Woman of Steel

Echoing Lundgren’s self-assessment, her colleagues describe her as an intensely focused and strategic leader — who has created a corporate culture in her own image. “Tamara has a strong vision for the company and is always raising the bar in terms of what I and the business should be able to achieve,” says CFO Richard Peach. But she is also “keen to receive ideas,” Peach  says. He recalls his first conversation with Lundgren in 2007, when she interviewed him for his position. “She said she was interested in a cultural change in finance and wondered if I was sort of person who could be her partner and lead that change. I was really taken by her enthusiasm and creative thinking. It’s a big reason I came to the company.” 

Of her own leadership style, Lundgren says she encourages discussion and debate, following the advice of a former boss, who once told her: “’If I can convince you of my perspective, I get results. But if you can convince me of your perspective, I’ve learned something, so I win too.’” An avid golfer and all around sports fan, Lundgren invokes a football metaphor: “I like to play left offensive tackle. I look for where any one of my team members is going to get tackled and not going to see it coming.” 

Steel diplomacy

While working at Deutsche Bank,  Lundgren often had to explain complex, jargon-filled topics like structured finance to people who weren't proficient in English. It was a task she relished. “In the U.S. you don’t get to exercise that muscle,” she says. “You get addicted to the challenge.”

Today she flexes that muscle on business trips to Europe and Asia, where developing countries that once drove the demand-supply imbalance are now evolving into consumer economies, complicating the dynamic. Once the major source of demand, China is now the world’s largest producer of steel — and the target of a large number of trade cases filed by U.S. companies concerned about the country dumping steel in the U.S. at unfair prices.

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In September the U.S. Commerce Department imposed preliminary duties on Chinese wire rod, a steel product used in chain link fencing and nails. The action may limit imports going forward, says Lundgren, who recently returned from a trade mission to China. There she met with Premier Li “about the issue of overcapacity in the market.”

China is undergoing seismic shifts in the social, political and environmental spheres, Lundgren says. “What can accelerate recovery of steel is to reduce oversupply. [China] is the trickiest piece right now.” On that same trip, Lundgren met with President Park in South Korea, also the target of U.S. anti-dumping cases. There are other international issues on her radar, including unrest in the Middle East and the Ukraine. “Political instability overall affects economic growth.”

Ask Lundgren what excites her about being the CEO of a global metals recycling company and she’ll say, among other things, that she likes working in an industry that is a barometer for social, economic and political change. 

“We are driven by macroeconomic events and microeconomic events,” she says. “That includes a lot of little things, like whether you are holding on to your washing machine, because that impacts GDP growth. A huge amount of our material is also exported internationally, so what’s going on in the Mideast, in Europe, in Asia, is relevant. Waking up every morning and reading the paper is what’s exciting about my job.”

Lundgren’s board commitments reflect her deep interest in national and international affairs. They also give her a platform to champion issues that impact Schnitzer’s bottom line She serves on the board of Ryder System, a Florida-based truck leasing and maintenance company, and as chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a business group known for its conservative free market political positions — she has made infrastructure one of her top three priorities. The other two are immigration and environmental stewardship.

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Last summer, Lundgren co-chaired a conference on infrastructure with Representative Earl Blumenauer at Portland State University. Lamenting the state of Oregon’s bridges — over 400 are deemed structurally deficient  — she called for a new era of public private partnerships to solve the problem. “You don’t need to jack up taxes; you don’t have to overleverage federal funds.”

Then there is her work with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco  — “the most interesting thing I’ve done in my life.” Hers is a grueling schedule, to be sure, made more complicated by a bicoastal marriage. Lundgren’s husband, John Lundgren, whom she met in London, lives in Connecticut, where he is CEO of Stanley Black & Decker,  the power tools and household hardware company. Tamara maintains a residence in Portland, and the couple meets up every weekend: in Connecticut, in Boston, in California. “Her energy level makes my hectic schedule look, on occasion, like summer vacation,” John Lundgren said in an email. “But she still gets everything done.”

Asked by a guest at the Wells Fargo dinner how she does it all, Lundgren laughed: “I don’t have kids. I don’t have cats.”

1114tamaralundgren IMG 7789500pxToday there is talk of a nascent global recovery, including an increase in construction activity on the West Coast and a building boom in Turkey, one of the top destinations for Schnitzer ferrous metals this year.

These are among the reasons Lundgren is optimistic about Schnitzer’s growth potential. She ticks off the numbers. The steel mill is currently operating at 72% of capacity, a far cry from 100% in 2008, but up from 50%, where it fell in the recession. Scrap volumes are running slightly more than 4 million tons, up from 3 million in 2008, but down from 5 million in 2011. Looking ahead, Lundgren wants to exceed 2011 scrap levels and double the auto-parts business.

“U.S. steel manufacturing is going up, and so demand for scrap is going up. That corresponds to job growth. That means people start buying more cars, and end-of-life vehicles start flowing into Pick-n-Pull. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

So is driving your own destiny. In its fourth quarter earnings preview, announced on September 30, Schnitzer forecast the highest quarterly operating income for the steel business since 2008 — largely because of the productivity improvements, which include energy conservation upgrades and enhanced capacity to ship by rail. In 2014, these initiatives have realized $20 million in savings. Lundgren is equally proud of the company’s safety record, which since the downturn continues to improve year over year based on metrics the company tracks.

When I met Lundgren in her office in late August, she said she had spent most of the previous week in investor meetings. Minor gloating was apparently part of the agenda. “Every CEO says: 'We’ve got productivity initiatives and they’re going to deliver results,'” Lundgren said.  “I said: ‘Ours are delivering results, and I’m going to tell you about them.’”


Sidebar: Gender neutral

Tamara Lundgren doesn’t dwell on her status as a female CEO in a male-dominated industry. “Every industry I’ve been in has been male dominated when I’ve been in it,” she says. “My law school class was 20% women; now it’s over 50%. I was one of the few women on the trading floor in London, and now the numbers are really different. So I see it evolving. These things take time.”

Lundgren does say more formal and informal mentoring opportunities would help women attain C-Suite and corporate board positions.

She also advocates applying “the Rooney rule” to gender diversity. In 2003, at the instigation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner, Dan Rooney, the NFL agreed that any time a team was searching for a coach or general manager, they had to make sure their interview pool included minority candidates. “I’d like to see every organization use a version of the Rooney rule. Why not insist every interview pool includes people of both genders?”

Sidebar: Downtime with Tamara Lundgren

“I read a lot about politics. I just finished reading Robert Gates’ book, Duty, Memoirs of a Secretary at War, when I flew out to Asia. I’m a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I met her at a small dinner, and she is a fascinating woman. She is one of the few people I know who speaks in paragraphs.”

“I used to sit on the board of the James Beard Foundation. I’m an adventurous eater and wish I were a really good cook.”

John Lundgren on Tamara: “Shortly after our first date, when a mutual friend asked how it went: I said: ‘I really liked her – especially when I realized it was one part dinner, two parts deposition. This is way to capture her intellectual curiosity and a genuine interest in people.”

Tamara Lundgren on John: “We joke we’re hedged. When steel prices are high, I’m happy. He’s just the opposite.” John is the CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, a Connecticut-based company that makes power tools and household hardware.

A version of this article appears in the November/December issue of Oregon Business


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