Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Written by Tim Triplett


I find myself looking backwards this week, which is something I try never to do. Onward and upward is my motto. But on the occasion of one’s retirement, it seems compulsory to reflect on the past.

In a way, I owe my career to Richard Nixon. When I graduated from Wheaton Central High School in 1974, the Watergate scandal was in the headlines. Woodward and Bernstein became heroes by arranging an early retirement for a corrupt president. Enrollment at journalism schools surged, and I was among them. There was something exciting about a career as a journalist. It’s not just a job, but a calling.

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I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor covering small-town city hall and education beats, in the early years banging out stories on an old IBM Selectric (that’s a typewriter, for you millennials). That was where I got my real education. I’ll never forget the crusty copy editor who leaned over my shoulder one day, yanked the paper from my machine and used it to blow his nose. “Start over,” he said. I learned a lot from that guy.  

I also learned that at a community newspaper, the hours were long, the pay was lousy and the daily routines of publishing were not very romantic. It was not The Washington Post, and it was also not very conducive to raising a family. So I went to night school for three years, earned an MBA and became a business writer. Along the way I worked for a variety of trade publications and eventually landed at Metal Center News, where I spent nearly 20 years reporting on steel distribution for an audience of service center executives.

That’s where I crossed paths with John Packard and eventually joined Steel Market Update. I’d like to thank John for helping me extend my career well past the point where so many others of my generation found themselves rendered irrelevant as technology passed them by. It was no easy transition from publishing a monthly print magazine to the daily deadlines of an e-newsletter and website. In the process, I learned a lot from John about the nuances of the steel trade, which really helped to inform and focus my work. His guidance and patience had a lot to do with my success. The last five years with SMU have been among the most demanding of my career, but also the most rewarding.

Thanks also to my colleagues on the SMU and CRU staffs, whom I wish I could have gotten to know better but for COVID and work-at-home rules that reduced us to faces on a screen for the most part. I have collaborated with many people over the years, but none more dedicated and professional then this crew. SMU is in very good hands.

To say I have mixed emotions about departing SMU is an understatement. In some ways it’s like leaving in the middle of a really good movie; I had a front-row seat to all the drama and intrigue in steel, and now I won’t get to witness how it all turns out. I’ll have to read about it secondhand like everyone else. (It’s not much of a whodunnit these days; Putin is clearly the bad guy.)

Of the thousands of news items I’ve written over the years, the case studies focusing on family firms are the most memorable for me. As one of my favorite authors once observed: “The metals industry is home to thousands of small family-owned businesses. They have an essential advantage over other corporate enterprises. Successful family businesses pass from one generation to the next because it’s not all about the money. It’s about unity and a willingness to put family business goals ahead of self-interest. It’s about going to work every day with a sense of purpose and a special urgency to succeed and not let others down. It’s about establishing a set of core values that guide how you treat colleagues and customers, whether they have the same last name or not. At the best of them, it’s about love – love for what you do and whom you do it with.”

I wrote that five years ago when I left Metal Center News to join SMU and it resonates with me even more intensely today as I say farewell to my SMU/CRU family and the steel community at large. To all who may have read my work over the years, I hope I have been of some service.

Tim Triplett, SMU Executive Editor, Tim@SteelMarketUpdate.com

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