When Chris Richards took the reins of AM/NS Calvert earlier this year, he was taking on more than a new job. He was leading a transition.
Richards was named president of the 1,800-acre steel processing plant near Mobile, Ala. at the same time as ArcelorMittal (IW 1000/49) and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. (IW 1000/84) were finalizing their purchase of the facility from ThyssenKrupp (IW 1000/82).
"Challenging is probably the best way to describe it," says Richards.
While Richards was no stranger to joint ventures (he served as the president of I/N Tek & I/N Kote -- ArcelorMittal and NSSMC’s joint venture in New Carlisle, Ind. for the past eight years), the Calvert plant was a complex case.
Not only was he trying to develop a new culture, he was also "dealing with the exhale from the final sale of the facility," says Richards. He was merging the vestiges of the German ThyssenKrupp influence with the new culture of ArcelorMittal and Japanese NSSMC, all in Alabama, a southern state with its own identity.
Richards came into the facility with three clear priorities: safety, quality and reliability. Safety, especially, was of paramount concern because the facility was – and still is – ramping up to full design capacity.
The plant, which is still under construction and is operating at about 80% of final annual capacity, was opened just four years ago by ThyssenKrupp.
"Mostly it was spending time on the floor and making sure people understood what our safety rules and requirements were," the president says.
"We're starting to settle into what we want to have as a new culture here and now it's a matter of getting that word out on what our priorities are."
In taking the lead at AM/NS Calvert, Richards made a pledge to employees: he would meet each employee individually. And that was no easy task at a facility with 1,550 employees and a river terminal, hot strip mill, cold rolling mill, rail yard and four hot dip galvanizing lines.
"A lot of this is talking to people and engaging with people. We spend a lot of time on the floor talking," says Richards, noting the facility's quarterly all-employee meetings.
Now, just seven months after the acquisition, ArcelorMittal and NSSMC are pouring $40 million into a slab yard expansion project and $6.7 million into the No.4 continuous coating line, investments set to bring the facility up to its total annual capacity of 5.3 million metric tons by mid-2016.