Hall of Fame Class of 2014

John H. McConnell

John H. McConnell was born with steel in his blood. The son of a steelworker, McConnell was born in May 1923 and raised in Pughtown (now known as New Manchester) in West Virginia on the east bank of the Ohio River just north of Weirton. McConnell grew up during the depths of the Great Depression in one of the hardest-hit regions of the United States.

McConnell’s early memories were of mill closings, layoffs and steelworker battles for union recognition. When World War II broke out, 18-year-old McConnell enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, a Lexington-class aircraft carrier, in campaigns across the south Pacific and Indian oceans.

Shortly after discharge in 1945, McConnell married his high school sweetheart and enrolled at Michigan State University on the GI Bill, where he studied business and played football for Clarence L. “Biggie” Munn. Following graduation, McConnell and his family moved back to West Virginia, where he took a position with Weirton Steel Corp. While working for Weirton Steel, McConnell identified a niche in the industry for custom steel processing services. Convinced of the soundness of the idea, he used his 1952 Oldsmobile as collateral for a $600 loan and brokered a load of steel for $1,200. He made $600 on the transaction, and in 1955 launched Worthington Industries Inc. in Columbus, Ohio—and with it the steel processing industry.

By the time he died in April 2008, Worthington Industries had 8,000 employees in 69 facilities in 10 countries, was traded on the New York Stock Exchange and had annual sales of about $3 billion.

McConnell’s vision and entrepreneurial acumen has gained him entrance as a 2014 inductee into AMM’s Steel Hall of Fame.

In 1956, Worthington Industries’ first full year in operation, the company had sales of $342,000 and earnings of $11,000, and the gamble that McConnell had taken the previous year was about to take off in a big way. The company expanded and added processing facilities in the late 1950s and 1960s at a time when iron, steel and manufacturing were driving the U.S. economy.

The company made its first major diversification in 1971, when it purchased a small cylinder facility. That diversified subsidiary would become Worthington Cylinders, one of the company’s core businesses and a driver of profitability over the years. By 1976, after just 21 years in business, Worthington Industries celebrated $100 million in sales, and growth and expansion continued throughout the 1980s.

McConnell, who was known as “Mr. Mac,” had a vision of employee relations that was sometimes at odds with steel industry practices. As chief executive officer, McConnell was frequently seen walking the floors of Worthington facilities, and he knew many of his employees by name. The open door and two-way communication policies practiced by McConnell and Worthington Industries have often been cited as the basis for the company’s success. McConnell established what he called “the Golden Rule,” in which customers, employees, investors and suppliers were treated as Worthington management wanted to be treated.

McConnell instituted profit sharing at Worthington Industries as far back as 1966. At the same time, all production workers were put on a salary rather than hourly wages. In 1968, Worthington made its first public stock offering of 150,000 shares at $7.50 per share. The profit-sharing plan made many of the company’s employees millionaires. For much of its history, Worthington has made every effort to fill job openings from candidates within the company.

McConnell’s business philosophy helped make Worthington Industries one of Fortune magazine’s “Top 100 Companies to Work for in America.” Worthington Industries helped pioneer the concept of onsite health and wellness, opening a center at its Columbus headquarters staffed with three full-time physicians and a pharmacy.

McConnell stepped down as chief executive officer in 1996 and handed the reins of the company to his son, John P. McConnell, who continued the family’s record of leadership of Worthington Industries.

In his retirement years, McConnell established a reputation for philanthropy and generosity that made him one of the most beloved residents of central Ohio. He and his wife, Peggy, contributed more than $15 million to Riverside Hospital of Columbus and its parent, OhioHealth Corp. The donation was used to fund the McConnell Heart Health Center at Riverside Hospital, which provides residents with a level of cardiac care unsurpassed in the Midwest.

In 2007, McConnell honored the memory of his late wife with a $1-million contribution to the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center in the Columbus suburb of Worthington. The center, which features a 220-seat auditorium, classrooms, studios, offices and exhibit space, is a centerpiece venue for the arts community in central Ohio.

McConnell’s love of sports was manifested by his 1997 organization of a group of investors to bring the National Hockey League to Columbus. The Columbus Blue Jackets played its first NHL game in 2000 and is today a source of fierce civic pride. McConnell followed up by helping to establish the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation in March 2000 to help improve the quality of life throughout central Ohio.

McConnell was named Chief Executive Officer of the Year by Financial World magazine, and Industry Week magazine recognized him for Excellence in Management. He also was the recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, the National Football Foundation Gold Medal Award, the Ohio Governor’s Award and the Michigan State University Outstanding Alumni Award, and was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame, the Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame and the Columbus Hall of Fame.

Paul Dillon
Gerry Heffernan
Agostino Rocca