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AMM Steel Hall of Fame: Keith Busse

May 26, 2013 | 07:00 PM | Bill Beck

Tags  Hall of Fame, Nucor Corp., Keith Busse, Bill Beck


The AMM Steel Hall of Fame is pleased to announce its Class of 2013: three distinguished individuals who pioneered, developed or furthered the practices, strategies and interests of the steel industry.

Keith Busse’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit helped him construct Nucor Corp.’s pioneering flat-rolled steel mill in Crawfordsville, Ind., in the mid-1980s. An accountant by training, Busse had built Nucor’s standard bolt factory and pre-engineered metal building business in the early 1980s and moved to Crawfordsville to build the company’s flat-rolled mill. Most in the industry said it couldn’t be done. But when Busse and his crew left Crawfordsville, it had been doneÑand the steel industry in North America was changed forever.

Over the next two decades, Busse helped found Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI), built a thin-slab mill among the cornfields in Butler, Ind., and turned the company into one of the nation’s premier publicly owned steel companies. By the time he retired from active management of SDI in 2012, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based steelmaker was a vertically integrated steel mini-mill empire that included electric-arc furnace (EF) mills in Indiana, one of the nation’s major ferrous scrap recycling operations and a pilot direct-reduced iron (DRI) operation in Minnesota.

Busse’s entrepreneurial vision and drive have earned him a 2013 induction into the AMM Steel Hall of Fame.

Busse first came to the attention of Wall Street and the American public in 1991, when New Yorker writer Richard Preston wrote a profile of the work Busse did to build Nucor’s flat-rolled mill on the prairies of west-central Indiana. Busse had assembled a team in Crawfordsville that included Mark Millett, a United Kingdom native. Millett had earned a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy from a British university and was in the United States trying to become a ski bum when Nucor hired him at Darlington, S.C.

Busse, Millett and a driven crew of Nucor employees completed the new mill at Crawfordsville, proving doubters wrong. Preston chronicled the feat, perhaps one of the most impressive industrial technological achievements of the second half of the 20th Century, in his best-selling book, “American Steel: Hot Metal Men and the Resurrection of the Rust Belt.”

The successful completion of Nucor’s Crawfordsville mill ushered in an era of recovery for the American steel industry, which had been left for dead by the recession of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Mills had got costs under control, and the economic recovery had helped stem the flood of foreign steel into the North American market. By 1995, the average price of flat-rolled steel in the United States was $400 per ton compared with $500 in Germany and $600 in Japan--and that was before freight costs. Steel analyst Peter F. Marcus predicted that U.S. steel imports would drop by nearly half, to 17 million tons in 1997 from 30 million tons in 1994.

By the mid-1990s, the industry was back on its feet and adding new capacity. By then, Busse and a handful of Nucor veterans had left the Charlotte, N.C.-based steelmaker to strike out on their own. In November 1993, Busse, Millett and Richard B. Teets Jr. announced the formation of SDI, a greenfield steel company backed by a group of investors and financed by investment banking interests in Cleveland. Busse and his team planned to build a mini-mill capable of producing more than 1 million tons of steel annually on a greenfield site in Butler, just northeast of Fort Wayne. It would boast an EF, and employ the next generation of rolling technology by installing SMS Schloemann-Siemag AG’s thin-slab caster.

The mill made its first cast two weeks before Thanksgiving 1995, just 13 months after groundbreaking. It began commercial production two days into 1996 and reached nearly 75 percent of capacity by the end of its first year of operation. In late 1996, SDI began supplying high-strength low-alloy hot band to Heidtman Steel Products Inc., an approved steel supplier to Chrysler Corp. “To my knowledge,” Busse told New Steel at the time, “we’re the first CSP (compact-strip production) mill to supply an automaker directly.”

In the years that followed, SDI would install a cold-rolling mill at Butler and expand its processing facilities, adding a pickling line, two hot-dip galvanizing lines, a temper mill and batch-annealing furnaces. In 2002, SDI outbid Nucor for the assets of Qualitech Corp., a Pittsboro, Ind.-based special bar quality (SBQ) producer with a capacity of 500,000 tons per year.

In 2007, the company acquired OmniSource Corp., a Fort Wayne-based scrap processor and broker. In summer 2010, SDI subsidiary Mesabi Nugget LLC began production of marble-sized iron pellets that put the company squarely in the race to develop domestic sources of DRI and pig iron. Under a strategic diversification plan, SDI also acquired Roanoke Steel Corp., with its Roanoke, Va., mini-mill, several rebar fabrication plants and Steel of West Virginia Inc. Its downstream integration into joist fabrication in Florida and Texas is the company’s latest diversification venture.

When Busse became SDI’s nonexecutive board chairman in early 2012, leaving the company in the hands of Millett, the incoming president and chief executive officer, SDI was the nation’s fifth-largest producer of carbon steel products, boasting an annual capacity of 4 million tons, a work force of more than 6,000 people and five EF mini-mills.




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