CHICAGO Survivors in the
rough-and-tumble world of steel are often described as gamblers
and horse traders. Tony Butera, a cofounder of Voss Industries,
has in fact gambled and owned racehorses during a career that
has so far spanned 62 years.
In his most recent win, Butera
has been named 2012 Steel Man of the Year by the Association of
Steel Distributors (ASD), which will honor him at a banquet
during its annual convention in March.
Butera, a man known for having
mentored many greenhorns who later went on to lead their own
companies, started Taylor, Mich.-based Voss Industries in 1951
with Paul Voss and Homer Davison, who were soon joined by
Pauls brother, Gabe.
Butera had just three months on
the job when the foreman training him decided that he wanted to
take a long vacation. "I asked, Whos going to run
the plant? Butera recalled. "He said, You
In an exclusive interview with
AMM, Butera recalled working long hours in those early
days. "I was the foreman, the maintenance man, the inventory
clerk, I ran the crane," he said. "Meanwhile, all the salesmen
(were) out having a ball downtown. I said, Hey, this is
baloney. I have to go into sales."
Butera, who went to college on
the G.I. Bill, moved to a small Detroit steel warehouse, where
he opened 15 new accounts in three months. "A lot of them were
good customers of the Vosses," he said. "It didnt take
long before Gabe called, saying, Paul has an offer for
you that you cant refuse."
Butera managed sales for
Voss west side expansion and later pitched the idea of
building a pickle line. "We were buying all this hot-rolled and
having to pay to have it pickled," he said. His partners bought
into the idea, and the decision helped to expand Voss
business with service centers.
"I bought a lot of steel in my
time, thousands and thousands of tons," Butera said. "I sold
thousands and thousands of tons. I bought foreign steel when it
was 4.5 cents a pound from one of the first (import) dealers in
He won new business in a
traditional manner: by giving out pens and golf shirts and
taking customers to lunch. "Im a great
taker-out-to-luncher," he said, pointing to his beltline.
But the real festivities
occurred when a Detroit mill salesman and Butera paired up to
host annual trips to Las Vegas, which continued for eight
years. Twenty-nine customers came one year, and "more guys were
begging to go," he said.
The stories from those trips are
"just amazing," said Butera, who is legendary for knowing
practically everyone in the industry. "And the money they lost
at those tables!" he added.
"I love gambling, I love
horses," Butera continued. He and a couple of partners
purchased a racehorse and won $100,000 in the first year. The
seller "never forgot it," Butera said. "He chewed us out every
time he saw us."
Butera stabled racehorses for
the next 20 years and frequented tracks from Toronto to
Atlantic City, N.J., to New Orleans. "I am a connoisseur of the
racetrack," he said. "On every single trip to New York,
(customers) insisted on going to the track with me, because
they figured I would make them money."
And on the subject of making
money, Butera believes that steel processors and distributors
will have a good 2013, based on the projected vehicle build
rate and demand from other industries.
"Among the people I deal with,
this guy is putting in a new slitter, that guy is putting up a
new building," he said. "Are you telling me they are