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Leading the U.S. arm of one of the world’s largest suppliers to the steel industry requires a level of professional strength not unlike that of steel itself.
“I believe in maintaining a strong management team and strong engineering staff,” says Joe Dzierzawski, president and CEO of SMS Siemag LLC. “We’re primarily an engineering-based company, so people are the key assets to our organization. We take a very proactive approach to our customers in the way we assist them in developing their projects or helping them improve their business and operations.”
The company, which has maintained a presence in the United States since 1927, develops, designs and builds machinery and plants for the steel and aluminum industry. Its U.S. headquarters is in Pittsburgh. SMS Siemag LLC’s parent company, SMS Siemag AG, is based in Dusseldorf, Germany.
“Our strengths are innovation, ingenuity, with a strong focus on research and development,” Dzierzawski says. “The company has been owned by the same family since its inception, and a large focus of theirs is reinvesting in the business. At a time when a lot of companies are looking to the East and building in China, we continue to look at our core competencies, technology and know-how and build on that.”
One of the company’s core strengths is the reputation it has gained from its decades of experience in the steel industry. “Steel is a very mature industry, especially in the United States, and is very close-knit, so you need a good reliable product that you are able to service in a responsive manner,” Dzierzawski says. “Our relationships with key customers are extremely important, and we cannot have those over phone and email; we have to be in the plant meeting with them to better understand their challenges.
“Those meetings provide confidence to the customer that we are reliable, responsive and produce a quality product.”
Current focus areas for the company include developing technologies and machines to produce lighter and higher-strength steel for the energy and automotive sectors. With its strengthened position as an electrical and automation supplier and together with its historically core mechanical equipment expertise, SMS Siemag is a leading full line supplier of all process steps from steelmaking through finished rolling.
Dzierzawski assumed his current role in 2006, roughly 16 years after joining SMS Siemag. His first upper management position came in 1999, when he was named vice president of steelmaking and continuous casting. He also served as project director for global sales for steelmaking and casting equipment at the company’s global headquarters in Germany in 2005.
His first major role in the company was as a commissioning metallurgist, a position that required him to travel to SMS worksites to train machine operators and commission equipment.
One of his notable assignments was to commission two round bloom casting machines at a plant in China in 1992 and 1993. One of the machines produced the largest section size in the world at the time, Dzierzawski notes.
“That was a challenging assignment in terms of both the work itself as well as language and cultural differences, but it was a very memorable time in my career,” he adds.
Another challenge came in late 2008, when the U.S. recession began to impact SMS Siemag’s bottom line. “The financial crisis in late 2008 and through the better part of 2010 was a very challenging time for the metals industry – we went from having record years in 2006 through 2008, and then capital equipment spending fell off,” he adds. “During that, management skills were key, and we had to adjust our organization to cater to customers who needed to delay or cancel projects because of their cash flows, and we had to restructure our organization to accommodate our workload.” The company reports having a successful year in 2011 and is on track for further growth in 2012, he adds.
Dzierzawski attributes his ability to overcome professional challenges to his father, who worked two jobs to support his family. “What he gave to my three older brothers and I was a sense of responsibility, hard work, loyalty, dedication and the value of the dollar,” he adds. “These are the characteristics I’ve picked up that have formed the core of my successes.”
The experience and knowledge of SMS Siemag LLC’s employees have long been recognized by the company’s peers as well as industry associates.
Principal Process Engineer Kevin Cotchen in 2011 was awarded the Tadeusz Sendzimir Memorial Medal of the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST). The award “honors the achievement of inventors, developers or operators of new manufacturing processes or equipment in steel production,” AIST says.
“With the medal, AIST confirms that Cotchen, as a member and chairman of the AIST committee as well as an author, speaker, process engineer and educator, has contributed significantly to the further development of steelmaking technology and the dissemination of the relevant expertise,” the organization adds.
Cotchen’s achievement, as well as those of other SMS employees, is credited to the company’s investment in training and development programs.
Part of its professional development effort involves an employee job rotation program that shares employees between the United States and Germany to further their understanding of each market.
The company also maintains connections with its local community through summer internship programs with local universities as well as charitable contributions. SMS Siemag is involved with area organizations including the United Way and North Side Common Ministries, a food pantry and men’s shelter in Pittsburgh, he adds. This month, the United Way honored SMS Siemag as a recipient of the Fred Rogers Good Neighbor Award as a community leader in workplace volunteerism.
The SMS Group continues to provide innovative technology to the metals industry. With 140 years of experience, SMS Siemag is focused on strengthening its market leading position and servicing the Pittsburgh community for years to come.