Lisa Goldenberg is a third-generation steel trader and
distributor. And although shes got the corporate
credentials, family tree and DNA to prove it, the Philadelphia
natives first live encounter with a steel mill did not go
exactly as planned.
It was my first
mill visit ever, she recalled recently. We had a
deal with USS-Posco Industries (Inc.) in Pittsburg, Calif., and
we needed to renew the contract on our quarterly blanket. My
father thought it was a good idea for me to go up there and
introduce myself. I was 22 years old. The only mistake I made
was I went and bought a brand-new beautiful white suit. I just
looked ridiculous. But I held my head up, figured well I
ruined that suit, and I learned.
My father said
just look professional. I thought I looked
professional. But I didnt have someone standing over me.
I really had to learn on the fly, said Goldenberg, who
had been dispatched west by her father, Jerald Brownstein, to
bring some order to a trading company he owned there. The
operation, which specialized in secondary plate, was, in his
daughters words, out of control.
Fresh out of college,
Goldenberg was living with roommates in an apartment in Santa
Monica, Calif., so I could be near the beach.
Unfortunately, the apartment was more than an hour-and-a-half
drive in traffic from the trading companys offices in
Paramount, Calif. That was hard, Goldenberg said.
But I rented a fabulous red sports car so I could at
least enjoy the ride.
Today, some 25 years
later, Goldenberg, who succeeded her father as president of
Fort Washington, Pa.-based Delaware Steel Co. a year ago and
was named president of the Association of Steel Distributors
(ASD) in April 2012, makes it her business, no matter how
daunting, to enjoy the ride.
These days, that takes
I have been told
the hardest market to make money in is a relatively flat
market, Goldenberg said. And although prices have
been up, the increases are incremental. And prices have been
down, but the declines are also incremental. So we are dealing
with a very broad band of flatness.
The price is up,
its down, its up, its down in this very
narrow range. As a result, margins are truly squeezed. And more
than margins, the ability to transact and deal,
Goldenberg said, referring to the state of the market. We
are wholesale dealers and distributors. We take a position. I
am regularly selling steel in an active market. Maybe its
at very high margins. Maybe it is well below my cost and I
average down a position. But when the market is so flat and
relatively weak, it is really difficult to average anything
down because were not really buying many
Founded by Bernie
Brownstein, Goldenbergs grandfather, in the late 1950s,
Delaware Steel specializes in prime, excess prime and secondary
flat-rolled steel and does about $25 million in business
annually. We are a small company, Goldenberg said
from her office in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington.
We have 12 employees.
With the exception of
a yearlong stint as a headhunter in the computer industry,
Goldenberg has spent her entire career in the steel industry.
I had no intention of going into this crazy
business, she told ASD members at the organizations
2012 spring convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she took the
gavel as president. Nonetheless, through some twists and
turns I ventured to California, where my father asked me to
manage a plate yard in rural Fontana. My job was to unload
railcars of random secondary plates that needed to be sorted
and identified. These were seconds arriving from the Midwest
with little or no paperwork to identify any of the plate,
that job, which she tackled in her early 20s, with not only
providing a hands-on education in the steel business and
bringing order to a plate yard in chaos, but building
confidence in her skills as a problem solver and manager.
I learned steel, she said. It was dirty, hot,
challenging work. I had no supervision on site and simply had
to figure it out.
What I marvel at
today is how my father and grandfather never, ever treated me
as just a girl or, better yet, another pretty
face, she said. From any early age, they saw
me as very nervy and capable of whatever I set my mind to, even
if that involved organizing a really crappy plate yard in rural
Today, Goldenberg has
her mind set on ensuring the company she heads is optimally
positioned to capture the rebound in U.S. manufacturing she is
fully convinced is coming, and expanding the membership, reach
and relevance of the ASD through a variety of avenues,
including the full utilization of social media. She is making
headway on both fronts.
Goldenberg broke new
ground the minute she accepted the ceremonial gavel that comes
with assuming the presidency of the ASD, a post her father and
grandfather held previously. I am the first woman
president, which is interesting in and of itself, she
said. But whats more remarkable, there havent
been any other women on the board.
One of her first acts
in office was reinstating the ASD Future Leaders Forum, the
mission of which is to provide practical guidance, networking
and education to enhance the professional aspirations of future
leaders in the steel distribution industry. The forums
first networking event in mid-September drew 40 attendees.
Reinstating this program has been one of the initiatives
that I have been passionate about during my presidency,
In her 17 months as
president of the ASD, membership is up some 15 percent.
We are primarily steel distributors and warehouses,
Goldenberg said. We have a few steel mills and we are
expanding that. A big push has been not just attracting younger
members but becoming a little bit more modern in the way we do
things, not just stay a traditional service center association.
By that, I mean lots of social media.
Under her and newly
named executive director Marc Saraccos watch, the
Chicago-based organization opened a LinkedIn page earlier this
year. And while it might sound minor in the international
steel world, she said, in just a few months we have
just under 1,000 members in our LinkedIn group that are posting
regularly. And we are growing exponentially. That has been a
big push for me, to become more modern, communicate in new ways
so you are reaching people all over the world and becoming a
much more viable, broader-based organization. That has been my
agenda, and so far I am off to a good start.
In becoming more
modern, Goldenberg has made sure not to lose sight of the
values underpinning the formation and mission of ASD in the
first place. So while we are still a networking
organization, our primary goal is to help service centers and
distributors grow their business through relationships,
she said. Its an old-fashioned-type sentiment and
sometimes difficult to hold true to those core
eternal optimist, Goldenberg is holding tight to a
less-than-widespread conviction that the U.S. economy is, in
her words, ready to explode. And she has had her
fill of headline after headline summarizing the domestic steel
markets lack of pricing power in one word. Every
day there is an article on oversupply, Goldenberg said.
Im a little sick of it, to tell the truth. So what?
The fact is, manufacturing numbers in every sector are better
today than they were last quarter and last year. It depends on
what you are looking at, but they are better. And they are
going to get better. So while I believe there is a supply
issue, demand solves everything. And I believe American
manufacturing is growing, just slower than we dealers and
traders would like to see.
If there is a black
cloud forming somewhere in the recesses of Goldenbergs
upbeat psyche, it is tethered to the downbeat mindset of the
steel supply chain. I think people need to feel a little
bit more open and generous with their time and resources and
not be so fearful, she said. When times are
difficult, people get a little desperate, a little paranoid. I
think we need to take a deep breath. I am pretty much a
fastball-down-the-middle kind of gal. I believe in talking
about your company. I believe in sharing information, not in a
collusion type of way but in a promoting and growth
Looking ahead, there
is no question in Goldenbergs mind that the worst is
absolutely over. At the same time, she has five
words of advice for colleagues, customers, suppliers and
competitors alike: Get tough and get ready. There is a
big mountain to climb, she said. But I believe we
are prepared. I believe the companies that are positioned well
and have ridden out these 10 years--which it will add up to by
the time we get through this storm--are going to be very well
positioned and prepared for growth.
That would be my
bottom line, Goldenberg said. I think we have to be
a little tougher and prepare for a big uphill climb.