One of the largest development projects in Mississippi in recent years has been the Severstal steel plant in Columbus. This innovative “mini-mill” recycles steel for use in the auto industry and many other applications. Between the phase one project (completed in 2007) and phase two (completed in 2011), over $1.4 billion has been invested in this “state of the art” facility on 1,400 acres in the Golden Triangle. The 1-million square-foot plant employs approximately 650 people and is capable of producing 3.4 million net tons of hot rolled sheet, which can be further processed to 1.9 million net tons of cold rolled and 1.1 million net tons of galvanized and galvannealed sheet products each year.
At the helm of this plant is Madhu Ranade, who serves as vice president and general manager. Ranade joined the company in June 2013 and brought a wealth of experience to this important role. A native of Mumbai, India, Ranade graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. After graduation, he came to the United States with one suitcase, $20 in his pocket and a full scholarship for graduate school at the University of California. After graduating with an M.S. in materials science and mineral engineering, his first industry job was with the Research Department at Inland Steel where he developed a passion for implementing innovative technological improvements.
Ranade’s leadership skills were recognized early on, and he was given increased responsibilities as he shifted his career to plant operations. Over the years, Inland Steel Company was acquired, and the new company grew fast through additional acquisitions to become ArcelorMittal — the world’s largest steel company. Ranade had the opportunity, as a vice president and general manager to run two of the three largest integrated steel plants in the United States — Indiana Harbor and Burns Harbor, (both located in Indiana), which produce steel starting from iron ore and coal. Ranade shared, “My team made great progress in productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability. I was quite happy with my work and had more plans in mind for the Burns Harbor plant. Then, out of the blue, came this opportunity to run the most modern mini-mill in the United States — Severstal Columbus in Mississippi.”
On his leadership philosophy, Ranade noted that because of his early years in research and technology fields, he always looks for opportunities to improve. He said, “I don’t have a standard formula — I do my best to understand each situation, the people involved, and the key levers for achieving substantial and sustainable progress.” He strongly believes that every individual has something valuable to offer for improving the business enterprise, as well as the local community. He shared, “My challenge is to unlock this potential.” Ranade continued, “I like to bring people together to build a cohesive team of members with different expertise and experiences. Major advances come from such cross-functional teams of people working together, where every member of the team feels needed, respected and valued.”
For future leaders, Ranade encourages them to “learn to do at least one thing very well — well enough to be considered as an expert.” He also understands the importance of building relationships. He said, “As a leader, you also have to focus on current and potential customers. It is important to get to know customers and understand their issues and opportunities.” He wisely noted, “In addition to satisfying quality and on time delivery requirements, you should strive to help customers achieve their own goals using your products and resources.”
Ranade and Severstal share a commitment to contributing to the local community. Ranade emphasized, “Each business enterprise has an obligation to contribute to the well-being of the local community. I encourage my team members to support local causes.” The Golden Triangle and the state of Mississippi will certainly be beneficiaries of this commitment over the years to come.
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.