(Some names changed/shortened . . . . partly redacted)
January 23, 2018
I want to thank you for your leadership during my first year or two with Nucor. I think that was back in 2004-2005. I didn’t know what a steel joist was on the day I was interviewed by J.R., but after Renrick taught me the basics of detailing them, and decking (since one actually had to know in order to draw plans on a primitive GDS workstation) I was assigned to your detailing team. Thanks to you, I thrived there.
As you know, the first two years or so as a draftsman are spent learning from one’s mistakes. Every job is another lesson with problems to solve that would never be seen in a formal training session. Eventually the student realizes how to use the same set of rules to solve every problem, rather than trying to solve new problems based on old problems. In order to help the countless rules sink in, the checker bleeds all over the rookie’s hard work with a red pen, and they go back to the drawing board to make revisions, at least twice. You were patient as a checker and teacher, and encouraging throughout the process.
You were a defender of your flock. I remember when Mack, cussing and quaking, would stomp into my office and slam a set of drawings down on my desk. He’d be frothing at the mouth like a rabid banshee as he barked about issues regarding a job of mine that the erectors called him to discuss. Complications that might or might not be due an error on my part, once the research was done. I never hesitated to go straight to you, because you didn’t take kindly to anybody who literally or figuratively tried to rough up one of your soldiers. There wasn’t a safer spot for a greenhorn than under your wing in that office. For that you were greatly respected.
You knew how to build a cohesive unit. We had a great time going out to lunch on Fridays as a team, and took turns picking up the tab. It was a shock to the system the day you didn’t show up for work. I never got the full story as to why, and have always been skeptical of the half that I did get through the Grapeland grapevine.
Regarding your departure, I was more worried for the company than for you. You are the type who could be successful anywhere. You were immediately missed but, thanks to your investment, I was prepared well enough to succeed. Thank you.
PS—This will be all I’ll pen. The rest of the letter will be typed out and heavily redacted before I post it to OneFaceInTheCrowd.com. There are other co-workers getting letters and there are details I’d like to share with you that could be taken out of context. Besides, my penmanship is atrocious— it’s mostly your fault. You helped make me a successful draftsman. That meant I had to learn to write in all-caps lettering, which I ended up doing for 8 straight years. I’m hoping Project Gratitude helps me get my cursive back.
[The Rest of the Story]
I don’t remember if you were still at V-TX when I bought my little house on two acres in the Slocum area. I moved in around Thanksgiving in 2005, but quickly realized that my odds of finding marriage material would be much better in the city. I got the thumbs up to join the drafting team in the Dallas district sales office, and moved out of my house before spring— in and out again before I had to mow those 2 acres once. That little house has gone through several tenants over the last 12 years, but I can’t let it go. If you know anybody looking for a crib to rent, it’s available right now.
I found success and my wife, Jennifer, in Dallas. When David M, the lead in Little Rock, bailed for CMC, I was tapped by J.R. to fill his shoes. You would have done a much better job, but I told J.R. and Rick I would give it a go as long as I didn’t have to commit to more than two years. This was back before Vulcraft/Verco had project managers, so you had to be an engineer to choose any other path in the engineering department. I was determined to eventually jump those tracks.
Within a year of moving to Arkansas, George Powell, who had been my lead in the Dallas office, became the supervisor at Vulcraft of NY. He asked me what it would take to get me to move to Yankee land and work for him again. He knew firsthand what I could do, and the people who worked for him there didn’t believe it was possible to detail 2 tons per hour, much less 5 or 6. I kept turning him down, determined to finish serving the two years I’d promised. On top of that, I didn’t want to detail forever, and I did want to go west, not east.
Weeks turned into months, and my two-year commitment was kept. Jenn and I had been to Seattle and Portland for anniversary excursions and knew where we wanted to put down roots. Nucor had acquired Verco decking, which opened up some opportunities out west. When I saw the district sales manager position open up near Seattle, I did some research and then tossed my name in the hat (without talking to the higher-ups at V-TX . . . my mistake, but probably because I knew what they would say.)
I’d learned that the job was a one-person operation that you didn’t even need supervisory experience to qualify for. There were no joists to sell, no detailers or estimators to manage. That part of the country was still a broker’s market when it came to decking. As David S. liked to put it, I’d be a “glorified order-taker.” Whatever. . . I could do it, and it could get me to Seattle. I even talked to the GM down in Phoenix and he sounded excited about a formal phone interview scheduled for the following week.
