Six months of adversity was not what Leon Topalian expected when he took over the reigns of Nucor in January. But a pandemic that devastated the economy, caused demand and pricing to plummet and put the very lives of employees in jeopardy was a formidable challenge to overcome.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen before in 25 years, 20 million tons of capacity removed by integrated producers in such a rapid way,” said Topalian during the SMU Steel Summit last week. As an electric arc producer, Nucor fared better than most during the height of the crisis. Fifty percent of Nucor’s product mix is in construction, which proved resilient and allowed capacity utilization to remain relatively strong and to increase above 80 percent in the past two months.
“With the culture we have at Nucor, incredibly strong and optimistic, we will come out of this pandemic a stronger, more diverse company than ever before,” said Topalian.
Nucor’s vision has not changed, he said. The company’s expansion plans at Brandenburg continue be on track for completion by the end of 2022, despite any “rough seas” until the pandemic ends. The new plate mill will produce plate 14 inches thick and 160 inches wide.
Topalian says Nucor’s products will continue to move up the value chain. “We already have and can supply exposed automotive steel to the industry. We expect that to double in the next three years from 1.5 million tons to 3 million tons, or 10 percent of the overall mix. That is the right size for us.”
Nucor has seen demand improving in flat products in both plate and sheet, with order entry rates up and lead times lengthening.
Will the election make a difference going forward? “I think we will see subtle differences in policy. At the end of the day we are successful no matter who is in office,” said Topalian. “We will continue to advocate for the industry.”
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