office in Mequon.
office in Mequon.
John A. Mellowes was named chairman and chief executive of Charter Manufacturing at a time when the American steel industry was in a major meltdown.
It was 1980, and the collapse resulted in the closure of mills and the loss of thousands of jobs.
"There were a lot of bankruptcies and a lot of companies didn't survive.
We lost a big part of our net worth in that year," Mellowes
Not long after, however, the Mequon-based company regained its footing and continued with growth that has resulted in it becoming one of the nation's largest specialty steel manufacturers.
will be honored by the Harvard Business School Club of Wisconsin
as the 2014 Wisconsin Business Leader of the Year.
The chairman emeritus of Charter Manufacturing joined his family's business, which makes steel bars, rods and wire, in 1965 and served as chairman and CEO from 1980 to 2013.
I had this vision of making our own steel," Mellowes
Mellowes' first assignment was to manage a Charter plant in New Jersey.
was already familiar with the company's operations, having grown up in the family business and following in the steps of his
father and grandfather to study engineering at Cornell University
"I was always interested in machinery and I liked big machines. ...
My dad did a good job, through osmosis perhaps, of getting me really interested in working in the family business," Mellowes
Rising through various managerial roles, Mellowes
realized the importance of expanding the business through new products and acquisitions.
"In 2011, we hit a couple of real important milestones.
One was that we produced and shipped a million tons of steel that year, which is a lot of steel, and we were one of the biggest companies in our little corner of the steel industry.
Our sales also reached $1 billion that year," Mellowes
"The cultural fit with us was amazing," Mellowes
Company stays in family
Over the years, some thought that Charter
would become a publicly traded company.
"But ultimately I decided against it because we were able to raise the cash, mostly through borrowing, to expand the way we wanted and now have our debt level down to a very manageable level," Mellowes
There were other reasons not to go public, too.
"I served on the board of a couple of publicly traded companies for substantial periods of time and saw the trouble they had.
I saw the trouble that the management had in having to deal with analysts and quarterly reports, and the constant pressure for making the short-term look good instead of worrying about the long term," Mellowes
"They both went to business school, which I didn't do," Mellowes
sons also were required to work outside the company before deciding whether they wanted to be part of the family business.
The company hired a consulting firm to assist with the leadership transition.
"I think we were prepared about as well as we could be.
We didn't just wing it," Mellowes
John Mellowes is a board member of Milwaukee School of Engineering and the World President's Organization.
Previously, he was a member of the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.
The HBS Club and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
will host a dinner to honor Mellowes
on Tuesday at the Pfister Hotel.
Proceeds from the dinner will fund scholarships for executive directors of nonprofits to attend a Harvard Business School
program in nonprofit management.
"I am very pleased, and sort of amazed, that I was picked for the award because the list of people who have gotten it is quite venerable.
There are a lot of good people and good companies on that list," Mellowes