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Mission Impossible and the American Steel Industry

Mission Impossible and the American Steel Industry

I was recently on a flight to Atlanta for business and I found myself watching one of those Mission Impossible movies – you know, Tom Cruise, fast cars, tall buildings, and espionage? I do not want to date myself, but I fondly remember the original Mission Impossible, the television version with Peter Graves. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of the series, as I’m more of a James Bond kind of guy.) Tom Cruise and his team are on their heroic mission to save the world. They undertake one action sequence after another using their daring wits, flirting with constant danger, utilizing elements of disguise and technology to ultimately complete the mission. It does get pretty confusing along the way. I’ve heard it’s been referred to as “Mission Incomprehensible” by some. However, if you’re looking for an escape, this one works as well as any.

“So where’s the American Steel analogy?” you wonder. I was thinking that if Tom Cruise could save the world, perhaps he could save the American Steel industry. l mean, wouldn’t that be great? Unfortunately, according to many that mission really is impossible. The American Steel industry has too much reality working against it for it to overcome the odds. Indeed, steel distribution is certainly here to stay, as there are many manufacturers still utilizing steel in their products and construction is not going anywhere. But let’s face it: the world has surpassed American in terms of making inexpensive steel – plain and simple. There was a time not too long ago where it was said that what was good for steel was good for America. Then, I think it was IBM and now it’s Google or Facebook. 

Do you know how many steel mills have been built here in America over the past ten years? Zero. The only ones that have been built are mini-mills which create new steel out of scrap. Meanwhile, China doubled their steel capacity since 2000 and will double it again within the next year or two. Currently China produces over half the steel used on the planet – much of which they use for themselves. We need Tom Cruise to take on that mission.

In all seriousness, this truly is cause for concern. An America which cannot provide its own steel for our defense, for our infrastructure and for critical industries such as automobile and construction will never progress in the 21st century. It is hard enough watching our manufacturing base being chipped away, but we must realize the importance of a healthy domestic market that is fundamental to our standing in the world. I know I’m starting to echo Donald Trump, but it’s true and what are we going to do about it? As a west coast distributor of metals we see steel coming from virtually every corner across the globe. The quality gap between foreign made steel and ours used to be great, but this is no longer true. We now have customers requesting imported steel and that is alarming for a number of reasons.

Politicians tells us that this trend cannot nor will not continue, that American Steel will return to its glory once again. Through technology and innovation, America will rise as we always have. I would certainly wish for this to be the case, but I wonder what it will take for it to happen. Mission Impossible? I hope not. This post however will self-destruct in 30 seconds!

#4

#4

Jim speaks with Morgan Stanley investors about steel and the future.

Skeletons

Skeletons

Jim talks skeletons, closets, diabetes, and acceptance.

#DonateLife

#DonateLife

Jim, the PARAGON STEEL team, and the Stavis and Fabing families will be walking to honor donation and transplantation at the upcoming Donate Life California 5k this weekend. There is so much joy when families come together to connect through giving and living! #DonateLife

Finding Your Wave

Finding Your Wave

I always used to be searching for calm waters, yet it seemed that my life was a series of waves on top of waves. Some waves are the kind you can swim through, while others can literally overwhelm you. I remember one time when I was a teenager my friends and I wanted to experience "The Wedge" in Newport Beach, a body surfing Mecca. We were young, full of energy with a a void of fear and common sense. The Wedge had no lifeguards, just warnings telling swimmers to swim at their own risk. This sounded perfect to us and into the surf we went.

I soon knew why it was so perilous as wave upon wave pounded over us.

I could hardly catch my breath. The water roared in my ears and my mouth and nose filled with water.

Gulp---push--gulp--swim!--gulp----keep going! Pretty soon I knew it was time to get the heck out before I had no more strength. Another swimmer helped me to shore. The Wedge had proved what real rough surf was all about.

Whenever I would encounter tough times, I would reflect on my time in Newport. Though I longed for calmer seas, unfortunately I've found many waves during my lifetime - some bigger than others. I've learned that you need to ride the waves you confront as best you can, all-the-while keeping your head above the water. Calm seas? They may never come - so be a good swimmer and most importantly avoid The Wedge!

Many Times Blessed

Many Times Blessed

Ten years after the organ transplants that saved my life, I reflect on the blessings I've been given.

10 Days Until the Rose Parade!

Eagerly awaiting that trip down Colorado Boulevard with Brice Fabing's floragraph, sponsored by Paragon Steel!

From Our Friends...

From Our Friends...

