At Steel Warehouse, we value the power of relationships; relationships with our employees, our customers, and our partners such as Tata Steel with whom we are celebrating 60 years of conducting business together. Starting from humble beginnings based on a couple of people selling steel stock, our partnership now includes thousands of people and products such as Tata Steel’s Ympress® high strength steels and Valast® Abrasion Resistant for Steel Warehouse, HRPO+ for our Chesterfield Steel subsidiary and tubing for our Lock Joint Tube division.
Heritage is important to us and through the generations we have strengthened this partnership, which originally began in 1962 through connections established between businessman Amos Milo; Mr. Langkemper, sales director at Koninklijke Hoogovens, a Dutch steel producer founded in 1918 (now Tata Steel Nederland); and Nate Lerman of Steel Warehouse (SW).
Milo was selling steel from the U.S. to companies in India and initially met Langkemper at a steel event in India. The sales director disclosed the issues he was experiencing with the trading company currently representing Hoogovens in the U.S. They did not properly understand the steel industry and often took orders without collecting the necessary information. This led to numerous issues, including a company in Chicago rejecting an entire order of steel based upon incorrect tolerances. Given Milo’s experience, Langkemper was interested in Milo representing Hoogovens in the States.
Milo had heard that Steel Warehouse, in South Bend, IN., was a substantial buyer of hot rolled steel. He contacted Nate Lerman, one of the Steel Warehouse owners, regarding the available Hoogovens steel and then took the train from Chicago to South Bend for a meeting. When Lerman saw the complete list of available stock, he wanted the entire 5,000 tons. Lerman’s secretary hand-wrote the terms of this agreement on a yellow legal pad, which Milo took, folded up and put in his wallet.
The initial meeting between these entrepreneurs went longer than anticipated, prompting Lerman to invite Milo to spend the night at his home and launching what would become a lifelong working relationship, as well as a friendship.
Helping Each Other Grow
Milo’s knowledge of the steel industry and success in opening doors for their product in the U.S. impressed both the Dutch mill and Hoogovens, spurring Milo to set up an office in White Plains, NY. He developed a strong relationship with Steel Warehouse, which did not have much access to credit at the time. So, Milo would buy the steel from Hoogovens and resell to Steel Warehouse at favorable terms.
As time went on, Milo also sold Hoogovens steel to GM and Ford where there was opportunity for tougher to make steels that the domestic U.S. mills didn’t want to produce, and where there was also competition from Japanese product.
During this time, Milo was supplying steel to Continental Tube in Chicago, which had a very tough purchasing agent. After making a deal with Milo and Hoogovens, the buyer got wind that a Japanese company was selling a similar spec’d steel for less and demanded that Milo lower the price. With a contract already signed, Milo refused and said, “…if you don’t want it, then you’re out,” thereupon taking a big financial risk.
The Whole Allocation
Luckily, reliance upon relationship and business-sense led him to call Lerman who, providentially, took the whole order. With steel in tight supply at that time, Milo then redirected the entire allocation from the Dutch mill to Steel Warehouse, providing opportunity for growth.
Lerman’s and Milo’s relationship continued to strengthen over the years. Lerman and his wife would visit the mill in Holland along with Milo and his wife, solidifying their bond and their sense of being part of the same team. This included Milo providing strong support to Lerman as he negotiated to buy out partner Herman Segal.
When Lerman died very suddenly in 1975 his son Dave Lerman called to let Milo know, who responded with”… he (Nate) was my best friend.” This was a trying time in the steel industry as the price of steel was taking a nosedive and some Steel Warehouse customers bailed out of their contracts. On top of that, the landlord of the SW plant in Milwaukee turned the company out of the facility.
Strengthening Through Generations
Knowing that Lerman had trained his son well, Milo felt confident in Dave’s ability to lead Steel Warehouse and offered him financial terms that helped keep the company solvent through these tough times. This could have been risky for Milo, but he still carried the yellow note from his original meeting with Nate Lerman in his wallet to remind him of their initial agreement and partnership.
With the transition to the next Lerman generation, Milo treated Dave more like a son than just a business acquaintance. During one of the mill visits in Holland, he said to him, “You spend too much time bragging about your equipment! Be quiet, stop bragging or the mill will raise your prices!” Milo continued to work with Dave Lerman until his (Milo’s) retirement.
Transition to Team Tata Steel Nederland
As far back as the Hoogovens and Steel Warehouse relationship goes, even more history has been added through the Tata Steel connection. In 1999, Koninklijke Hoogovens merged with British Steel to form Corus. Corus was acquired by Tata Steel in April 2007 in a transaction which created one of the world’s largest steelmakers, with a major presence in Europe as well as Asia.
The Tata Group’s long and illustrious history is intertwined with stories of pioneering leaders such as Amos Milo and Nate Lerman, as well as iconic institutions, business excellence, innovation and committed employees.
Steel Warehouse and Tata Steel have continued to build on their shared heritage and develop their reach with Steel Warehouse being Tata Steel Nederland's distribution partner in the North American market. Both companies have a strong focus on end users that require top product quality, including supplying highly differentiated products that are hard to source locally. Great examples of this are Tata Steel’s Ympress® high strength steels and Valast® Abrasion Resistant steels.
The combined intellectual properties of Steel Warehouse and Tata Steel have enabled us to jointly solve problems for our customer base. We look forward to strengthening this partnership even more as we continue to innovate together while serving needs of the American manufacturing industry.
Then & Now: Tata & Steel Warehouse Teams
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