Family-Owned Business of the Year:
Super Steel LLC

When Fred Luber watched a company he spent 40 years of his career investing in and building fall victim to the Great Recession, the former business owner, at the age of 85, made a bold decision with his son, Paul, to take back the helm.

Just three years later, Super Steel LLC, a contract manufacturer on Milwaukee’s northwest side, employs nearly 400 employees and is on track to achieve $60 million in annual sales.

In recognition of that turnaround, Super Steel is BizTimes Milwaukee’s Best in Business Family-owned Business of the Year.

Fred’s leadership of the company stems back to the mid-1960s when he and two business partners purchased Super Steel from the original owners, who established it in 1923. Throughout Fred’s tenure with the company, he helped multiply its workforce from 13 employees to more than 800.

In 2005, after Paul’s original two business partners retired and were bought out, Fred sold Super Steel to a team of company management employees who had long held shares in the company.

But from 2008 to 2010, as the new owners faced a struggling economy on top of high debt levels, the company became unmanageable and was eventually placed into receivership, at which point the Lubers reappeared.

Paul Luber and Fred Luber

“(My dad) wanted to restart it and step in and get it back to a viable, thriving, vibrant company where it was under his leadership,” said Paul, Super Steel’s current chairman of the board. “And that was really the driving force. He certainly did not want to see its demise and wanted to revitalize it and get it back on a successful growing path.”

Following a family discussion, Fred, a current board of director, and Paul purchased Super Steel out of receivership and found themselves at the threshold of a series of challenges. Not only did they have to realign their cost structure with their sales, but they also had to regain the confidence of customers and vendors and communicate their new direction to remaining employees. At that time, the company’s employee base had plummeted to 170.

Super Steel did not lose any customers as its management team worked to restore their faith in the company, according to Paul, who has focused much of his professional career on metals-based manufacturing and other company turnarounds.

Key steps in righting the direction of Super Steel included bringing aboard top-notch leader Dirk Smith, current president and chief executive officer, as well as merging a host of new talent with existing staff members to sprout a “high-performing team,” Paul said.

The turnaround also required an infusion of capital to reposition the financial side of the company along with cuts in costs at all levels and significant reinvestments.

Since 2010, an additional $7 million has been reinvested into Super Steel’s equipment, technology and IT platform, and the company’s 450,000-square-foot facility.

“It’s been a couple-year journey and every month it’s been to the better, and we’re fortunate that where we sit today we’re thriving,” Paul said. “We’ve got an absolutely fantastic team of employees, and we’re focused on heavily investing in our future.”

As the company plots out its next steps for the future, it has created a strategic plan to achieve $100 million in sales in 2017 and proportionately grow its employee base to at least 700.

“It’s really a plan of organic growth,” Paul said. “We’re looking to diversify in some new and different markets for contract manufacturing.”

Those markets include transportation, agriculture, power generation, construction equipment, general industrial markets and defense markets.

“Those core businesses are where we certainly see opportunity, and we’re really enthused with what is kind of a resurgence in U.S.-based manufacturing of our variety,” Paul said. “And we’re seeing more and more opportunities that are coming back to this country that may have left for one reason or another.”

Super Steel was also named the fastest-growing company of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s Future 50 Award winners this year.

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