When David Sheer joined The Steel Supply Company in 1969, he simply needed a job. What he found was a lifelong career.
Sheer will step down from his role as vice president and CEO of the 116-year-old Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based company at the end of September, his decision expedited by the unprecedented conditions of 2020.
“This was probably the decision maker. Six wars, six recessions, numerous strikes, weather events, roof collapsing, and then COVID. And COVID should probably go to the top of the list,” he says.
He joined The Steel Supply Company out of the military, just as the business was relocating operations from Schiller Park to its new location in Rolling Meadows. The former owner, the late Donald Hjortland, gave him immediate responsibility overseeing the work and site.
From there, he moved up the ladder in the organization, advancing from inside and outside sales to general manager and then vice president. In 1980, Hjortland called Sheer back from the outside sales force and turned many of the managerial duties over to him.
As someone who’s spent more than half a century in the business, Sheer has seen a great many changes in how the steel supply chain operates. “It’s changed because of technology. Safety has changed, regulatory has changed, government has changed, liability has changed. You really had to adapt to all that.”
What hasn’t changed, he says, are the people at the heart of the business, and it is the relationships he forged with those people that will be what he misses the most in his retirement.
Before he steps aside, what would he tell the young person, just now entering the steel industry?
“If they learn and they listen and respect the industry, they’ll get it back many times over,” he says, noting that it’s sometimes hard for that message to get across,” And that advice is universal, whether the new hire is a budding salesperson or the individual on the fork life. “I use the same message for everyone.”