Business

Man of steely results

From an office overlooking SouthPark's treetops and uptown's skyline, Dan DiMicco rattles off his company's latest accomplishments: several major acquisitions, plans for a new iron-making plant – not to mention record first-quarter results.

DiMicco, 58, is chief executive of Charlotte-based Nucor, the largest U.S. steelmaker by volume, with 18,000 employees and $16.6 billion in revenue last year. His company ranks No. 151 on this year's Fortune 500 list.

Since he took the helm in 2000, the company's stock price has surged nearly 700 percent, helped by sharp increases in steel prices. DiMicco, who made about $6.7 million last year in salary, bonus and stock awards, spoke with the Observer recently about his industry's future, life after Nucor and his classic car collection. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:

Q. How is the steel industry doing?

It's faring very well right now. Even though local demand is down because of the economy, we have a good balance between supply and demand because of the lack of imports.

That has put us in a situation where the domestic steel industry has pricing power, which has been absolutely critical, because our raw material costs have gone through the roof. The other thing working in our favor is that the dollar is weaker than it has been for some time. That has allowed us to export our product into the strong global market.

Overall, the dynamics are such that they're creating a very profitable environment for the U.S. steel industry and Nucor in particular.

Q. If the demand for steel were to suddenly slow, would that ruin Nucor?

You have to be able to take advantage of strong markets when they occur and survive tough markets when they occur. Nucor has done both better than anyone else.

There's absolutely no doubt that when you have a strong market, you're more successful, but by the same token, if you look back at Nucor's history, you would see that it was always opportunistic in the down times to grow its company at the lowest possible cost and prepare for good times in the future.

Q. A few years ago, steel companies were complaining that illegally traded foreign steel was hurting the U.S. steel industry. You successfully pushed the Bush administration to put a tariff on foreign steel. Considering Nucor's recent success, was that fight worthwhile?

Absolutely. Our position is, we all have a responsibility to follow global trading rules, and they were set up to maintain a viable market. We have to fight very hard, and we have to spend millions of dollars to fight these cases as an industry and individual companies, but it's been worth every penny, and we'll continue to do so as necessary.

Q. With all of Nucor's acquisitions, do you ever worry about taking on too much, too fast?

Yes, absolutely. We've handled it by sticking to our tenets for acquisitions. Don't overpay.

The second was to make sure we bought things we knew something about, so there's a comfort factor.

Third, we bought companies that were culturally compatible with ours. Nucor's culture, the way we treat one another, has probably been the most important reason we've been so successful.

I came to Nucor from another steel company in 1982 because its culture was, “We pay you for your performance, and we reward you for your performance,” and it was a growing company.

Our ability to continue to operate that way is helping us attract talent. You have to take breathers every now and then, but we have great people who work very hard, and we've been able to do all this growth without straining our system.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on this year's presidential election?

I do, and they will remain mine. I don't want to talk pros or cons about either candidate. The issues that are most important to Nucor have to do with making sure we have a fair trading system – not just free, but fair.

The second thing is to make sure we act responsibly when it comes to the issues of global warming and climate change and that we make sure we're putting something in place that is done in a fair way for the entire world to participate in.

The third thing is doing the right thing for our economy so we can regain our position of leadership in the eyes of the world and get our economy to the point where we are providing a better future for our children. That's always been the goal of this country, and I'm concerned we're beginning to lose that.

Q. Considering Nucor's success, do you ever think about just retiring and living the good life?

When I was a young engineer, my goal was to retire when I was 55 and teach at a university. Well, I'm 58, and I'm still here.

Some things have happened in my career and my life that I never thought I would see. I enjoy my job and the people I work with.

As you get older, you naturally think about retirement – and if you don't, the board of directors reminds you of a succession plan that needs to be developed, and we have a very good one.

Do I yearn for retirement? No. But will it happen some day? Yes. Exactly when it happens, I'm not forecasting.

Q. Have you had much time for your other hobbies, such as your car collection?

I don't spend as much time with my cars as I did before I came to Charlotte, but I do have them. I've upgraded my collection, so I've bought a few and gotten rid of a few.

I'm in great shape for retirement when it comes to cars. I play with them, drive them, do a little bit of work on them. I'd have to say my family, Nucor and cars are my three passions in life. And while I'm not perfect at any of them, I do my best.

