George Stoe, who retired Aug. 1 as president and chief
operating officer of Worthington Industries Inc., has seen an
immense amount of change in the metals industry since he began
his career in 1969 at Howmet Aluminum Corp., now part of Alcoa
Inc., as an inside sales representative in Lancaster, Pa., a
mill that had 180 million pounds of capacity and sold only in
Over the past four decades, hes been witness to an
industry that has been severely disjointed, beset by fierce
competition and many other challenges. In the steel business,
for example, bankruptcies and consolidation in the 1990s and
2000s and the recession forced companies to rationalize
capacity, develop the discipline needed to weather downturns
and alter their approach to customers.
In the past, there was always competition as to who
had the upper hand. Mills reneged on contracts when business
was good, and when it went the other way customers didnt
live up to agreements. Now, producers have formed partnerships
with customers and each (partner) understands that both have to
be successful, Stoe said.
When Columbus, Ohio-based Worthington hired Stoe in 2003,
his first assignment was to evaluate the cylinder business,
which makes pressure vessels for commercial applications.
Worthingtons leadership had a fair amount of
concern about whether that business had peaked or whether there
were further opportunities for growth, he said.
Should we divest or take advantage of good
Fiscal 2003 ended with sales of $320 million and operating
income of $52 million. I hadnt even moved (to
Worthington) yet and thought this might be messy. But by 2007
sales went to $545 million and operating income to $113
million, and now we are closing in on $800 million in sales in
that business, he said.
A great portion of those gains came through targeted
acquisitions of other cylinder companies, and Stoe was soon
asked to seek merger and acquisition opportunities for the
steel processing and metal buildings units as well. He led the
team that formed the joint venture that became Serviacero
Worthington in Mexico, purchased Gibraltar Industries
Inc.s steel processing assets and purchasedor
formed joint ventures withdomestic and foreign cylinder
manufacturing assets. In January, he also helped Worthington
acquire Angus Industries Inc. We have owned it for six
months and were off to a great start and confident in its
future, Stoe said.
These successes are due, in large part, to
Worthingtons transformation plan, begun in 2008. It
started inside the steel business, Stoe said. We went to
every facility and analyzed what we did and how we did it. We
increased productivity and profitability. We used the same
playbook in cylinders and are halfway through it, going plant
by plant. Worthington also has launched the program at
Angus, a manufacturer of operator cabs and operator stations
for heavy mobile equipment used in the agriculture,
construction and mining industries.
The transformation plan has led to positive developments
companywide, according to Stoe. It allowed Worthington to form
centers of excellence, which in turn attracted the best
and brightest people, including junior military officers.
They are very sophisticated and more mature than others
coming right out of school. They are fully embedded and run
transformations at each business, he said.
The profitable growth spurt that Stoe helped steer, both
through streamlining (which included downsizing the metal
framing business due to the recession) and acquisitions, is
also a matter of personal accomplishmentbut that growth
wont slow down with his retirement.
We are still looking for opportunities, including
within the steel processing business. Prior to acquiring
Gibraltar, there wasnt much appetite for steel
processing (assets) and now we realize there is capacity to
integrate (select assets) into what we do, Stoe said.
When Worthington modeled the possible outcomes of the
Gibraltar purchase, we thought some customers would say,
No, you cant have that much of our business,
and we estimated we would lose 20 percent of Gibraltars
customers, he said. We actually gained new
customers, increased our capabilities and strengthened the
As painful as it was to shut down metal framing plants, the
joint venture that Worthington formed with Misa Metals Inc. to
join Dietrich Metal Framing and ClarkWestern Building Systems
has succeeded. Its leaner, but its making money
Even as he retires, Stoe has a vision of the future of the
metals processing and distribution industry. In order to remain
globally competitive over the next 10 years, North American
companies have to innovate and reinvest in the business.
There are technological changes to stay up on and the best kind
of equipment and techniques.
Another key is to spend time developing the next
generation of leaders. So many executives are
coming up toward retirement. Its important to have people
coming up behind that they have mentored properly.
The metals industry represents an exciting place to
have a career. Ive been in it 43 years, he said.
You meet people experienced in every conceivable battle
who have survived and prospered.
Stoe would advise a college graduate to hitch your
wagon to a mentor who takes an interest in you. I was mentored.
This (career) has been a rich and rewarding experience for me.
Everything you go through teaches you something of
Worthingtons new president and chief operating
officer, Mark A. Russell, believes in actively recruiting
future leaders to the company. A member of Brigham Young
Universitys Board of Regents, Russell gave a speech to a
graduating class at the university. He told the class
that its a global economy. If any of you are fluent
in Japanese or Chinese, see me afterward because we are
expanding in Asia, he said of Russells
After the speech, a graduate named Andrew Gee told Russell
he wanted to discuss career prospects and said he spoke both
Japanese and Chinese. Mark hired him almost on the
spot, Stoe said, noting that Gee just spent a year
working with Misa Metals in Japan, Singapore and Vietnam while
Misa sent one of its employees to Worthington for a year.
Gees recruitment and training are emblematic of
what were trying to do for the future, Stoe said.
He has gained a lot of experience and may be a future
leader in the company.