Steel Mills

Trammell on BRS: It's a Culture, Not Just a Mill

Written by Sandy Williams

Imagine being told to create a steel mill out of an empty field in Arkansas. How would you even begin?

That was the challenge presented to Lenore Trammell, Chief Compliance Officer at Big River Steel. Moving from Detroit to the rural South, Trammell plunged herself into securing construction contracts and building a team that could transform the dream of BRS founder John Correnti into reality.

Lenore Trammel2Living out of the Blytheville Holiday Inn, Trammell worked with a small group of team members to begin the process of building the Big River Steel Flex Mill and the corporate culture necessary to make it a success.

The key was creating a foundation—the operating committee—a group of leaders who believed Correnti’s vision was possible and that they could accomplish it, said Trammell during a presentation at the Association of Women in the Metal Industries (AWMI) conference in November. Status quo wasn’t big enough for this project, it needed the heart of a teacher, the mindset of an entrepreneur and the drive of a tech start-up. Commitment, courage and expertise formed the foundation needed to build the culture that would become Big River Steel, Trammell said.

Next came the support beams that would keep the BRS organization upright and spread the weight across the company. The beams were the supervisors and leads, said Trammell, people who were knowledgeable and passionate about the company who could find the potential in employees. Leaders who could listen, be gracious but also be persuasive.

Energy was next—the power to rise from utilization of resources and working of machines. The hiring of operators for the mill was extended to the underserved populations of the region. All applications were online, and stations were set up in churches, libraries, schools and daycares to provide computer access to applicants who may not have computers or even bank accounts. BRS received over 4,000 applications for 400 jobs.

Applicants were screened for previous manufacturing experience, veteran status and prior training. BRS provided voluntary pre-employment training that helped to evaluate candidate potential, while imparting skills that would benefit the applicant and community whether they were hired by BRS or not.

After candidates were hired, a Correnti philosophy kicked in: “Give workers the best equipment, the best training and get out of their way.”

Corporate culture is the personality of the company, said Trammell. “Character equals culture. Watch your actions for they become your habits, watch your habits for they become your character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”

John Correnti died before he could see his dream come to life. Trammell was among those on the team who came to the project because of the desire to work with Correnti. On his passing, she was the “mom” of the team, worrying about how everyone was coping and making sure that construction was completed.

Big River Steel is now the success that Correnti imagined, and the company recently turned away suitors looking to buy the operations, deciding instead to move ahead with a $1.2 billion expansion plan.

Trammell advised AWMI members to remember the basics of foundation, support beams and energy when building their own successful corporate cultures.

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