By Dan Davis
Andrew Gross, president and CEO, Al- liance Steel LLC, admits he didn’t see working in the steel distribution business as being “sexy” when he went to work for
his father, Al Gross, at Essak Steel in the late
1970s. But times and perspectives change over
the years, and today he wouldn’t want to be in
any other industry.
His peers recognize that passion and dedication, and that’s why the Association of Steel
Distributors (ASD) has named Andrew Gross its
2018 Steel Executive of the Year Award winner.
ASD is a technology affiliate of the Fabricators &
Manufacturers Association, Elgin, Ill.
Leaning on his many years working in the steel
business, Gross purchased Alliance Steel Corp. in
1997. It established its headquarters in Bedford
Park, Ill., in 1999 and later added two sales and
service offices in Atlanta and Memphis. Alliance
Steel will soon move to a new campus in Gary,
Ind., where it will be able to consolidate three
buildings into one and be more centrally located
to steel mills and its steel-buying customers.
Gross is a longtime ASD member and has
served as its president and chair since 2017. He
was formally presented the Steel Executive of
the Year Award at a special dinner on March 5.
The FABRICATOR recently spoke with the industry veteran, asking him to reflect on where
he came from and where his company is headed.
The FABRICATOR: What does it feel like to be
recognized by your peers in the ASD with the
2018 Steel Executive of the Year Award?
Andrew Gross: I share this industry with incredibly intuitive people who have had their
own tremendous careers. So I’m humbled and
flattered by the fact that my peers have recognized my grit and hard work as noteworthy. It’s
FAB: How would you describe your tenure in the
steel industry? How has your career evolved?
Gross: I started out in a very tumultuous market.
In 1980 interest rates were about 20 percent. I
was a young Turk trying to make a living in the
I got into the business, but it wasn’t in the
service center business. I got into the brokerage
business where we bought and sold steel and kind
of arbitraged our way into making a few shekels.
As that progressed, I realized that I wanted to be
more of a brick-and-mortar guy. I have an affinity
for machinery, equipment, operations, and staff.
As a brokerage, you are kind of a lone ranger. You
can say that you’re free, but it really depends on
the relationships you have with the service centers, where you get your steel.
So I kind of chose a different path, leaving the
brokerage business. The first time was in the
late 1980s when Essak Steel was around. We had
a service center in Detroit for a little while, but
Essak closed in the early 1990s. I went back into
the brokerage business, and then turned my attention to a small toll processor. I took that company and realized that it was way too slow for
me. There’s no action. I needed to buy and sell.
At that moment I had a business partner, and
we started buying and selling steel into the early
2000s. I eventually bought him out. So I had a
toll processing company that was turned into a
full service center.
Around this time the steel service center industry started to really change. And that was by
all the consolidation.
When I got into the business, there were more
than 40 steel mills in the U.S. Now there are six
steel-producing mills. They just went away one
after another. It’s only expanding now because
you have Big River and JSW. It’s been a very
interesting road. So in the early 2000s, I knew
that we were going to have to pick a side of the
road and determine what type of company we
wanted to be.
That helped me define who Alliance Steel and
Andy Gross were. We were going to be a service
center. I was going to have a brick-and-mortar
building. I was going to invest in equipment, inventory, and people.
With the consolidation going on at the time,
the supply side was starting to minimize, and
steel purchasers were starting to recognize only
brick-and-mortar facilities. The brokerage world
was struggling. The days when you could get a
home equity loan, visit the six guys you knew at
the steel mill, buy two truckloads of steel from
them, and sell the steel were coming to an end.
You had to go and be approved by customers,
and you needed to set up a bidding system.
In 2004 to 2006 I saw a tremendous amount
of flattening in the market, and this was going
to allow us to grow up. As a result, we started to
hire rock star salespeople. A couple just hit it out
of the park, and they were able to help create
the backbone of Alliance Steel and help to make
us who we are today. And I get to enjoy the glory
of that. It makes me the executive of the year
due to their hard work.
FAB: As a younger man, did you have any idea
that you would end up on the service center side
of the steel business?
Gross: Yes. I’ve always liked the machinery side.
I definitely take satisfaction in having made the
technology investments that allow us to serve
our customers in the best way possible.
As a young guy, my vision was always to build
bigger, better, and badder. Over the years that
attitude has morphed into a tagline for our company: Always do the right thing. That means
never screw your vendors and never screw your
customers. Do the right thing. If it’s wrong, get
it corrected. And you know, it’s worked. It truly
has worked. We are now a large company that
has a tremendous ability to get a second chance
because we always do the right thing. That has
been a good way to live.
FAB: You mentioned earlier that consolidation
has altered the steel service center market over
the years. Do you see that as the biggest change
to have affected this industry, or do you see other
things as having a much larger impact?
Gross: I’m going to address several topics here.
It’s changed from sales, knowledge, and technology standpoints.
Let me start at the beginning. Sales guys used
to be able to get in and make sales by establishing relationships. You’d hire a bunch of them
and pay them well, and everyone would prosper.
Now it’s been difficult to cultivate younger people to become interested in this nonsexy industry. So that becomes a little bit of a roadblock
or a barrier to entry for us in trying to attract
ASD’s Steel Executive of the Year
reflects on his career, focuses on future
Gross: The challenges keep coming, but the rewards are worth it