We're happy to share this recognition from the Donate Life Rose Parade Float:

Seventeen-year-old Brice made the decision to become a donor after witnessing a family friend save lives. “I would like to be like Big Gabe - I would like to help others too!” he told his mother. A month later, a car accident took Brice’s life and Brice’s family found themselves back in the same room Big Gabe held. Knowing their son’s decision to save others with his gifts of life, Brice’s parents supported donation. After four days of waiting, it was discovered that Brice’s rare blood type matched with a man in need of life-saving gifts. Although Brice is gone, his gifts of life live on in Jim Stavis, who is riding on the Float this year.

Meet all of this year's Donate Life Rose Parade Float Floragraph honorees at http://bit.ly/2016Floragraphs.

Sponsored by: PARAGON STEEL

The History of the Rose Parade and Paragon

The History of the Rose Parade and Paragon

In the winter of 1890 - just 125 years ago - the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena was brainstorming ways to promote their city as the "Mediterranean of the West." They invited their East Coast neighbors to a mid-winter holiday festival, where they could watch games such as chariot races, footraces, polo, and tug-of-war, under the warm California sun.

The abundance of fresh flowers, even in the midst of winter, prompted the club to add another showcase for Pasadena's charm: A parade would precede the competition, where entrants would decorate their carriages with hundreds of blooms. The Tournament of Roses was born. In the first year, there were 2,000 people there to witness it.

During the next few years, the festival expanded to include marching bands and motorized floats. In 1895, the Tournament of Roses Association was formed because the event had outgrown the Valley Hunt Club. In 1900, the games included ostrich races, bronco busting demonstrations, and a race between a camel and an elephant (the elephant won). Spectator stands were built along the parade route and eastern U.S. newspapers began to take notice of the event. Remember, this was all before the advent of television, college football, or bowl games.

Today's parade is seen at the parade site by 700,000 people and on television by millions worldwide. It has become a New Year's tradition unlike any other. This year's parade will feature 41 floats that are quite elaborate compared to floats from the early years, with high-tech animation and exotic materials - much more than just roses. Although a few floats are built by volunteers from their sponsoring communities, most are built by professional float-building companies and take up to a year to construct. That too has become a big business.

So what does this have to do with Paragon and me? This year, Paragon Steel is a sponsor of the Donate Life float, which will be one of the 41 floats riding along Colorado Boulevard. There will be a floragraph of the young man who saved my life through his decision to be an organ donor. The Tournament of Roses has honored me and asked if I would ride on the float this year, which I'm happy to do. So if you have the chance to see the parade this year (set your DVR!), look for the Donate Life float and look for me. Paragon is proud to be a part of the festivities! 

Follow Jim Stavis Speaks on Facebook, where you'll be able to see the progress of the float and Jim's journey to the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 2016.

Character Matters on National Manufacturing Day

Character Matters on National Manufacturing Day

On National Manufacturing Day, Jim reflects on the importance of character in the success of companies and manufacturing. Manufacturing is particularly sensitive to issues of reputation and character--if you can't trust what's being made, why would you buy it?

Finding Your "Source of Hope" (Dec. 2007)

Finding Your "Source of Hope" (Dec. 2007)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Finding Your “Source of Hope” (December 2007)

A little over two years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed contemplating my life. I was on the verge of having a triple organ transplant (heart, kidney and pancreas to hopefully cure my lifelong battle with diabetes and save my life. Remarkably, this procedure had only been attempted in the world a handful of times. And, here it was was happening to me. As I lay there awaiting my fate, I said a little prayer, not exactly sure if anyone was listening. All the while, I knew, as if someone had told me a secret, that it was all going to be okay. The question I have since been asked is, how did I know?

Before you can become a transplant candidate, you have to be pre-qualified both physically and mentally to be sure you are up to the task. It is not an easy process. And once you have been selected, you have to be prepared to wait and wait and then be ready whenever your name is called to have the biggest surgery of your life.

This surgery is one that had never been performed by the hospital before. There would be three surgeons who would perform their specialties and the surgery would take more than 20 hours to complete. How do you mentally prepare for such an operation?

I had previously been interviewed by a social worker who had asked me a series of endless questions to qualify my mental state. I answered them one by one and then was struck by a single questions. It was, “What is your source of hope?” I thought about this carefully. For many, their source of hope might be their belief in God, or perhaps it is their family who gives them the strength to persevere. For me, it is an enduring belief - somewhat of a fatalistic confidence that “everything that is meant to happen, will happen.” That because things had worked out for me in the past, there was no reason to believe that they would not work out for me again. This is my personal philosophy, my belief system that allows me to overcome any challenge, no matter how difficult it may be. It is my “Source of Hope.”

