American Steel

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

AMERICAN STEEL is the story of the building of a steel mill innovative enough to allow the relatively small Nucor Corporation to compete with both the larger American steel companies and the Japanese. To overcome the uncertainty of the technology to be used in the Crawfordsville mill, Nucor CEO F. Kenneth Iverson relies upon an atypical work force and management style, necessary elements in the breakneck race to complete this unprecedented project.

Iverson sets the tone for his company by maintaining spartan corporate headquarters, working grueling hours, and taking risks. Intolerant of paper pushing, he insists that his stripped-down management team be directly involved with both the construction and start-up of the mill. His managers are expected to make up for their inexperience in steel production by thinking quickly and by persevering.

Preston openly admires Nucor’s CEO, managers, and laborers. The worker are nonunion, and the company’s safety record continues to be challenged, but Iverson’s crews seem to thrive on the tension, pressure, and responsibility inherent in the Nucor approach. It is not surprising that Iverson’s company worries big steel and that Preston sees in Nucor elements of a rust-belt resurrection, for this maverick company is a direct repudiation of America’s inefficient, management-heavy industry.

The reader of AMERICAN STEEL may come away feeling somewhat ambivalent about certain aspects of Nucor’s success, but it is difficult not to be impressed by an American company willing to defy corporate orthodoxy. Clearly, Preston sees in Nucor’s unconventional combination of skill, tenacity, and daring the best hope for any future American industrial revival.