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2022 Service Center Executive of the Year

Richard T. Marabito, Olympic Steel

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The longtime executive for the Cleveland-area service center company has played a major role in the company’s stunning transformation. 

Shortly after the arrival of Metal Center News in Streetsboro, Ohio – before we could take a tour of the plant and set up the cover shot for this year’s Executive of the Year – we first had to sit through a brief safety meeting from Bob Dove. The safety/quality manager for the facility ran through a list of what to watch for when we walked through the Integrity Stainless warehouse. 

That short message was telling, though not necessarily for the information it conveyed. Rather, it encapsulated two of Rick Marabito’s highest priorities since assuming leadership of Olympic Steel – safety and communication. 

Marabito, the CEO of the Bedford Heights-based service center company, is the 26th recipient of the honor, a quarter century after his predecessor Michael Siegal was named the magazine’s very first honoree. 

Each year since 1997, Metal Center News has honored a worthy service center executive with the industry’s highest honor. Our nominees are chosen based on their leadership of their companies, their contributions to the industry and their commitment to their communities. During Rick Marabito’s lengthy career, he’s more than qualified on all three counts. Just ask a couple of the men who earned this honor before him. 

“Rick is an amazingly credible man of high integrity,” says Siegal, who noted Marabito’s appointment as his successor was an obvious choice. “Internally, there was no one better.”

But Olympic’s roster of talent doesn’t just include one former Executive of the Year. In 2012, when the company acquired Chicago Tube & Iron, it brought 2006 honoree Don McNeeley into the fold. McNeeley immediately became part of the Olympic brain trust, so he also has an up close view of Marabito at work.

“I have worked directly with Rick for 12 years, thus, a first-row seat to his impressive leadership skill,” McNeeley says. “He has led with dignity, confidence and, in the end, has produced record performance and elevation of shareholder value.” 

Marabito joined Olympic in 1994, having caught the attention of Siegal and retired President David Wolfort when he was working in public accounting for Arthur Andersen. He began his career as the company’s treasurer and corporate controller. Six years later he was elevated to Olympic’s chief financial officer, a promotion that left a lasting impression on him. That his boss was willing to turn over such a major responsibility of a public company to him at a relatively young age taught him a valuable lesson.  

“Having the trust in people and allowing them to push themselves into the next level of responsibility is a big thing,” Marabito recalls. 

That was just one lesson he received from Siegal, who remains connected to the company in retirement as executive chairman. Marabito learned the importance of perspective. “Sometimes it’s easy to make decisions for the short term. You have to make decisions for the long run,” he says. 

But there are many aspects of his leadership that come from within. The emphasis on corporate communication was one that took off when he was hired. 

One of his first hires as CEO was to bring back Michelle Pearson-Casey, who had spent several years at Olympic in human resources before leaving to pursue her true calling in public relations. She was welcomed back to head up corporate communications, where she works side by side with Marabito as he shares the executive leadership’s vision. Some of that work is directed outward, explaining the company’s progress to the investor community as is required of a public company such as Olympic. But more of her focus is directed inward, keeping the entire organization abreast of the developments taking place in Cleveland and elsewhere. 

“I lean very heavily on Michelle and her team for corporate communications and culture building,” Marabito says. 

At least twice a quarter, Pearson-Casey has the boss film messages to the organization, one following the quarterly conference call where important industry developments are shared. The other is a more company-focused message. 

Moreover, any communication, written or otherwise, passes his desk. “He’s very involved in all of the messaging we develop, not in a micromanaging way, but because he’s a really big champion for this work,” says Pearson-Casey, the company’s vice president of corporate communications and marketing. 
 
His comfort with any and all – employees, customers, suppliers – and the value he places on communication made him a valuable asset for Olympic long before he ascended to the top spot. Siegal, a natural salesman, says he routinely brought Marabito on the road with him, where he was more effective at laying out Olympic’s strategy. 

“People like talking to him more than they like talking to me. Nobody likes talking to me because I want to sell them something. He’s comfortable in front of a crowd,” Siegal says. 

Marabito’s other top priority is his fanatical approach to maintaining a safe working environment for the employees of Olympic Steel, so much so that it’s in his Olympic Steel mantra:  Be Safe. Be Profitable. Be Engaged. Note, safety comes first.

“I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the 1,650 people here. And safety is one of those things, as a leader, you can’t outsource. We have great people who are focused on safety, but if we say safety is important, I’ve got to show it to the organization and it has to be authentic. They have to see I care about it and I have a passion for it, and that it’s not something I’m going to focus on for a month or two and then move on,” he says. 

Those areas of emphasis come from the same place, a deep fondness for the men and women who work at Olympic Steel, says Andrew Greiff, the company’s president and COO, Marabito’s righthand man. “He genuinely likes people and has their best interest at heart.”