I tell this story in part because everyone needs to find their individual Source of Hope. I think it is worthy of some thought. What gives you the motivation to get out of bed each day, fight the traffic, go to work and perhaps struggle to make ends meet? Life is not easy and some days are really tough. But as we all celebrate the holidays, know that better days lie ahead and be thankful for all the wonder in your life. There is hope.

 

Overcoming Adversity (Feb. 2011)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Overcoming Adversity (February 2011)

If there is one subject I feel fully qualified to write on, it is overcoming adversity. As someone who has survived a myriad of health issues my entire life, and yet managed to live a successful and productive one, I have a true understanding of adversity. I am a triple organ transplant recipient who last year had to endure a partial amputation of my right foot. I am constantly meeting people who ask me how I deal with all that I have. My response is simple: “What option to I have?” The truth is we are not really prepared to life’s adversity - even knowing that we may eventually have to deal with it. In fact, we are perpetually groomed for success rather than how to deal with failure. We now give all our kids trophies just for being a member of the team. This way, there are no winners and no losers. Unfortunately, as we later find out in life, there is success and failure, and losing is a vital part of the equation.

Society punishes us for failure. It tells us that failure (and risk overall) is bad and undesired. Schools teach us that failure is unacceptable. Socially, for the past century, particularly in the post-war era as we’ve moved from an agrarian society to a manufacturing society, we’ve been taught to adhere to the status quo, keep our heads down, fall in line, minimize all risk, seek safety and pursue a steady job/income, and we’ve been strongly admonished not to pursue anything that might be considered different or entrepreneurial, as “it’s too risky.” The financial system, especially combined with any court action, puts you on a deadly spiral should you happen to stumble or wholly fail (i.e., bad credit, medical issue, divorce, child support). People who do experience failure are ostracized from their communities and rarely forgiven - and strangely enough, even fellow entrepreneurs have been known to ostracize a person’s failures like he/she has a sickness that they don’t want to catch.

On the flip side, there are others who embrace failure, understanding it can be a precursor to future success. These are people who are able to accept their failures, extract lessons from them and move on in hopes of something brighter. We see it all the time in sports where the underdog comes from behind, overcomes the odds and prevails. We admire and respect the athletes who overcome previous failures to achieve success. As much as the entrepreneurial community says it embraces failure, when it really comes down to it in practice, it’s often untrue. Companies that fail or file bankruptcy are stigmatized for years - as are the individuals who ran them. Why do we not treat them like our athletic teams and believe next year will be better?

In my opinion, it is critical to understand that failure happens. It is how we respond to it that separates us from the rest. You should not be afraid to fail, realizing that lessons can be learned. Trust the process and be confident in yourself. Failing at something does not make you a failure of a person. Get back up again and don’t stop trying. Surround yourself with positive people who can help you overcome adversity and who gladly share in your success. Lastly, believe in the positive and then get ready for your next opportunity.

Dancing with Bulls (Apr. 2010)

Dancing with Bulls (Apr. 2010)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Dancing With Bulls (April 2010)

More than 30 years ago, a friend and I had the lifetime experience of backpacking through Europe. At that time, we had no idea how many adventures we’d have that would help shape our lives today. There was one day in particular that I will never forget and a lesson I will always refer to.

The year was 1972. Back then, it was advertised that you could travel Europe on $5 a day. Today, that will only get you a foot-long sub. We were visiting a small village at the base of the Swiss Alps name Grindelwald. Like so many of these tiny towns, it seemed as if it were created in a fairy tale - almost too perfect to imagine. The mountains were right out of the “Sound of Music...if I could only sing. My friend, John, and I felt this was the perfect place to follow a trail up the mountain to see the beauty firsthand. And so we went. The air was so crisp and the view unlike anything I had ever seen. We realized as we made our hike that we had not run into anyone else the entire day. But the higher we went, the more beautiful the view became. Finally as afternoon was passing, we decided we better return back down the hill. My friend had spotted a signpost in an empty field and we headed over to confirm our directions. We were perplexed, as it appeared that the way we were taking was the wrong way. As we debated, we suddenly heard the clanging of bells in the distance. We knew we were too high to be near a church, but the sound of bells was growing louder and closer. And then we saw a sight I will never forget: six bulls in full gallop heading directly towards us. With no time to think, John hoisted himself up atop the sign post as it seemed like a safe idea. I turned and sprinted towards the rocky hillside for safety. Two of the bulls followed me, but quickly realized they couldn’t reach me. Then all six bulls surrounded John atop the signpost, snorting with displeasure. John and I were still close enough to communicate with one another. He wanted me to run and divert the bulls away from him, but I was unconvinced of that plan. John knew that it would not take much for the bulls to knock over the sign and have him for dinner. Being young and somewhat oblivious to the gravity of the situation, we somehow found humor in it all. I actually took photographs of John surrounded by the bulls as if we were on “National Geographic.” After several harrowing moments, the bulls eventually lost interest and made their way across the field and down the mountain. John and I could not believe what had just occurred and scurried down the hill and breakneck speed. Once down, we had a great story to share and I had the photographs to prove it.

