Ceramic Industry

PROFILES OF LEADERSHIP: Charles W. Connors

October 1, 2004
President and CEO, Magneco/Metrel, Addison, Ill.



Background

Charles W. Connors literally grew up connected to the iron and steel industry-his father was a foreman with U.S. Steel. Connors received a bachelor's degree in ceramic engineering from the University of Illinois in 1960, and attended night school while working a full-time day job to earn a law degree from DePaul University in 1967. He served three years in the U.S. Navy, worked at U.S. Steel as a ceramic engineer/trainee, and was a general manager at Nalco Chemical Co. prior to joining Magneco as chief executive officer in January 1979. He also served as a consultant to Metrel from 1979 to 1981.

Notable Achievements

In January 1981, Connors successfully negotiated a merger between Magneco and Metrel to form Magneco/Metrel, Inc., a manufacturer of specialized, high-performance refractories. The company has grown at an average compound rate of nearly 8.29% per year since its founding, despite some very difficult times in the iron, steel and related industries. In 1981, Magneco/Metrel's sales were around $7.8 million; in 2003, its sales reached $42.5 million, and its projected 2004 revenues are $45 million. Magneco/Metrel's technology is used around the world-about 35% of its business is outside the U.S., and that figure is steadily growing. The company was recently recognized with an Excellence in Exporting award from the state of Ohio, where Magneco/Metrel has a plant in Negley, across the border from the traditional steel center of Pittsburgh.

Connors was an outspoken proponent of the Section 201 tariffs, which were implemented in March 2002 to protect the U.S. steel industry from increasing imports, and he testified before the International Trade Commission about the need for such protections. Despite warnings from Connors and others about the potentially dire consequences to the U.S. steel industry, the Bush Administration terminated the program in December 2003-a full 15 months ahead of the promised March 2005 deadline. Connors says that the tariffs, while they lasted, did provide the U.S. steel industry with a much-needed window to upgrade their operations and repair their furnaces. However, he remains concerned about the future state of the industry, especially as imports have again surged in 2004.

Keys to Success

Connors attributes the company's success to its strong emphasis on products and applications. While other refractory suppliers "tend to sell bricks and other standard commodities to be used in a standard way, Magneco/Metrel sells solutions to high-temperature problems in the form of unique products," he says. He also credits the company's intense marketing and sales efforts, and dedication to providing value to heavy industry-particularly the iron making industry.

Connors' own commitment to the company and industry has been a significant driving force. At one point, Connors personally invested approximately half of his retirement savings fund in Magneco/Metrel and mortgaged his family's farms to provide enough capital to see the company through the hard times created by the bankruptcies in the steel industry. "That definitely put my dedication to the test," he says.

Future Goals for Magneco/Metrel

Connors expects Magneco/Metrel to double in size over the next seven years by further broadening its customer base, both geographically and by product application.

"We want to continue to be a leader in the application of ceramic technology for refractory products," he says.

Magneco/Metrel can be reached at 223 Interstate Rd., Addison, IL 60101; (630) 543-6660; fax (630) 543-1479; e-mail marketing@magneco-metrel.com ; or http://www.magneco-metrel.com .

Perspectives

On Leadership: "A good leader should possess both intelligence and integrity, along with a positive and optimistic approach. However, the optimism must be tempered with enough realism and caution so as not to overextend the company in view of uncertainties. I believe that specific knowledge of a business, technology and/or industry is more important than general knowledge of 'business.' I also believe that management is important, but that leadership is even more important, and there can be no leadership without integrity."

On Industry Trends: "More emphasis will increasingly be placed on equipment availability between customers and the refractory industry. For this reason, the emphasis should be not only on longer refractory life, but also on minimizing the time and cost involved in repairs. Attention must also be paid to the ultimate disposal of any refractory that is made to minimize the environmental and cost impacts."

On Operating in a Global Economy: "To succeed in today's economy, companies must be highly flexible and innovative, and must constantly improve the products that they offer. They must also pay continuous attention to the needs of the marketplace."