But the call never came. I’d been rick-rolled. XXX ended up being the one to call me and clumsily try to justify why he’d refused to recommend me for the position. After I was able to use what I knew about the job (and he apparently didn’t) to shoot down most of his attempts to argue that I would be unqualified, the best he could do was say that he couldn’t recommend me because there was no one else there in the Little Rock office who could fill my shoes. If you’ve ever cornered a raccoon, that’s about how I felt in the moment. I held up my end of the deal, despite other opportunities, and still got painted into a corner.
I’d been trying for two years to get them to hire another detailer with leadership potential who I could groom to take my place. . . . [redacted] . . . . We’d replaced [one] with an ex-CMC detailer who knew his stuff but was in the throes of a divorce and driving all the way from Hope to our office in Maumelle, AR and back every day. He only lasted several weeks with that commute.
So there we were. It might not have been the perfect time to make an exit, but there never is. XXX thought he had me pinned down nicely. What XXX didn’t know, was that there was a door propped open for me at V-NY. The next time George suggested I come up and just check out the area, I listened a little closer. When I explained my entrapment, he demanded I tell him what it would take to get me up there, asking me to just give him a quote. I made what seemed like a ridiculous proposition at the time; he called my bluff, and we scheduled a visit.
By that point Mike H had become the GM at V-NY and wasn’t shy about cherry-picking talent from V-TX. He’d stolen at least two DSMs. George got Mike’s approval to poach me too, and I will never forget the glorious day I was blessed with the opportunity to tell XXX that I would be out of the office for a few days because I was flying to NY for an interview. The division had approached me, and I didn’t need permission to accept an offer. I was on my way out, getting a fat raise, and there was nothing he could do to stop me. He got all choked up on words that he couldn’t quite form as he turned bright purple on the other end of the line. It was a beautiful thing. Bless his heart.
Growing up in Texas, every time I heard “New York” I thought of a big city full of skyscrapers, but Upstate was another world entirely. I still think there are more rednecks in the backwoods of New York and Pennsylvania than Texas or Arkansas. I agreed to move all the way up there on my own dime as long as I didn’t have to make any specific commitment to more years spent in the detailing department. In hindsight that was a bad decision, giving the fact that I would spend over two years detailing special projects, checking, and training new detailers from Chemung, NY to Salem, NH up near Boston.
If you ever go to NYC, check out the Fulton Street Transit Center in Manhattan near Broadway and Fulton. I intermittently spent over a year on the decking for that monster with countless sets of drawings thicker than a Strong’s concordance. It has a subway station deep underground and goes 9 or so levels up with MTA offices above.
Jenn and I settled in Elmira, about 45 minutes from Ithaca, where Cornell College is, and just south of the Finger Lakes— a beautiful region in the cool summers with little wineries surrounding enormous glacier-carved bodies of water. If you’re interested in a good summer or fall vacation destination, I would highly recommend that area. We bought a beautiful old Victorian built in 1896 (for cheap) within walking distance of Mark Twain’s grave— no joke— his wife’s family was from there and so that’s where he settled. You can see the little octagonal study where he wrote Huckleberry Finn on the campus of Elmira College.
Two years after moving to NY, and about one year after buying the house, I saw a posting for a Chemistry Lab Tech at Nucor Steel Seattle. It would finally be my ticket to Emerald City. In August of 2012 it took a 4-day road trip with what I could fit in a Civic, spending the night in Chicago, Fargo, and Butte to get from the east coast to the west. I finally made it to the land of fresh pacific salmon and oysters, espresso on every street corner, and more microbreweries than you can shake a growler at. We were trying to sell or rent the house, but it didn’t happen before Jenn made the trip 3 months later with our border collie, Daisy, and as much stuff as she could tow in a small U-Haul trailer.
We left a lot of things in that old house. If you know anyone in upstate NY who’s looking for a place to live, that crib is currently empty as well, not to mention partly furnished. I flew up there twice this past fall to check on the house, hire an attorney, and go to court for the eviction of a deadbeat tenant determined to milk the system. She got 4 free months of board and then the boot just in time for winter, when no one moves around much in the northeast. Now I spend my time on the opposite side of the continent praying through the east coast blizzards that the furnace keeps working and the pipes don’t burst.
