Steel Products

Ace Steel Supply: A Sitdown With Bruce and Austin

Written by Becca Moczygemba

The 2022 NexGen Award winner Austin Reynolds is eager to innovate and create an impact in the steel business. Traits that helped him earn an accolade claimed by just three recipients before him. Steel Market Update (SMU) sat down with Austin and Ace Steel Supply’s COO Bruce Margolin, to find out what it takes to stand out in such a dynamic industry.

Below is the full text of the interview.

SMU: How long have you been with Ace Steel?

Reynolds: 2 years


SMU: So how did you get started in the steel industry?

Reynolds: In 2015 I was in between my first job out of college where I failed in a sales position selling heavy equipment. My mother has been in the steel business for 40-plus years and worked from home when I was younger. She had Curtis Steel as a customer and knew their CEO really well. They needed someone young to come in and learn their machinery and bring efficiency, consistency, and accountability to their shop. They had tenured 15-30-year employees, but nobody behind them to carry on. I was at Curtis for 4.5 years, started on the packaging line, worked my way up to where I was managing a crew of 12 guys and took it as far as it could go. We were averaging around 285,000-300,000 lbs. per shift, and it got to the point where I was burned out. It had become where we were just trying to keep enough manpower on. I was going between days and nights. I was passionate about sales and wanted to get back into it and found a listing on LinkedIn for Ace Steel. Bruce asked me to interview, and it went well. From day one, my book of business was built solely based on processing knowledge and knowing customer specs, order quantity, and order consistency.


SMU: That’s cool that your mom worked from home when you were a kid, especially since it was so rare back then for people to work from home. How did that impact you and your career?

Reynolds: She was very involved in my development. Most kids I knew only had access to one parent, the mom or the dad, but I was fortunate that my mom got to take me to school every day, pick me up, then I saw my dad when he came home from work, so she was very involved in school and sports. She traveled, but because she worked from home, I got to see her day-to-day life and she got to see me grow. It allowed me to be exposed to the steel industry. I spent time watching TV in her office, going to baseball games, meeting her customers and bosses, and spending time with her on business trips.


SMU: You’ve worked in processing, now in sales, but aside from job function, what’s your favorite thing about the steel industry?

Reynolds: Well, there are three things I love about the steel business: steel is an old industry that isn’t going anywhere, it’s an industry where parts of it are immune to change and there’s a lot of grit in the steel business but on the flip side there are many segments of the industry that are craving innovation and I think we’re at the very beginning of the innovation. And most importantly if your reputation is maintained and your relationships are maintained, I don’t think it matters what the market is like, your relationships can give you resilience.


SMU: Speaking of relationships, you obviously have a very good relationship with Bruce (Ace Steel’s COO). What role do you think that played in your recent achievement of the NexGen award and what advice would you give other up-and-coming individuals in our industry?

Reynolds: The biggest part of my success is that I was raised to never quit and to pay my dues. One thing I love about Bruce is that he’s not a guy who wears his ego on his sleeves, he plays to his employees’ strengths, then lets them utilize those strengths. For someone in a management role, you can’t allow your employees to flourish if you know everything. A lot of things I brought to Ace are completely foreign to someone like Bruce, who is also new to the steel business. I think playing off your employees’ strengths and letting them make suggestions and run with new opportunities was a key to my success. Bruce managed more of my mistakes than he did my successes and it allowed me to learn about failure and learn success within the industry. I went from working at Curtis in the plant right out of college and worked my way up to where I am today.


SMU: Do you think starting at the bottom and working your way up has made you better at your current job?

Reynolds: No doubt. Aside from being managed well, it’s very humbling to start at the bottom, especially after college where you’re told that education is going to put you at a certain place in the pecking order. Working in that shop, regardless of title or what you were brought there to do, it doesn’t matter, you have to earn respect out there and you have to convince those guys to work with you and train you. In my case, now you had a kid who was a trainee who is now your supervisor, and you have to convince those older, more experienced guys to take the direction the company wants to go in. You must be punctual; you have to do what you say you’re going to do; your word is everything. I would say that personally and professionally, I’m only measured by the weight of my word and my results.


SMU: Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

Reynolds: I see myself in the steel business. I hope that I can be an innovator, whether it’s how we sell it, how we buy it, or process it, I hope to be heavily involved in that. What does that look like as far as where I’ll be, that’s to be seen. Right now, I’m working for Ace Steel Supply, and we’ve got a business structure that’s proven to be successful, and I think right now our focus would be to keep running with it and growing the business.


SMU: Is there anything you want people to know about you or Ace Steel?

Reynolds: I can’t say it enough, I’ve always valued relationships over any amount of money, and to win an award like SMU NexGen recognized me for, I’ll continue to spend the rest of my career earning the worthiness of it.


SMU: What’s the history behind Ace Steel Supply?

Margolin: Our founder, Adam Osborn, started Ace out of his one-bedroom apartment. After serving in the Navy, he moved to Houston in 1994 looking for more opportunities. He started as a warehouseman at McNichols Company, then moved into sales, and eventually became the top salesperson. In 1995 he went to work for Ferro Union, and by 2005 he had doubled the sales of the territory. June of 2005, he emptied his retirement accounts and borrowed $450,000 from his grandmother. By the end of the year, just six months after starting the company, sales were at $1.8 million. Then, in April of 2006, he rented a 24,000-square-foot warehouse and by 2009 he paid off his grandmother and bought the building.


SMU: How long have you been with Ace Steel?

Margolin: I joined the company in January 2019, so approaching four years. I’ve gotten to experience market conditions that I think present themselves over 100 years within that four-year condensed period, and probably some black swan events that will never again occur, it’s certainly been unique.


SMU: Do you have a background in steel? How did you get into the industry?

Margolin: My background is not in steel. I had a 40-year career as a business owner. I built a global marine supply business, supplying ocean-going vessels and deep-water support vessels with anything required to operate for a voyage or for their activities. That combined purchasing, distribution, importation, and supply chain activities. After building the business, I had the opportunity to sell to a private equity firm. It was a changing landscape, and it was an opportune time. I stayed on with the company for 2 years and left in 2018, but I decided it wasn’t time to hang it up. I met Adam Osborn from Ace Steel who was looking for someone who could help him run his company while he was dealing with an illness. I can assure you it was not the location that drew my attention, because it’s not exactly the garden spot of Houston, but I saw it as an opportunity to help someone.


SMU: What is one piece of business advice you would give to someone who is a young businessperson?

Margolin: Always do the right thing, be ethical, and never, ever give up. You must persevere if you believe strongly enough in something. Having said that, you also must be intelligent enough to determine when enough is enough and when you might have to change course.


SMU: What’s in store for the future at Ace Steel?

Margolin: My approach is to focus on the people, the value we create, and the profit. I think that holds for any business you run because sometimes you can be the best and still not succeed. We’re fortunate, the company is progressing nicely, and upward mobility is the next step. We have developed a terrific team and focus solely on the performance of Ace. Quite honestly, we don’t think about our competition, we don’t try to copy them. We want to be ourselves. We just try to keep improving our people, services, and the value we provide. It all starts with our people, and this is our number one asset. We’re developing the team we already have and strengthening their skills so they can become better assets to themselves and the company. We’ll continue with the fortitude to follow that direction, but we also have to open our horizons. Adam passed away in October 2021 after an 8-year battle with cancer but signed a letter of intent to sell Ace the evening before he passed. In May of this year, Ace was sold to Commercial Steel Products, which will allow us to build and continue to grow for years to come. We have high aspirations.

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By Becca Moczygemba,

Becca Moczygemba

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