Million Dollar Monday

Growing Beyond Boundaries with Michael Siegal

February 22, 2021 Greg Muzzillo
Million Dollar Monday
Growing Beyond Boundaries with Michael Siegal
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Michael Siegal, Chairman of the Board with Olympic Steel, grew the company from $35 million to more than $1.6 billion in revenues. He knows what it takes to break through the boundaries other people set for you. He discusses with Host Greg Muzzillo that as captain of the ship you cannot panic in the storm, you must be able to embrace change to continue to grow and be successful.

Chapter Summaries

  • 01:00 - All About Michael Siegal
  • 02:13 - Big Dreams
  • 0:6:28 - Mentorship is Key
  • 08:43 - Failure is Not an Option
  • 12:44 - Scary Times
  • 14:22 - Key Advice
  • 17:02 - Future Big Dreams

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Michael Siegal :

And you have to be willing to take risk in terms of growing beyond the boundaries which other people set for you. I would tell you if you can't have the ability to alter yourself, you think that you're always right. You're going to get left behind because the world is moving with or without you.

Greg Muzzillo:

Hello and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma, that today is a half billion dollar company. I am excited to introduce our guest today. Michael Siegal, Chairman of Olympic steel, Mr. Siegal joined Olympic Steel in 1974 and then joined the Olympic Steel board of directors in 1984. That year, he also became Chief Executive Officer in 1994. Mr. Siegal took the company public and assumed the role of Chairman of the Board. Today in his time with Olympic Steel. He has orchestrated seven acquisitions, three major expansions and three Greenfield startups. All totaled Olympic Steel has grown from 35 million to more than 1 billion in revenues and seen marked improvement in its key performance and financial metrics under his leadership. Mr. Siegal has received numerous business awards, including Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Metal Center News Steel Man of the Year, Inside Business Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame. Michael, welcome and thank you for joining me.

Michael Siegal :

Greg. Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to have this opportunity.

Greg Muzzillo:

All right . Well, let's sort of start at the beginning since this is, we're talking about people with big dreams. Take me back a little bit to your youth about maybe some big dreams you had when you were younger and just sort of briefly about your situation growing up and going to school.

Michael Siegal :

So thank you, Greg. I think , you know, like everybody, I think I was a surprise to all my teachers because if I look back and see my old report cards, that might say if Michael would only apply himself, he could actually do something in his life. Um, so I think that there's a point in which you decide to grow up and actually do apply yourself, take all the advice from your teachers . So I grew up in suburban Cleveland , a very kind of suburban lifestyle. lots of friends, lots of neighborhoods played sports in high school. So, you know, it was very normal. went off to college in 1974. Um, again, same thing. Wasn't really serious about the direction that I was going to go until really I think after college. And it really was for me, you know, growing up in college was really kind of a maturation process, but it really was. The epiphany for me was, was fatherhood . I knew I always had a dream, Greg . I wanted to get married. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to be quote successful, whatever that meant, but it really was more about meaning and purpose. And that was the driving narrative for me in terms of trying to accomplish something.

Greg Muzzillo:

Great. And thank you for sharing that. So tell us then how you went from that graduated from college and starting to mature. How'd you get involved in the business?

Michael Siegal :

As I like to say my mother liked my resume, so it was a family business. The businesses was started by my father and his eldest brother , back in 1954, they both had backgrounds in the steel business. And the two of them decided to get together with my father said $19,000, 18,000 from my uncle and one from him. And they started this business as a steel brokerage business. And I think , um, there was another brother that was brought in and some other things that were going along and there really wasn't ever my necessarily desire to come into the family business. But there was a point in which the steel industry, when it was something in the 1970s got very busy. Uh , you know, my father was the only one of his family to graduate high school. And so he was the quote bookkeeper, you know, everybody else was selling and, or doing more operational things. And my father was the guy who could actually put numbers together. So he was very busy as the business was starting to grow , uh, and said, look , you graduate college, you got to come in and help me, or you're not coming in at all. So it was one of those, you know, okay, I'm looking at all these friends of mine who were going off to India with the Maharishi and doing all these wonderful things in the seventies that people did. And then, you know, by the time they were 26 and 27, they were all coming back and working with their father, you know , in the family business, as I said, might as well, cut the timeline and go right into business. So I literally graduated college on Sunday and started work on Wednesday because I had to drive home and try out. So those were the two days. And so on Wednesday after college graduation, I started at Olympic Steel and very fortunate that a variety of circumstances allowed, you know, the business transferred 10 years later to the next generation. And from there, we really accelerated the growth opportunities from, you know , what it was when I started 13 million in sales. When we took over in 84, we were 30, 35 million in sales. And really last year we were 1 billion 7, I'll add that other $700 million into that $1 billion number. So I'm very proud of the growth and very proud of the accomplishments, Greg .

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. It's amazing. It's a wonderful story. I'm sure your parents are finally proud of you. I, I kind of went through some of the same things I heard my whole life. Why can't you be more like your older brother?

