Jack Finlayson, president of Gerdau’s North American special steel division, is described by those who know him as a man who finds opportunity where others would see defeat. Finlayson arrived in Michigan in August 2007, during a period when many were leaving the state and manufacturing was among the industries hit the hardest.
“Those were tentative times, for sure, but it was also an exciting time,” said Finlayson.
Like many businesses, the facilities in Jackson and Monroe that now carry the Gerdau name faced difficult times during the recession. The Jackson plant idled operations for nearly nine months and safety was a key concern. Rather than throw in the towel, Finlayson’s clear vision of the future and confidence in his team aided in securing the futures of both plants.
“It’s about continuously looking for ways to innovate,” said Finlayson. “Whether it is one facility or a statewide manufacturing industry, you have to always encourage new ideas and different ways of thinking in order to succeed.”
More than 1,860 employees work under Finlayson’s leadership. His commitment to their safety led to both Monroe and Jackson mills going one year without a lost time accident — incredible when Finlayson’s employees log more than 4.1 million hours of work annually.
Gerdau recently invested $155.6 million to modernize the Monroe mill, a decision Finlayson was an integral part of. This investment will increase the safety measures for the facility while doubling the capacity of the mill. It also provides new job and investment opportunities as current and future workers discover the possibilities of beginning and furthering their manufacturing careers.
“We are seeing a ‘wow’ reaction from students when they come into our facilities,” said Finlayson. “They see the machines, the technology and the products being made and they want to be a part of it. It’s our responsibility to provide them with the pathway to get here.”
That social responsibility extends beyond the classroom and into the community. His hands-on leadership style has inspired those around him to seek out methods for giving back to the community.
“Manufacturers are not just workers in a facility — these are people with strong ties to their communities and they all want to give back so that Michigan can be its very best,” said Finlayson.
Whether the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, the American Cancer Society or other non-profit organizations, Finlayson’s support for the state he calls home earned Gerdau the 2014 Corporate Citizen of the Year Award, the Michigan Clean Corporate Citizen Award and Worldsteel’s Safety and Health Excellence Recognition Award.
“Getting involved and being engaged becomes contagious,” said Finlayson. “The more you do it, the more you want to do it and that inspires others to do their part.”
Finlayson has been recognized by his peers as someone who understands that true success is measured by building the community bonds that provide opportunities for future generations. It is this dedication to Michigan’s bright future that earns him the 2014 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award.
“It truly is an honor and much appreciated,” said Finlayson. “But this is an award for the people I’m surrounded by at Gerdau and in the community. Gerdau is a company built around a long-term vision for the future. We plan for the future decade by decade. You have to ask yourself ‘what is the plan for the next hundred years?’”
This article appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of MiMfg Magazine.