lein Steel Co., Rochester, N.Y.,
is home to two warriorsone aiming to fight illiteracy and
improve education opportunities for at-risk children, and the
other a former U.S. Army major general battling to improve
performance and profitability.
Joe Klein recently took the
title of chairman and passed on the mantle of chief executive
officer to president John Batiste, who has been with the
company for six years.
Klein Steel started up in 1971,
an offshoot of a family scrap business, and Joe Klein joined
the company a year later when he graduated from college. "I
never thought I would come into the family business. I was
taking a graduate course in biophysics, but I worked in our new
little steel company in the afternoon and I couldnt wait
to get to work," he said. "I had a photographic memory of steel
Since the 1970s, the company has
gone through periods of rapid growth, then retrenched and
worked on improving quality, then it would grow again, he said.
"At some point, the company outstretched my abilities," Klein
said, which is why he hired Batiste. "I like to develop and
strategize, but with more than 150 employees we needed a
different skill set."
Meanwhile, Klein got involved in
Rochester public schools and helped raise money to open True
North Rochester Preparatory Charter School. He also was the
"gopher," locating real estate for the school and securing
professional assistance as needed. "Within two years, Rochester
Prep was beating every other (public) school in math and
English," Klein said. It started small, but now has a total
enrollment of 458 students in grades K-1 and 5-8.
Klein was inspired to become an
educator when he was 13, working in the family junkyard. "Most
of the workers could not read. The guy teaching me to operate
the shear couldnt read, and when he started dating a
schoolteacher he was embarrassed. He wanted me to teach him to
read. That was the start of my interest in urban
Four years ago, the mayor of
Rochester named Klein vice chairman of the citys Literacy
Commission. It became "a moral imperative to continue leading
the school literacy effort," he said. When Klein hired Batiste
to run the day-to-day operations, he applied to Superintendents
Academy but found he needed a masters degree. So he and
his wife moved to Boston for 10 months so he could attend
Harvard Universitys masters program in education.
Previously a self-described "bad" student, Klein said he worked
70 to 90 hours per week, spending all his time in the
universitys many libraries. "The Harvard program is
exceptionally rigorous," but with Batiste at the helm of the
company "I didnt have to think or worry about the shop at
Now that hes graduated, Klein is considering where to
take his advanced degree. "I would like to take on a small
charter school (program) with one or two schools and help them
grow, or be in a support organization for charter schools in a
(U.S.) city. I have looked at New Orleans charter schools
and Ive looked at Providence (R.I.)," he said. "But my
wife has veto power (over any move). As a printmaker, she needs
an active art community."