Michael Siegal :

You know , you want an honest statement? My wife will kill me. And then the last thing my mother said to me, I'm so surprised you made something of yourself. My mother said to me, and she meant it as a compliment. So

Greg Muzzillo:

Of course, of course, that has to feel good, but tell us, so you went from 30 some million to over a billion dollars in sales. Tell us some of the key things that you did, some of the high highs and the low lows. Tell us that story.

Michael Siegal :

Yeah. So the high highs, I think the skill is recognizing other people's ability to perform for me, you know, again, never the never the, a student, you know, never the best athlete , uh, although a good team player, right. I like team sports. I still say that now I'd rather have a good , I'll hire somebody who played on a team sport rather than an individual sport. I do think that nobody does these things alone. I do think that you have to recognize that you may have a good sense of our common sense, but there are others who have better skills than you have, and you literally have to give them the ability to perform and get out of their way. So, so I think there was one the ability to recognize talent i n other people, u h, don't take credit, take the blame, give the other people the credit and then find older mentors. I think one of the skills you and I talked about it, you know, about, you know, what really made a difference. It wasn't, yes. My father gave me lots of good , um guidance, ethics, but you know, there's a long, the way you have to find mentors who are more seasoned than you are, and you have to listen to the guidance of people like who are more successful than you are. You can't think like you have an original idea. All these ideas have been done before there might be a new product. And, you know, there's only a, there's a Bill Gates. There's a , you know, there's a Steve Jobs. I'm not them. Okay. Um, and so I'm not them. So, so I was very blessed that a lot of people kind of liked me and I liked them. And I, you know, whether, whether I use them as individual mentors or business mentors, I listened very well, even though I talk a lot. So I think listening to, and finding people that you respect that are older than you are, who have been through the wars and have hold you like, these are the things you ought to be thinking about. Um, for me, it was, it was really , um , very fortunate to have a lot of people who are my seniors, who really took a liking to me and gave me great advice.

Greg Muzzillo:

What were some of the key things that you did strategically?

Michael Siegal :

Uh, you know I grew up in the era when Drexel Burnham was in Wall Street Journal every day. Um, and so you're sitting there and you go, I think I'm a reasonably smart guy, you know, I'm reading all these great success stories in the business journals and going, I can't figure all this out. Right. Um, and so I think part of it was, I knew that being in Cleveland, Ohio , uh, having a guy who wants to be in the room, kinda mentality, staying in Cleveland, Ohio alone was not for me. So I think you have to have an expansive view of where your place is in the United States and in the world. And then you have to be willing to take risks in terms of growing beyond the boundaries, which other people set for you, right? There's, there's an expectation that you're not going to do things as opposed to what you actually really think you're capable of doing. So I think it was kind of the first acquisition, Greg, you know , how do I, how do I buy my three bedroom, one and a half bath in Chicago? You know what, where's the geography I need to be in to service, not just the company, the clients I have but the clients I want to have. And so I think a lot of the acquisition, you know , opportunity, you know, again, you better be really right on the first one or the second one may come along so soon. So I think this entrepreneurial spirit of saying one, I need to , I need to be bigger and better. I need to be bigger in terms of my ability to expand beyond the geographical boundaries that have been placed for me is number one. And then two failure for me was never an option. I mean, I, I think that when I talk to younger people and they ask advice, I said, don't try and find a life work balance. I said, there's no such thing. Okay. There's only the choices that you make along the way, you know, there's not, okay, I'm going to spend X amount of hours with my kids or X amount of hours of my work. And everybody tells you all when you die. I never say I should've spent more time at work. And the answer is no, I spent a lot of time at work, an awful lot of time at work. Uh , even then when I had three kids, very young, I mean, I had three before I was 30 years old. Uh, I spent a lot of time at work because that's what I felt I needed, right. For my family and for the life goals I set for myself. So, you know, working hard is one working smart is the other. But recognizing that, the reason you're working is for a much longer term plan of your life, then, you know, boy, how do I cash out right away? And so when you make these things and you make mistakes, believe me, not all the acquisitions were good ones, but failure's not an option. We've closed businesses. We bought businesses. I won't tell you everything was perfect. But the ability to continue to stay focused on the mission, where are you going? Don't lose sight of the mission. What are you trying to accomplish? And where are you going, particularly as captain of the ship, you know, you can't panic in the storm. There are moments in recessions that are very difficult emotionally , um, family. Uh, I would tell you pick a great partner, find a great partner for life because you can't do it alone and there's gotta be a support system for you. And I was very blessed to make a great choice with a spouse, which is probably dumb luck on my part and a plan on her part. I've had a lot of good luck, but I've worked very, very hard. I mean, working hard , uh, without trying to worry about the guilt of what you weren't doing. Uh, I didn't really let it get in my way. Yeah. I like

Greg Muzzillo:

Have children and I worked hard and I there's no apologizing for it Michael. I think it helps give children a sense of work ethic

Michael Siegal :

Yeah. They view your actions, not your words, they view your actions, not your words .