The lesson of the story is this: You never really know what adversity you may find yourself in. Things can be going along smoothly, when suddenly confusion may occur, followed by danger and possibly even harm. You never really know. But oftentimes, if you are not fearful and even laughing at the predicament, you may find that it is not as dire as you had feared - meaning attitude and behaviour are half the battle. Remember that as we muddle through this difficult financial time. And as my friend John and I celebrated our story with a beer and a smile, this too shall pass.

Keeping Morale High (Aug. 2009)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Keeping Morale High When Business is Down (August 2009)

We recognize one simple fact of business life these days: Business stinks. We have to work harder for less; face challenges we never faced before; and even people like me who see their glass as half full are having a hard time keeping it that way.

I’m neither the first nor the last to say this about today’s business environment. But saying it is the easy part - doing something about it is another thing all together. And whether or not you discuss it with your employees, they know it stinks too - and many of them are scared about it.

The one thing we try and do in this newsletter is to keep it real. The most important action managers or owners can take during these economic times is to be real with their employees. They must be expert communicators of the facts and expectations for the company’s future There is no benefit in trying to candy coat the situation, because employees can see what is going on for themselves.

Secondly, it is important for management to be optimistic and think positive. No one wants to work for a doom and gloomer. And even if the business environment is presently slow, there is good reason to believe that better times will return again as they always have. Work on your attitude first and then convince those around you to come onboard.

Thirdly, it is necessary for management to be creative with positive reinforcement. Good work still needs to be recognized even if overall performance is lagging. Employees still need to know that their work and efforts are appreciated. There are perks other than monetary rewards. You can recognize them as employee of the month, mention them in the company newsletter or take them out for lunch. Studies show that the majority of people work because they like the work and the company versus just earning a paycheck. Continue to make your work environment fun and invigorating versus nine-to-five drudgery.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is to develop a dialog with your employees. Get their feedback on how they believe the company can get better. This is a great time to make improvements within the organization. Take advantage of it to change for the better. We recently sat down with our key employees and talked about what they thought we could do to spice up our marketing program. We were surprised by some of their creative ideas. In fact, one of our salespeople, David Ohlberg, came up with the smart idea of a randomly distributed coupon for customers, which we have incorporated into this issue of the newsletter. Thanks, David!

Morale is a very strange phenomenon. Like momentum, it feeds upon itself. Fueled by emotion, it can quickly spread from kindling into a raging fire. Before you know it, the entire company is inflamed - and if it’s on fire with negativity, you’re looking for the hose. Take the necessary steps today to keep your employees focused in the right direction. Sure, business may stink, but your attitude doesn’t have to.

Loyalty (June 2009)

For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.

Loyalty: The Lost Concept in Business (June 2009)

These are clearly challenging times. Companies find themselves forced to take any number of draconian actions in an effort to simply survive. Unfortunately, many companies find the challenges even more difficult to surmount because in the past, they failed to employ an important management ingredient that would prepare them for the worst of times. That missing ingredient is developing loyal employees and customers to help weather the storm.

Have you noticed that the concept of corporate loyalty is seldom mentioned anymore? Often lumped in with typewriters and carbon paper, corporate managers view notions of loyalty as obsolete. Because in a business world turned upside down with mergers, globalization and the need to enhance stock valuations, loyalty is no longer relevant.

I could not disagree more. From my perspective, offering and generating loyalty is the single most important element we can implant in our organization. Without it, we have nothing. Creating a corporate/employee/customer alliance gives our company the best opportunity to achieve and maintain success - and is utterly indispensable during these periods of slow business.

