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The Final Bell for Retiring Hannah

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The service center industry has been a competitive slugfest for the last four decades and Dave Hannah has had a front-row seat. Indeed, he was often in the ring. Asking Hannah to comment on the many changes he has witnessed in his long career is like asking one of the boxers to score the fight.

Hannah plans to retire this month after 35 years of leadership at Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., the industry’s largest service center organization. He recently spent some time with Metal Center News reflecting back on his career and the industry he loves.

As the top executive at the market leader, Hannah has been much more than just an interested observer. He has been a major agent of change in an industry that is very different from the one he entered as a young accountant back in the 1980s. He never set out to remake metals distribution, he says, just to help his company grow. “To be honest, it just evolved that way. But we all believed we had something special in the way we go about our business and our culture.”

When Hannah joined Reliance, it was a midsized regional player with less than $400 million in sales. Today, after some 80 acquisitions, it has operations coast to coast and in a dozen other countries, and is far and away the biggest metals distributor and processor in North America with more than $9 billion in annual revenues.

Don’t look for any major changes in the strategic direction of the company upon Hannah’s retirement. He will remain on the company’s board of directors, and the management team he leaves in charge, under the capable direction of President and CEO Gregg Mollins, is cut from the same cloth. “We worked together for decades, so we can practically finish each other’s sentences,” he says.

While Hannah is soft spoken and likeable on a personal level, he is not necessarily the most popular figure in the industry. His company has brought a whole new level of competitiveness to what was once a mom-and-pop type business. Scores of smaller rivals have gone by the wayside as Reliance and other consolidators have transformed the market into one much less fragmented and much more sophisticated and professional.

Not surprisingly, Hannah considers consolidation to be a positive for the metals industry as a whole, as suppliers and customers alike benefit from a more efficient supply chain. But he disagrees with those who contend only large companies like Reliance will be able to survive in the future. “If you are a smaller service center and you provide important value to your customers, there is still a place where you can thrive. It really depends on the individual company and how it is run,” he says.

Look for the full Q&A with Hannah in MCN’s August print edition.