On the surface, Ron Bloom, former special assistant
to United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard, is about as
far from the image of an investment banker as one could
A day after accepting a position as senior advisor
to the Treasury Department on President Obama's auto task
force, Bloom woke up before 4 a.m. in Pittsburgh, climbed into
his beat-up 1997 Ford Taurus and drove to Washington to report
for duty at the Treasury Department.
In many ways, Bloom, drawing on his experience in
helping restructure the steel industry, may be the perfect man
for the job, according to associates and industry analysts.
"He has mastered a set of skills which give him a
unique set of capabilities to deal with the various facets of
the auto situation," said Michael Locker, founder and president
of Locker Associates Inc., New York, a steel consulting firm
that worked closely with Bloom in helping remake the nation's
steel industry during a tumultuous decade starting in the late
1990s. "If I were to name one person I'd want involved in the
(auto) process, it'd be him."
Bloom, who holds an MBA from Harvard University and
who worked as an investment banker at Lazard Freres & Co.
LLC, has a deep understanding of both the financial community
and the unions. More importantly, he possesses the political
savvy to steer negotiations between the two sides.
"The union owns the card for success," Locker said.
Steel, he noted, was highly balkanized and therefore somewhat
different from the auto industry. "But by making an alliance
with Wilbur Ross (founder of the former International Steel
Group) and finding a partner, they (management) could work with
Bloom appreciates that negotiating with unions is a
"highly political" and complicated process, Locker said. "He
understood all those things more clearly than any other person
in the room."
"His experience is right on the mark," said James
Moss of First River Consulting in Pittsburgh. "He understands
steel strategy, union contracts and the implications of Chapter
11 proceedings. .?.?. Ron will make a valuable contribution,
One big hurdle that Bloom will encounter involves
the sheer number of government bureaucrats that are officially
part of the 26-member Presidential Task Force on Autos staffers
from the Treasury, Commerce, Labor, Energy and Transportation
departments, representatives from the Environmental Protection
Agency, members of the National Economic Council, plus energy
and climate change czar Carole Browner and New York investment
banker Steven Rattner.
But Locker said "that type of set-up plays to Ron's
strengths. He knows how to build coalitions and move the
process forward. He has the ability to put the deal together
politically as well as economically."
"We are big believers in dentist-chair bargaining,"
Bloom told a meeting of bankruptcy law professionals nearly
three years ago, an approach inspired by the story of a man who
"walks into the dentist's office, grabs the dentist's groin and
says, 'Now, let's not hurt each other'."
Gerard described Bloom as perfect for the task.
"Solving the problems of the auto industry is a monumental
challenge but Ron has tremendous ability," he said in a
statement. "Ron is very passionate about his belief that
manufacturing is essential to a healthy economy."
Bloom joined the staff of the United Steelworkers
union in 1996, when he was hired by former president George
Becker. He served as lead negotiator in a number of highly
contentious labor battles involving the former
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp., Algoma Steel Inc. and other
steelmakers. Union colleagues give him credit for saving
thousands of jobs in the steel, aluminum, rubber, paper and
"Ron is innovative, hardworking and one of the
smartest people I know," Gerard said.