From an office overlooking SouthPark's treetops and uptown's skyline, Dan DiMicco rattles off his company's latest accomplishments: several major acquisitions, plans for a new iron-making plant – not to mention record first-quarter results.

DiMicco, 58, is chief executive of Charlotte-based Nucor, the largest U.S. steelmaker by volume, with 18,000 employees and $16.6 billion in revenue last year. His company ranks No. 151 on this year's Fortune 500 list.

Since he took the helm in 2000, the company's stock price has surged nearly 700 percent, helped by sharp increases in steel prices. DiMicco, who made about $6.7 million last year in salary, bonus and stock awards, spoke with the Observer recently about his industry's future, life after Nucor and his classic car collection. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:

Q. How is the steel industry doing?

It's faring very well right now. Even though local demand is down because of the economy, we have a good balance between supply and demand because of the lack of imports.

That has put us in a situation where the domestic steel industry has pricing power, which has been absolutely critical, because our raw material costs have gone through the roof. The other thing working in our favor is that the dollar is weaker than it has been for some time. That has allowed us to export our product into the strong global market.

Overall, the dynamics are such that they're creating a very profitable environment for the U.S. steel industry and Nucor in particular.

Q. If the demand for steel were to suddenly slow, would that ruin Nucor?

You have to be able to take advantage of strong markets when they occur and survive tough markets when they occur. Nucor has done both better than anyone else.

There's absolutely no doubt that when you have a strong market, you're more successful, but by the same token, if you look back at Nucor's history, you would see that it was always opportunistic in the down times to grow its company at the lowest possible cost and prepare for good times in the future.

Q. A few years ago, steel companies were complaining that illegally traded foreign steel was hurting the U.S. steel industry. You successfully pushed the Bush administration to put a tariff on foreign steel. Considering Nucor's recent success, was that fight worthwhile?

Absolutely. Our position is, we all have a responsibility to follow global trading rules, and they were set up to maintain a viable market. We have to fight very hard, and we have to spend millions of dollars to fight these cases as an industry and individual companies, but it's been worth every penny, and we'll continue to do so as necessary.

Q. With all of Nucor's acquisitions, do you ever worry about taking on too much, too fast?

Yes, absolutely. We've handled it by sticking to our tenets for acquisitions. Don't overpay.

The second was to make sure we bought things we knew something about, so there's a comfort factor.

Third, we bought companies that were culturally compatible with ours. Nucor's culture, the way we treat one another, has probably been the most important reason we've been so successful.

I came to Nucor from another steel company in 1982 because its culture was, “We pay you for your performance, and we reward you for your performance,” and it was a growing company.

Our ability to continue to operate that way is helping us attract talent. You have to take breathers every now and then, but we have great people who work very hard, and we've been able to do all this growth without straining our system.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on this year's presidential election?

I do, and they will remain mine. I don't want to talk pros or cons about either candidate. The issues that are most important to Nucor have to do with making sure we have a fair trading system – not just free, but fair.

The second thing is to make sure we act responsibly when it comes to the issues of global warming and climate change and that we make sure we're putting something in place that is done in a fair way for the entire world to participate in.

The third thing is doing the right thing for our economy so we can regain our position of leadership in the eyes of the world and get our economy to the point where we are providing a better future for our children. That's always been the goal of this country, and I'm concerned we're beginning to lose that.

Q. Considering Nucor's success, do you ever think about just retiring and living the good life?

When I was a young engineer, my goal was to retire when I was 55 and teach at a university. Well, I'm 58, and I'm still here.

Some things have happened in my career and my life that I never thought I would see. I enjoy my job and the people I work with.

As you get older, you naturally think about retirement – and if you don't, the board of directors reminds you of a succession plan that needs to be developed, and we have a very good one.

Do I yearn for retirement? No. But will it happen some day? Yes. Exactly when it happens, I'm not forecasting.

Q. Have you had much time for your other hobbies, such as your car collection?

I don't spend as much time with my cars as I did before I came to Charlotte, but I do have them. I've upgraded my collection, so I've bought a few and gotten rid of a few.

I'm in great shape for retirement when it comes to cars. I play with them, drive them, do a little bit of work on them. I'd have to say my family, Nucor and cars are my three passions in life. And while I'm not perfect at any of them, I do my best.

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