Loyalty in Banking

When Paragon Steel started in business 21 years ago, we assembled our “Brain Trust.” This Brain Trust consisted of our two owners, our CPA, our attorney and our banker. We had our own vision for building our little steel company, but felt we needed added expertise and experience in these specific areas. Today, we still have the same CPA, attorney and banker. Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to switch players, but we have remained loyal to those who stood by us.

The banker in this Brain Trust is the focus of this story. We used to compare being a steel service provider to being in the banking business. The only difference was we marketed and sold steel while banks marketed themselves and provided money. Our original banker, Dallas Haun, was a relationship banker. He knew us, understood what we were attempting to accomplish and was willing to help us achieve our goals. By today’s standards, this would be considered “old school” banking. As the years have gone by, we have remained loyal to Dallas as he has remained loyal to us. Even though other banks offered better rates, even more services - we still remained loyal to Dallas. Dallas eventually moved up the corporate ladder as his bank was purchased by a larger one. We then became the proverbial small fish in a much bigger pond. We soon were shuffled from one loan officer to another. We were moved from Long Beach to Los Angeles - told that they had more horsepower there to service our needs. Since we sent our deposits through a courier, we no longer knew anyone at the bank branch. Even the inside staff became anonymous to us. For us, banking reached a new level of de-personalization. And yet we blindly stayed loyal to Dallas, our original banker.

Two years ago, Dallas decided it was finally time for him to move on. He was offered a CEO position with an out-of-state bank, a great opportunity for him. We were suddenly left at our old bank without an advocate or significant contact. As the recession unfolded last year, it became apparent that our bank wanted to sever ties with accounts that could be adversely affected by residential or commercial real estate. Paragon Steel fell into that category as we sold to steel fabricators. Even though we were within compliance of all our bank covenants, we were now on thin ice. Finally, we were told after 21 years of loyal business, that our credit line would not be renewed in 2009. And unfortunately, with the incredible banking meltdown of 2009, banks were not lining up for our business. We learned a valuable lesson about loyalty, which was that loyalty must be a two-way affair; it must cut both ways. As important as it was that we remained loyal to our bank, it was equally essential that the bank was loyal to Paragon Steel.


But there is a happy ending to this story. We contacted Dallas at the out-of-state bank, told him our predicament and his bank offered us a new line of credit. So in the end, loyalty did matter. Banks complain that customer loyalty no longer exists today - that customers switch banks when rates are lowered a quarter of a point. Banks try to market themselves as high services providers, offering help and care for their customers. True or false? After our experience, I would simply say, “Beware of the big, bad bank” and always have a back-up plan, just in case.

When the Going Gets Tough...(Nov. 2008)

When The Going Gets Tough...The Tough Get Going! (November 2008)

There are difficult times for many. With the mortgage meltdown, banking crisis stock market devaluation, declining job market, etc., many people and business are hurting. You can see it everywhere. But have you noticed that some people confront hard times head on and continue to pursue their goals? They simply won’t quit, because quitting is not an option for them. We certainly can learn from these tough thinkers in times like these. I have identified seven characteristics of tough thinkers that I believe we can all learn from:

Controlled Perception - Tough thinkers view adversity from a position of control. They understand life in terms of what they can control and what they cannot. They view tough circumstances and ask themselves, “What can I control in this situation?” They may discover that the only thing they can control is their own reaction to the situation.

Courage - Winston Churchill said it best, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all other qualities.” Everything else emanates from your willingness to face adversity head on. Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.”

Limited Focus - When tough thinkers face adversity, they limit the reach and scope of the problem. They understand that to eat an elephant, it can only be done one bite at a time. Compartmentalizing the problem helps focus your energy by creating workable solutions.

Creativity - Tough thinkers always think their way out of problems. To become more creative you must be able to be think out of the box. Approaching the problem differently will help to create solutions.

Optimism - Tough thinkers are fundamentally positive in their thinking, but their optimism is more than just happy thoughts. They draw from an experience of confidence and hope. They have a core belief that it is their right to live a positive life. They know there is no amount of adversity that will keep them from achieving their goals.

Perseverance - Tough thinker know they will keep trying until they succeed. They understand that quitting is not an option. Every challenge in the economy will lead to future opportunities. They also understand that adversity does not last forever and when it passes, they will  be ready to take advantage.

Humor - Finally, you can’t take life too seriously. Sometimes this may seem difficult but finding a humorous side to all that besets you is sometimes the best anecdote. Plato wrote, “Even the gods love jokes.”


We are living in a time where it seems we are being tested at every turn. Yet during this Thanksgiving season, perhaps we should take note and give thanks for all the blessings we have received. Life is a miracle - be thankful for each and every day.