One of the highlights at
AMM's State of Steel Conference in January was the
on-stage interview with Keith Busse. Steel Dynamics Inc.'s
president and chief executive officer put on an assured
display, leading one industry veteran to comment that he was
"pretty good for an accountant."
Busse does indeed hold a Bachelor of
Science degree in accounting, but that just puts him in line
with much of today's steel industry leadership. AK Steel Corp.
chairman, president and chief executive Jim Wainscott, another
speaker at the conference, started his career with the company
as treasurer, while John Surma, chairman and chief executive
officer of U.S. Steel Corp., is another who has an accounting
Indeed, of the big four names confirmed for
AMM's Steel Success Strategies XXV Conference in New
York in June, most started corporate life counting numbers
rather than making steel. Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and chief
executive officer of ArcelorMittal, has a degree in commerce,
while Alexei Mordashov, chief executive officer of Severstal,
started his career as an economist. Of the four, only Dan
DiMicco, chairman, president and chief executive officer of
Nucor Corp., boasts credentials as a metallurgist (although
Mario Longhi, president and chief executive officer of Gerdau
Ameristeel and another regular speaker at AMM events,
also is trained in metallurgical engineering.)
There are a number of reasons why an
accountant or economist is more likely to rise to the top of a
modern steel company than is a metallurgist or engineer. With
most major steel producers now public companies, a large part
of a top executive's job is communicating effectively with the
financial community. Clearly there are more finance majors that
metallurgists on Wall Street, so the steel industry's
accountants are more likely to speak their language than are
Accountants working their way through the
ranks at a major steel producer also are more likely to be
based in the corporate offices, where they get more exposure to
senior management. And in a world where M&As are such an
important part of the industry, a star finance executive has
the opportunity to be associated with high-profile successful
acquisitions that bolster the bottom line and make everyone
associated with the deal look like a genius.
But are these accountants really steelmen?
Is the rise of the finance major really good for the industry?
One industry observer put it like this: "It would be fine if
they were all as sharp as Busse-but they're not."
And that, surely, is the bottom line.
Managing a major corporation-whatever the industry-requires
such a wide range of skills that it hardly matters in what part
of the business the future executive started out. If a
leadership candidate hasn't picked up a full bag of tools along
the way, he or she likely won't be able to deliver on the
bottom line, which ultimately is how every top executive is
judged. And it doesn't take an accountant to figure that.