Greg Muzzillo:

Exactly. So I think, I think it's all good. Tell me about the scariest time. Can you think of the scariest time, the most concerning time in your business

Michael Siegal :

Besides tomorrow? Um, yeah, I think , um , it's always tomorrow, right? The fear of failure is always, there's always tomorrow. I think, you know, Greg, there's a point where, you know, when you think you're mastering the universe , um , you know, remember we were, we were really on a pretty aggressive acquisition trail back in the early nineties and we had levered ourself up pretty strong. Um and a recession hit a major recession hit. And so , um, our bank at that time , we're still here and they're not , um, you'll , you'll forget. And I'll forget only I'll remember. Um, I think that our bank kind of put us on a very short leash. I remember when they did that, which I thought was not appropriate given where we, you know, what we were doing in terms of performance. And I told them I will work every day of my life to get you out of, out of this company. And so we actually paid off that loan in less than two years , uh, under great constraints , uh , by the bank. And , um, yeah, it was pretty scary when a bank walks in and says, you know, we're cutting your line and putting all these controls on you. And , um, yeah, it was, it wasn't pleasant.

Greg Muzzillo:

Reactions to scary times are so important and a great response and a lot of wisdom in what you've just said. What other key pieces of advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and people with big dreams, Michael?

Michael Siegal :

So people with big dreams, I'd always say, keep your dreams , uh , but recognize you still need cash flow . You know, cash is King , uh, is the only advice I give anybody, you know , uh, I I've seen great entrepreneurs with great ideas, just run out of money. Uh, and, and so it's not that you don't have the best idea. You have to understand that cash is King. It's the only economic philosophy that works in every single market universe. Um, you know, life's not fair, you know, and neither is your business and neither is your suppliers. So, you know, in business to some degree, it is about winning the transaction. Okay, it's winning the transaction . You don't have to win everything, but you really have to have, I call it, you have to have a certain degree of either fear of failure. Uh , and sometimes I say, it's anger. You gotta be angry when you fail. You know , you gotta be able to look in the mirror, you know, and look at yourself and say, how did I fail? I mean , why did this not work out? I mean, I thought all the logic, I played all the chess pieces the right way, and yet I didn't get the order. I didn't get the, what did I, you know, and don't blame anybody else for your failure. And , and by the way, and take some of the blame for somebody else's failure. I would tell you when things don't look, work out the way you would expected, look at yourself first and say, how can I change my behavior? Um, it's not the other person's issue. It's my issue. And so I think always, I would tell a young Entrepreneur, you know, you can't that you can't be the one trick pony, you've gotta be able to evolve and change yourself. You know, I used to say every 10 years and every five years now, it's every three years. I would tell you, if you can't have the ability to alter yourself, you think that you're always right. You're going to get left behind because the world is moving with or without you and you've got to change yourself all the time and change your business, which is very hard to do, especially as you get big.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. Great advice. All right, Michael, so clearly , you're in the room in business and clearly in the room in other segments of your life that I know are important to you. You've taken a company from 30 some million to over a billion. You're the Chairman of the Board. Um, tell me now that you've achieved so much, what now is the big dream or the big dream for you for the rest of your life?

Michael Siegal :

Well , um, you know, now I'll go back to my sixties liberal , uh, you know , wait a second, just to show you. Okay. There's my 60 liberal self. Okay. I think I would like the world to be a better place. I think I have , you know, I'm in a lot of geopolitical rooms , uh, not on one side of the aisle or the other, but I've been able to straddle, you know, kind of a centrist position politically, where, where I am , uh, called upon to be in rooms that were, I think big decisions are made. I think the world today is clearly different. I think the aspect of this thing, you know, being so much more powerful than, than when we put a man on the moon is incredible. And the age of communication is as dangerous. Um, you know , uh, as anything we've ever seen in our lifetime, because somebody in a little hut in the Philippines can shut down the electrical grid of America. Um, so, so I think that we have to I think I would like to make the world a better and safer place. So I spend a lot of time on philanthropy. So as you know, I, I actually care about ethics and governance. I do think you can be successful and be a good person at the same time. And I do think your values matter. When I spoke to younger people in high schools, particularly what I try and remind them is that somebody from another country and your family came here, I don't care if it's your parents, grandparents , great grandparents there's very few people who have been here for hundreds of years. Many of us have been here for a hundred years or less as a family and integrity. And the name of that person who came here to that sacrificed everything for you to be here now is something that you should never jeopardize. Your family name is everything. And so to me, I think the, the dream now is to take what little power I have Greg , and try and use that to influence a better outcome for everybody. I want my grandkids to be safe and I want everybody's grandkids to be safe.

Greg Muzzillo:

Michael that's really good stuff. It's a great story. It is a lot of great advice. And most importantly, I'm proud that you earned your way into so many important rooms in your business, in your family and in your life. I want to thank you today very much for joining us and to all of you listened in today, those of you with big dreams, those of you that are aspiring entrepreneurs, I hope that you get some wisdom and some motivation from a very successful man, Michael Siegal. Thank you all for joining us.

All About Michael Siegal
Big Dreams
Mentorship is Key
Failure is Not an Option
Scary Times
Key Advice
Future Big Dreams