Marabito believes he’s just perpetuating the unique atmosphere at the heart of Olympic Steel, a company that has the size and reach of an enormous public company but one that has never sacrificed the family business environment founded by the Siegals. “Everybody has square footage and cranes and forklifts. You can get some uniqueness in terms of the processes you do, but the core of what makes us unique is our longstanding set of core values. It’s based on relationships and trust.”

All of this makes Olympic a great place to work, and Rick Marabito an outstanding employer to work for, Pearson-Casey says. 

“The things he’s laying out for the company and the future of Olympic Steel, you want to make those things happen for him because you just have so much respect for him,” Pearson-Casey says. “I could gush for hours about him, and not just because they pay me to. But because I really enjoy working for him.”

Branching Out
When Michael Siegal was named Executive of the Year in 1997, or when Rick Marabito joined the leadership team three years later, Olympic Steel was a very different enterprise, one focused almost exclusively on the product in its name. 

“We were 97 percent carbon. We dabbled in stuff. We didn’t have stainless facilities. Now we’re about 50 percent carbon, about 30 percent stainless and aluminum, 20 percent pipe and tube,” explains Marabito, who was actively involved in the company’s remarkable transformation long before taking over the reins at the dawn of 2019.

The first major push was into specialty metals through acquisitions such as Integrity Stainless. Under Marabito, two more specialty metals companies have joined the fold, Action Stainless and Alloys in 2020 and Shaw Stainless & Alloy last year. 

In 2012, the diversification of Olympic took another step with its largest deal, bringing in Chicago Tube & Iron, thereby creating a third division, pipe and tube. 

These events were not happenstance, attractive deals that fell in the laps of the Olympic leadership team. Rather, they were part of a long-held strategy to grow beyond its traditional bounds. 

Siegal explains the thought process. “We were a carbon distribution company. We thought at the time, we needed to get bigger, we thought there was synergy in buying other service centers, that geography could have brought better scale. We understood more of the same wasn’t getting us anything. There’s a certain level of buying power you get at a certain size. You’re not going to get any more.  Strategically, we decided to diversify into more products.”

And more products ultimately led to more processing. Olympic Steel was at the forefront of pushing further downstream. They didn’t do so quietly, bringing on a press brake here or offer some welding there at a customer’s hushed request. They announced to the world the direction they were taking the company and followed through on the plans. 

“It was a strategic decision of the management to say we wanted to do more things to the metal,” Marabito says. “That was how we were going to continue to grow.”

The progression included adding fabrication equipment at existing operations, including a range of services offered at its Winder, Ga., facility, to outright acquisition of existing companies. That was done through the back-to-back acquisitions of McCullough Industries, a manufacturer of self-dumping hoppers, and EZ-Dumper, a maker of steel and stainless dump inserts for truck beds. 

The result of this evolution is a company that’s grown from about $500 million in sales when Marabito joined the management team to the $2.3 billion enterprise it is today. 

“Some of the acquisitions and expansions into different markets have brought a breadth to the company we didn’t have before. And we’re not satisfied saying we’ve reached these plateaus,” Marabito says. 

And there is room to expand further. The company’s geographic range can grow domestically, with an eye toward the Southwest. And they will undoubtedly add even more downstream capabilities, oftentimes following the model used with the McCullough and EZ-Dumper deals, adding through acquisition to expand its competencies. 

All of it is undertaken with one set of people in mind. “We’re focusing on our customers, showing them how they can partner with us,” he says. 

Sometimes, going forward also means letting go. In 2021, Olympic was involved in a major deal on the other side of the equation, selling its Detroit assets. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one for the company, which could never quite get the returns there they expected. 

“Instead of saying, ‘Let’s continue on the path and hope everything works out,’ it’s our obligation and responsibility to ask the tough questions,” Greiff explains. “We came to the recognition it was going to continue to be a challenge for us, and given the right opportunity, it would make sense to invest in other areas. 

That opportunity came in the form of Venture Steel, a Canadian service center that wanted to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market. Importantly to Olympic, the acquisition allowed Olympic to “make sure we could do everything right for the people in Detroit,” Greiff says. 

Growth for growth’s sake is, of course, not the objective. Expanding profitability is the goal.

Marabito recognizes that the past year and change were very good ones for the entire metals industry, but those times won’t last forever. But a falling price is not an excuse for ‘woe is us’ lamentations.

“We have to continue to push for higher returns and less volatility. With diversification and growth into other products and different geographies and different types of fabrication, and overlaying that with discipline, we take some of that volatility out and smooth it out,” he says. 

“As a service center, we can’t control the price. We can control who we hire. We can control our inventory. We can control our efficiencies. We can control what we invest in and our strategies. If we do all of those things really well, we’ll outperform the competition.”

[Caption] 
Rick Marabito stands among the coils at Integrity Stainless in Streetsboro, Ohio. (Photo courtesy Kim Ponsky)