John Ferriola is full of fond memories of his time working and living in Norfolk, and his tenure at the local Nucor Steel plant help paved the path to his position as the company's head man.
Ferriola announced his retirement as chairman and CEO of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based steel company in September. He was in Norfolk this week to visit the local Nucor Steel plant along with various other stops and tours in town.
Ferriola's time with Nucor began in 1991. He has worked as the chairman of the board of directors since January 2014 and has served as chief executive officer since January 2013.
Before various promotions throughout the last two decades, Ferriola worked as general manager of Nucor Steel in Norfolk.
"I have great memories and I loved living in Norfolk and I loved working at the mill," Ferriola said. "When I was first told I was going to Norfolk, Nebraska, it was like, ‘Oh man, cold, middle of nowhere,’ but once you get here, you feel the warmth and the hospitality.”
To Ferriola, what stands out the most when reminiscing about his time in Norfolk are the people.
"People have that 'it takes a village' attitude. I remember one time during the first really bad snowstorm, I got a little bit too close to an edge, and over I went off the road, and it wasn't five minutes until someone stopped and helped get me out of that. That's just how the people are here."
Since then, Nucor has seen continued growth company-wide since, something Ferriola and his team take genuine pride in. He has been particularly impressed with the development of the local Nucor Steel plant.
"We've invested a lot, but we've gotten a great return on the investments we've made here in Norfolk. We're going to continue to invest here, and we have a high degree of confidence in our teams and all of our operations here. We (Nucor) are very proud and pleased to be here in Norfolk, Nebraska."
Nucor and its affiliates manufacture steel and steel products. The operating facilities in the U.S. and Canada produce carbon and alloy steel in bars, beams, sheet and plate; hollow structural section tubing, electrical conduit, steel piling, steel joists and joist girders, steel deck, fabricated concrete reinforcing steel, cold finished steel, precision castings, steel fasteners, metal building systems, steel grating, and wire and wire mesh.
"The trade war has been going on for a long time," Ferriola said. "We have been struggling with an unlevel playing field in our industry for a long time. The tariffs, the 232, created for the first time a level playing field in which we can compete. The result is the kind of year we had last year and the kind of year we're having this year."
Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act provides President Donald Trump enforcement authority to address the threat of imports on national security grounds. In March 2018, the president executed 10% tariffs on aluminum imports and 25% tariffs on steel imports. Nucor saw profit increase 24% higher than its previous record in 2018.
In recent months, Leon Topalian has been groomed to succeed Ferriola, starting Jan. 1, 2020. Once in retirement, Ferriola looks forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren in New York — and less time in airplanes, as his job as CEO requires constant travel.
Because of his fondness for Norfolk and its people, Ferriola plans to make return visits to town in the future as the former CEO of Nucor.
"We've made some great friends here in Norfolk," Ferriola said. "I'll be coming back — yeah, to see the mills, but not so much that — but to see a bunch of the great friends we've made here. Even after how many years, we still communicate regularly with them, and we look forward to seeing them again."