The odds are stacked against a business
surviving 100 years.
Major recessions, technical challenges
and process setbacks all served to put the
company and its people on a different,
sometimes unexpected path. The hardest
blows came when an employee was
seriously injured, or died. It was that sort
of event that delivered an emotional blow
that remained with people for life. But in
dark times like these, the Dofasco family
has always been known to pull together
to collectively recover and soldier on… to
analyze and understand what happened,
to throw themselves into creating an ever
more passionate approach to prevent it
from happening again.
In the early days it was a shoestring
operation. WWI changed that with a boom
of orders. But post war brought more
challenges and the 1920s were brutal.
Dofasco folklore has it that the company
even resorted to paying employees
in groceries.
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought
another downturn and significant layoffs. It
was a crash that left no one immune. With
the gradual recovery and the onslaught of
WWII, the company regained its position,
and even prospered as the only armour
plate producer in Canada. Post WWII
brought a period of adjustment too – from
a total focus on the war to the return to
business as usual.
The result was significant growth
through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Expansion abounded and new frontiers
were conquered.
By the 1970s, shorter economic cycles
with small recessions became the norm.
But by 1982 a threatening economic storm
appeared on the horizon and it would
eventually bring the worst drop in business
in a single year since the Depression. In
response, the company began issuing
lay-off notices.
To survive the reduced domestic demand
the company looked to offshore business
with low profit margins. Everyone hoped
for a turnaround but it wasn’t forthcoming
and by September president F.H. Sherman
confirmed an impending layoff of nearly
people. Operations were slowed and
the company buckled down. The remaining
employees, hundreds of whom took on
new assignments, focused on getting the
company back in a position to rehire those
laid off. By spring 1983 the call backs
began and within a year, all those on layoff
had returned to a much leaner and nimbler
organization. But there was a new context
overcapacity and hyper-competitiveness,
driving the need to boost efficiency and
remain nimble.
Within 10 years, another recession hit hard.
The acquisition of Algoma Steel in Sault Ste.
Marie in 1988 had drained the company
of cash and become a major distraction.
Two years later, Dofasco returned Algoma
to its employees, debt holders and the
government in order to put all effort into
the Hamilton operations. Early retirement
incentives came first. Then a major
downsizing ensued with early retirement
packages, layoffs and the shut down of
No. 1 Hot Mill and No. 1 Steelmaking
under an initiative called the Functional
Improvement Program (FIP). It was, bar
none, the company’s most turbulent period
in its history.
As the company navigated through the
massive restructuring, a new strategy was
launched. Solutions in Steel was a credo
that saw the company pursue increasingly
sophisticated and higher value products,
working hand-in-hand with customers to
co-develop new steels. The new Dofasco
and its new steel emerged to applause from
shareholders and the business community.
In the 20 years after FIP, the industry has
faced a new paradigm with even shorter
and steeper economic cycles coupled
with true globalization. On the eve of
its second century of steelmaking came
yet another challenge: the significant
decline in North American and European
manufacturing driven by global economic
forces. The pressures demanded an even
leaner organization, one half the size of
the Dofasco of the late 1980s as well as
another full assessment of the company.
AMD100 was launched in 2011 to help
ensure the sustainability of the company
as well as make changes designed to
help reach the ultimate in productivity
and efficiency.
With capacity and competitiveness at an all
time high, the cost to produce steel is now
measured in employee minutes per tonne
of shipped steel while quality excellence is
measured in tenths of a percentage point.
What isn’t as easily measured is the heart
and soul that pours into the plant each and
everyday to keep the fires burning, and the
coils turning. A combination of leadership,
perseverance and a willingness to roll with
change has kept ArcelorMittal Dofasco not
only in the mix, but in the distinguished
position of continuing to be the region’s
largest private employer and the heart
of Steeltown.
Tough times called for
steely resolve