'Old economy' steel company expands

Posted on July 9, 2012

Being in the steel business may seem very “old economy” to some, but for at least one local steel company, it’s the road to growth.

Novi-based Lee Steel opened its new headquarters a year ago, carving a modernistic new facility out of an old printing shop. The company is to break ground any day on a new processing plant in Romulus. And the third-generation family owned firm has been expanding its Grand Rapids-area processing facility, too.

Zachary Taylor, 54, president of the family firm, attributes the success to “good customers, great employees.” The formula has helped Lee Steel ride out the rough spots. “We were busy through the recession,” he said.

Like any steel distributor, Lee Steel buys huge coils of rolled steel from various mills and then cuts and shapes the steel for clients’ specific orders. Automotive stamping plants buy about two-thirds of Lee Steel’s output.

Lee Steel remained busy during the Great Recession on the strength of its non-automotive clients, which include office furniture makers, agricultural uses and “whatever else we can sell it for,” Taylor said.

Zachary’s father, Thomas, founded the company in 1947, naming it after his wife’s first name. Zachary now has two sons in the business, Scott, 26, who works in the Grand Rapids facility, and Tom, 28, who works at the headquarters in Novi.

About a year ago, Lee Steel opened its new headquarters on Grand River in Novi with an innovative, modernistic design by Davis & Davis Interior Design, a Farmington Hills firm. Designed to be a showroom for the possibilities of steel, the headquarters space is all precision angles, stainless steel-wrapped columns and cantilevered beams.

Howard Davis, principal and CEO of Davis & Davis, told a recent interviewer, “These stainless steel elements convey Lee Steel’s precision engineering using metal — the very lifeblood of their business.”

One material not found in the new headquarters is wood, and that was by design.

“We’re in the steel business. We’re not in the wood business,” Taylor explained. “I said to Howard, ‘Give me a good clean look, nothing but metal. It definitely has the wow factor. It’s kind of neat, like something out of ‘The Jetsons.’ ”

Meanwhile, the company expects to break ground within days on its new $27-million processing plant near I-275 and Eureka Road in Romulus. The new plant will replace an older facility in Detroit, and it will operate as a complete green facility, eliminating the old acid waste by-products of the traditional process of preparing steel for clients.

“The only by-product is steam and a little bit of grit that gets recycled back into the steel,” Taylor said.

Having weathered the recession, Lee Steel now enjoys annual sales in the $120-million range. The company employs about 50 employees.

And with the new green processing facility and a new headquarters showcase to boast of, Lee Steel looks forward to more growth.

“Anything that uses steel, we’ve got a part of it,” Taylor said.

More Details: Lee Steel

What it is: A steel processor and distributor, buying huge coils from mills and cutting and shaping it for customers.

Headquarters: Novi

Founded: 1947

Employees: 50

Annual revenues: $120 million

President: Zachary Taylor

By: John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press