9. The US Steel Story

There is no doubt that my Dad had an unusual way of teaching.  He taught almost by parable, but not quite.  He would tell a story, sometimes funny, and leave the rest for you to figure out on your own.  There were times when it must have been apparent that the story or lesson was a little more than the listener [me] could handle.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t lasting in it’s impression; after all I remember them to this day, but sometimes it took many years for me to completely understand what the lesson was tying to impart.

This particular story had to do with US Steel.  Well, maybe it didn’t, but that was what he had said at the time.  In fact, this story could have applied to any company anywhere in the world and I think he just pulled the name US Steel out of a hat.  I know that Dad had always wanted me to go into some type of business pursuit.   I eventually did, albeit kicking and screaming, but I enjoyed it tremendously.  The story, as he told it to me, goes like this.

There is a company called US Steel and they had 5 plants where they performed different functions.  Naturally they made steel but they also had several other related businesses as well.  These businesses supported the main business of making steel and thus were integral to the overall functioning of the corporation.  Each plant was managed by a Vice President who had complete control over all operations at that plant.  Four of the plants were successful and profitable.  The fifth plant however, was always in some kind of trouble.  They often had labor problems, they were never profitable, and their output was often late and/or of low quality.  Since this affected the overall company, the President decided to do something.  He replaced the VP with someone new.  A year went by but nothing changed.  So he replaced the VP again. After four years of this he tried once again with a new VP.  Within 3 months product deliveries were on time and high quality.  Within 6 months all the labor problems were solved and no one had been fired.  And within 9 months the plant, for the first time in it’s history, was profitable.  As a result the entire corporation was much more profitable. 

 How much do you pay that guy?

Well, there is no real answer to this question.  The question contains so many complexities and variables that any single answer would be both correct and incorrect.  But it does get you thinking about your value in the workplace and how your actions are perceived where you work.  Is it fair to call this guy an innovator?  Is he just a really good senior manager?  Whatever you call him, it’s clear that he saw the same set of problems that his predecessors did, only he set about fixing them.  His predecessors accepted the problems as status quo without a single thought as to how to make things better.

There is much indignation about those who make millions every year at their jobs.  In the US, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the kings of the evil empire of riches.  Then there is Larry Ellison, the late Steve Jobs and the latest entrant into the club is Mark Zukerberg (Facebook).  Each of these men had unique and highly prized qualities that led them to financial success.  Instead of trying to find fault with these people, ask yourself a question.  When you enter a situation that is fraught with problems, do you take that opportunity to make things better or do you accept things for the way there are?  Your answer may have a surprising connection to your financial success in life.  I don’t need to give you the answer to Dads little story.  I only need to re-tell the story with the same hope he had that the story itself will have a lasting effect on you.

 © J T Weaver

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About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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4 Responses to 9. The US Steel Story

  1. My dad worked for Oilwell Supply a division of US Steel. enjoyed this… made me think.


  2. Jnana Hodson says:

    Was it all really “this guy”? Or was it how he treated and empowered the rest of the workers? Getting the operation in gear required teamwork, not top-down dictatorial imperatives.
    Put another way, too, is the question of how much the other VPs were overpaid.


    • J T Weaver says:

      Exactly. Because he was able to empower the workers, it was by definition, this guy. Getting people to work as a team is no small accomplishment that few, even today, can accomplish. His assignment was to bring that plant into the black. Because of what he did, as you say, he redefined what VPs in that situation should be paid.

      Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad you enjoyed the story.


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