From The Editor

Michael Siegal, chairman and CEO of Cleveland-based Olympic Steel.

View from the Corner Office: Lessons Learned from a Life in Steel

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I’ve spent nearly 45 years in this industry, this market segment, this company—Olympic Steel. What have I learned? Not enough. The urge for new knowledge, working with multigenerational employees—now all younger than me, when it used to be the opposite—is still exciting and challenging.

What else have I learned? Values matter. At Olympic Steel, we have 10 Core Values: Accountability, Corporate Citizenship, Customer Satisfaction, Employee Development, Financial Stability, Integrity, Quality, Respect, Safety and Teamwork.

While listed alphabetically, all are treated equally. I want to reflect on three: Safety, Integrity, Respect.

Safety

None of us can stress safety loudly enough. This is a physically dangerous environment. People get hurt; people get killed. The two worst days of my career were when we had fatalities. Those are scars on my soul that do not heal. 

We all, especially my fellow service centers, must commit more resources toward education and training. How many of us do not have safety leaders? How many still have safety reporting to production? I implore us all to remember our responsibility to those who come to work every day to take care of them so they may return home safely to their families every night.

Integrity

I am aware that it is often difficult to make decisions that may affect profitability. As a public company CEO, I sign documents every quarter that make me personally liable for public information, so maybe I am hyper-sensitive.

Are we honest with employees with their benefits? Do we inform customers about an unintentional wrong-quality shipment? Do we entertain excessively to get an order? Do we do things to avoid taxes inappropriately? Do we jeopardize our family and company name by doing things that would embarrass ourselves if it hit the headlines tomorrow morning? 

I tell younger people that life and business will test your integrity at some point, but always remember the person who sacrificed everything – their country, language, often their family – to come to this county so that we might be here in the U.S. now. Why would one ever embarrass the legacy of that person’s sacrifice for dollars?

Respect

Can we truly walk in another person’s shoes? The Otis Redding lyrics in the song Respect... “R-E-S-P-E-C-T – find out what it means to me”. It is the greatest lesson of management. Can you listen and find out what respect means to your employee? 

They have the same hope, dreams and aspirations as we do. What is worse than disrespecting someone is making them invisible. I try to meet as many employees as possible. I hope that what I learned is that shaking someone’s hand still matters. The value of looking them in the eye and greeting with a firm handshake hasn’t been lost as we are all looking down at our devices.

I often state that diversity in our industry is defined by men with gray hair and men with no hair. We must be more open and welcoming to diversity. Not because we must, but because we should. We limit our possibilities by perpetuating a patriarchal society.

Everyone states, in their change of life, that they will miss the people. I will too. It’s a great industry which made my life sweet in many ways.

Lastly, we didn’t have to make America great again, it’s always been great. And this business is a foundation of that greatness.

Michael D. Siegal is retiring as chairman and CEO of Cleveland-based Olympic Steel after nearly 45 years in the business. He was named the first Metal Center News’ Service Center Executive of the Year in 1997.