of an emphasis Tom put on maintaining a positive company culture. “One of my key takeaways was when Tom told us, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.’ The culture he has built there seems to be a major reason Mohawk Paper has been so successful,” Zach said. “I also liked how the sustainability aspect of their business is thriving from both an environmental and financial perspective. For example, they are making paper out of hemp plants, recycled straws, and recycled cotton.”

The Mohawk staff discussed issues of sustainability and the environment with students, and shared insights about the business itself and the science of paper making. “Watching how the paper is made, seeing all the moving parts, was impressive,” said Richard Gosman ’23, a member of both the CBA and Sustainability Club. “Our tour guide went to Syracuse for chemical engineering, which is part of the process. There are so many different types of starches, pulps, and other chemicals that go into making the best possible paper.”

Tom explained that Mohawk Paper built its 90-year legacy on innovation, craftsmanship, handshake-level trust, and, most importantly, relationships. And he was beyond thrilled to share that legacy with students from his alma mater. “It was exciting to spend a day forming new relationships with Canterbury’s next generation of business leaders,” he said. “Their questions about innovation, sustainability, and the role of paper in a digital era were relevant and highlighted the critical decisions businesses must make for both short- and long-term success. I look forward to hearing about the successes this ambitious group of young men and women will undoubtedly achieve.”

We are grateful to Tom and his staff at Mohawk for their hospitality and enthusiasm in hosting this fabulous experience for our students!