Somewhere in the region of
1,000 leaders from all aspects of the steel industry will
convene in New York this month for what has become an annual
summit of the sector's movers and shakers.
The Steel Success Strategies Conference
cosponsored by AMM and World Steel Dynamics celebrates
its 25th anniversary this year.
Those attending the first event-then
labeled Steel Survival Strategies-back in 1986 would have been
forgiven if they'd questioned whether there would even be a
steel industry in the United States a quarter of a century
later. The event's tag line, "Can the major U.S. steel mills
survive?" was not simply a marketing tag.
As it happens, one might argue that today,
and recession aside, the domestic producers are in pretty good
health, though of course many of the nation's mills are now
owned or operated by overseas concerns.
It's probably a little conceited to think
that the conference had a hand in ensuring the industry's
survival, but to peruse reports of that first gathering-back
when China was a nothing in terms of steel production and Barry
Bonds was still a slender rookie-is to get a pre-taste of what
was about to unfold.
Peter Marcus and Karlis M. Kirsis, in the
first performance of their double act, told attendees that "a
bankruptcy at a major (integrated) U.S. mill within the next
few years seems a 50-50 likelihood." The analysts named LTV
Steel as being in the weakest position, followed by Bethlehem
Steel and Armco. All three companies eventually filed Chapter
11 and none of them exists in the same form today.
In fact, of those steel mills represented
on the program in 1986, only three soldier on under the same
banner. U.S. Steel was there, of course, represented by
then-chairman David Roderick, who said that consolidation was
inevitable, along with California Steel and Nucor. Ken Iverson,
then-president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor, was on the
program, and although he is no longer with us, his legacy
remains strong. His contribution to the industry will be
celebrated at a dinner to recognize winners of AMM's
Awards for Steel Excellence, where Iverson will be recognized
as the most influential figure in the steel industry in the
past 25 years.
Iverson, along with former Connecticut
Steel Corp. chairman Willy Korf, were among the optimistic
minority at the inaugural event. Iverson, it seems, would have
approved of the event's name change, charging that a steel
survival forum presented negative implications while his
company had reported record earnings in 1985.
Iverson and Korf were joined on a panel by
a representative of Sumitomo Metals America, one of a small
number of Japanese participants at the event. With those few
exceptions, the line-up for the inaugural conference was
striking in its lack of international participation, and was in
marked contrast to the significant international flavor that is
the hallmark of this year's conference. In fact, many
participants in 1986 appeared to see overseas players as the
principal enemy of the U.S. industry and there was significant
discussion regarding what to do about the growing threat from
At the time, mills were protected by
President Ronald Reagan's import restraint program. Marcus and
Kirsis, while urging mills to "think international," also told
steel producers they should press dumping suits when Reagan's
protection ended in 1989.
United Steelworkers union president Lynn
Williams was more combative, strongly opposing the then-recent
U.S. Steel-Posco joint venture and calling it "the beginning of
the end of steelmaking in the U.S." At the other end of the
spectrum, industry analyst Father William T. Hogan of Fordham
University suggested that U.S. mills seek international
partners who could provide cash and a technology edge.
It says something of the progress made
within the U.S. industry that when representatives of
ArcelorMittal, OAO Severstal and Gerdau Ameristeel take the
podium in New York this year, little thought will be given to
their national origins.
Much has changed in the past 25 years,
although looking back it is clear that, for the most part, the
industry leaders of the day had a good handle on the issues
facing them and at least an idea of how to meet those
It is to their credit that we can today
talk about success and not survival, and if the leaders who
speak on this silver anniversary are blessed with similar
foresight, this industry and this conference should still be
going strong in another 25 years.
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND PUBLISHER