How a Manufacturing Company Earned ‘Best of the Best’

For Mill Steel, 2008 has been a truly amazing year.

In May, the company was selected as the “Best of the Best” of the 101 Best Companies to Work For in West Michigan by the Michigan Business & Professional Association (MBPA). In August, the company was 1 of only 16 companies in Michigan, and the only manufacturing company, that was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. In October, Mill Steel owner and CEO David Samrick and his wife Susan, along with Mill Steel Company, were recipients of the Edith Blodgett Compassion Award and the honorees at the Annual Benefit Banquet of D.A. Blodgett for Children, for contributions to, and in support of, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program. In November, Mill Steel was selected as the “Best of the Best” of the 101 Best Companies to Work For in Metropolitan Detroit.

Who is Mill Steel and how did we achieve this? Mill Steel is a family owned steel service center headquartered in Grand Rapids with its largest manufacturing facility in Melvindale, near Detroit. Our factory employees are represented by the United Steel Workers of America. Our relationship with our union employees is no different than the non-union employees. We are all part of the same team.

Harry Samrick (David’s father) founded the business in 1959. His basic philosophy about building a business team was a solid one. Harry stated it over and over: “Hire the right people, teach them the business and then get out of their way.” It is still the driving philosophy of our people development program today.

The value in those three simple steps cannot be overstated:

“Hiring the right people” means an in-depth recruiting and hiring process. Even though we have a substantial cost investment in this process, we have learned that hiring the wrong people “costs” a lot more.

“Teach them the business” includes the creation of our internal, ongoing, education and training programs. The University of Mill Steel is an online system available to all employees. A key factor in “teach them the business” is ongoing mentoring. Each manager guides his or her people to become all they are capable of being and gives each employee a quarterly Continuous Improvement Assessment. They openly discuss the needed steps to reach the goal the manager and employee have together set for the employee.

“Get out of their way” is the key ingredient to innovation, impressive achievement and ultimately, to success. People will never be all they can be if someone is always watching over their shoulders or blocking their paths of discovery. It is also the hardest thing for a manager to do. When you are responsible for the outcome, it takes trust to “take your hands off” and let the employee go. Helping our managers learn how to “let go” is a great mentoring opportunity for our leadership team.

The Mill Steel management team has worked hard at driving this philosophy deep into the business. By consistently making use of teaching tools like The Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Good to Great by Jim Collins, the University of Mill Steel, along with state-of-the-company addresses to keep everyone updated at our monthly employee appreciation luncheons, and staying close to the heartbeat of our team members and genuinely listening to their input, we keep returning to the fundamentals of the game.

It truly has been an amazing year for Mill Steel and this company is very honored by the recognition we’ve received. We believe Harry’s philosophy and motto has helped Mill Steel Company build our winning team. A winning team-”focused on bringing its very best to the market it serves-”is a winning combination.

Tom Stanfield is the people development director at Mill Steel, a family owned steel service center headquartered in Grand Rapids and with operations in Melvindale, Mich. Mill Steel was selected for the highest elite award, Best of the Best, for both 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For in West Michigan and Metropolitan Detroit. He may be contacted at [email protected].