During my two years on the melt shop A-Crew in Seattle I worked 12-hour rotating shifts polishing and testing samples on a spectrometer in the lab, dictating recipes and adjustments for different grades, and orchestrating transitions between products as-required when continuous casting. The work week began on a Friday morning at 5:15am to 5:30pm and lasted 4-6 days, always enveloping a weekend, with Thursday the designated down-day before going back in on Friday night for another round of 4 to 6 12-hour night shifts. I would then be off for a week before the cycle started up again, assuming one of the two other two crews didn’t have a lab tech taking vacation.
After a couple years of lonely memorial and labor day weekends, my wife was not very happy with the fact that we were only off work at the same time every third weekend, regardless of when the holidays fell. The local management worked hard to help me figure out a role with equivalent pay and normal hours, but there just wasn’t a good fit at the time. I ended up leaving Nucor on good terms to work for an electrical company doing BIM modeling of electrical plans— cable trays, conduit, transformers, backup generators, light fixtures, smoke detectors, fart fans, fire alarm pull-boxes, etc. They all had to be drawn into the as-built digital models of skyscrapers going up in Seattle.
My supervisor at XXX Electric was a true dog of a woman named Dex. She was more anal than patient and didn’t bother to train anyone. She would half explain what she wanted and then change her mind after you put three days of work into it. Project managers and other staff members avoided her like the plague, and she bullied some of my co-workers— the ones she knew she could push around. One even brought the issue to HR, but no action was taken.
Dex used to work in the field as an electrician, and made sure everyone knew how much she missed it, along with the fact that she was still a card-carrying union member. She distilled and drank rum in her spare time. She outlawed overtime for everyone but herself and, with her union perks, got paid, not just time-and-a-half, but double after a certain number of hours. I stuck it out three months before I wrote up a scathing review of her dominatrix-style leadership skills and sent it directly to the HR department and the owner of the company on the day I walked out.
It might have been more of a skip than a walk, because I’d been rehired by Nucor. By Carlos who used to be an estimator/sales rep for V-TX and had become a product manager for Verco in Phoenix, and Herb, the district sales manager for Verco’s sales office in the Pacific Northwest, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, in Redmond. Herb was the guy that got the job XXX wouldn’t let me interview for 5 years earlier. We’d come full circle. They finally needed an estimator/project manager since Vucraft’s customers from other parts of the country wanted quotes for jobs in that territory, and those customers didn’t have their own estimators or detailers, unlike our local brokers.
Herb had no plans to retire anytime soon, and I couldn’t spin my wheels for another 5 years. Two was enough, and so last February I took a Project Analyst position with Nucor Steelmaking Group’s NextGen Project. NextGen is a software development project. . . [Redacted] . . . . We’ve got a big office in Irving near the DFW airport and a number of teammates from divisions all over the country, myself included, fly in on Mondays and home on Thursdays. I got in on the tail end of that perk— I’m writing this on a weeknight from an AirBnB in Coppell. To save money they are now mandating that new hires relocate to the area, and we’re hiring a lot of locals off the street.
I used to spot one of the first jobs I detailed at V-TX when flying in and out of DFW— I think you checked it— a Hummer dealership with a big arched roof not far from the airport. Time flies. Now they don’t even make Hummers anymore. Today I drove by some of the old Prologis warehouses that I drew plans for years ago. Software development can be interesting, but it doesn’t really leave a tangible mark on the world like detailing did. . . . [Redacted]
Jenn and I have been in the Seattle area for over 5 years, and I have lived at 5 different addresses— if you count the literal crackhouse where I rented a room on the cheap, (sight-unseen off Craigslist) just up Avalon Way from the NSSEA plant, for the first three months before she joined me on the west coast. We finally bought a home on Vashon Island about a month ago, a short ferry-ride from downtown Seattle, and are going through the stresses of remodeling a bit before we make the shift from the house we’re renting in West Seattle.
Hopefully this will be our last move for a long, long time. It helps to be DINKS with no kids or car payments, but renting a home while paying the mortgage for three empty houses in three different states is absurd. . . . [Redacted]
And that’s the low-down of my life/career with Nucor so-far. I hope it didn’t bore you too much. I have J.R. to thank for taking a chance and hiring a kid who didn’t even know what a steel joist was, so he might get a modified rendition of the journey along with his letter, in case he’s interested. But, honestly, it’s you that I credit with the stellar leadership that helped pour the foundation that my success to-date has been built upon. For that I am very grateful. I know we often get skipped over for Alaska, but let me know if you vacation in the PNW and ever need a place to crash.