The Amazing Mill Steel


Last week the Michigan Business & Professional Association held its “West Michigan’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies” awards luncheon and seminar.  I walked around at the beginning of the session, asking one of my favorite questions, “How’s your business?”  There was no need to brace myself.  The VP for Communications at Herman Miller said that after contraction in the early part of the decade things are really going well there; the president of Harold Ziegler Auto Group told me that their 22 dealerships (18 domestic brands) have had a great quarter; and Mill Steel presented and discussed the secret of their 10-15% annual growth.  It struck me, as it does somewhat often, that some days we can’t see the successes in Michigan through the gloom we generate around ourselves.  It’s so vital that we keep learning from those who are having success.

Mill Steel is an amazing story.  For two years in a row they have won the “best of the best” in West Michigan, meaning that of the 101 winners, they were overall best.  That in itself is amazing.  But it’s also a third generation family business; and it’s challenging to generate change when family dynamics are at play; many third generation businesses don’t thrive but dwindle.  And, it’s a manufacturing company – far from the easiest industry in which to win a “great company to work for” award.  Finally, Mill Steel defies the conventional wisdom because its plants are unionized – the Canadian Auto Workers in Ontario, and the United Steel Workers here in the U.S., represent their workers.  So, you want to know HOW, right?

Here is what struck me:  Their leadership has high expectations.  CEO Andrew Samrick wants his company to be the best by constantly “getting the customer what they want when they want it.”   AND he wants it to be the best company to work for.  He exudes passion about both, and he articulates them clearly.  He says he hasn’t changed from his grandfather and father; they all shared this philosophy:  “Find great people.  Make sure everybody knows what the goal is and get out of the way.  They’re going to do a great job for you.”  He has about 150 employees in two states and two countries, and he can reel off the names, and importantly, tell you who has lost a parent, or who is struggling with cancer in the family.  (Today’s RFL comes with a bonus; click here for a 12-minute interview with Andrew Samrick, CEO of Mill Steel.)

If we could all sustain equal passion about wowing our customers and helping our people to flourish, how good would we be?  Take out your gauge:  How passionate are you about satisfying your customers, and how committed are you to the wellbeing of the people who can generate your organization’s success?  Do those two things, and you will . . .

Lead with your best self,


  • Thank you Dan for the inspiring stories of “the good news” in Michigan! We all need to take these lessons to heart and practice them including telling more and more of “the good news” in Michigan and in our own cities! I had the opportunity to recently hear Mary Kramer from Crain’s speak at a International Council of Shopping Centers (ICIS) Michigan Chapter Networking Breakfast a few ago and she sent the same message…wherever we go, within our State or outside our State we’ve got to tell “the good news” of Michigan & our city! We can be our worst enemy, our worst critic and must combat our tendencies to speak from the gloom and doom side. We must be our own State & City cheerleaders and keep telling the Good News! Sincerely

  • Another good example of great leadership at a Michigan organization. Wowing customers with great service and caring for employees through friendship, listening and leading remain simple tools we can all use to turn Michigan around. I am perplexed and saddened by the absence of comments regarding your RFL piece Dan. Has Michigan’s collective appetite for customer service, quality initiatives and employee caring also departed for the sun-belt? When I first read this RFL piece I thought it would be swamped with well-sayers flocking to this good-news bandwagon – maybe apathy has sapped our industrial and commercial ‘pride’? Have we have forgotten customer service and fully appreciated employees remain the nucleus of organizational growth?

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