Jack Bernstein of State Steel recognized with national award | Local company


Metal Center News

Editor’s Note: The following is an abridged version of the cover story for the December issue of Metal Center News, a trade magazine for the metals distribution industry.

SIOUX CITY – Jack Bernstein, the second generation of State Steel’s family, helped build a diverse steel distribution business in the Upper Midwest.

If you talk to Jack Bernstein’s employees, you invariably get a description of his work habits: unmatched.

“Jack is the first to enter and the last to exit. He opens the doors and locks them in at night, literally and figuratively. That’s actually what he does, ”says Eric Rubel, director of rolled and flat products at State Steel, who has worked alongside Bernstein for 23 years.

State Steel Jack Bernstein, right, is joined by his son, Dave, who runs the day-to-day operations of State Steel, and his brother, Norman, who oversees the scrap metal portion of the Sioux City-based family business. Jack Bernstein was recently named the 25th Metal Center News Service Center Executive of the Year recipient.

Photo courtesy of George Lindblade

Now, if you talk to colleagues in the industry, another description is repeated: integrity.

“His answer is solid. He will keep his word. If I have a verbal agreement on a product, that’s what we agreed to, ”says Phil Kooima, founder of Rock Valley, Iowa, Kooima Company, which has gone from being to State Steel customer to that of a cutting edge partner. end of 2019.

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And if you talk to, well, just about any of the people who know Jack – colleagues, industry peers, and the many people he has interacted with over the years – another trait is mentioned. : constant zeal for the steel industry.

“Jack is passionate about his business, his steel and the quality of the product he puts into his plant,” says Sam Savariego, founder of Delta Steel Technologies and longtime equipment supplier to State Steel.

This top-notch work habit, his love for the company, his integrity, along with a few other traits such as honesty, intelligence and good humor, are the reason why Bernstein is the 25th recipient of the Director of Metal Center News Service Center of the Year.

Each year for the past quarter century, MCN has honored the leader of a service desk business based on the leadership that executive brings to their business, industry and the community at large. Bernstein, the second-generation head of the family business, ticks all of those boxes.

State Steel delivers a variety of metal products to businesses from several locations around its hub in Sioux City.

“There are so many products sold in our area,” says Bernstein, who has been involved in the day-to-day operations of the family business since the 1960s. “People don’t know how much manufacturing there is in our part of the world. It’s not just agriculture.

State Steel has an all too common origin story in the service center world, although where it went for these Iron Men is only the Bernsteins.

In the 1940s, barely out of the Depression and barely entering World War II, Sam Bernstein moved his family from Brooklyn, in eastern Iowa, to the larger city of Sioux City. He bought a tinplate baler and started a scrap metal company, Sioux City Compressed Steel. They moved a lot of metal into the business in the 1940s, although wartime rationing prevented the company from profiting too much from their operations.

By the late 1950s, the scrap metal trade was struggling with low prices, as happens from time to time. Some of his friends in manufacturing encouraged Sam to start selling new steel. So he put up a few sheds across from the scrap yard and did just that.

It was steel, although it wasn’t really considered new. “Back then, you couldn’t necessarily get the steel mills to sell you steel. It was a closed-loop club, ”says Jack, who joined the business in the early 1960s, often tasked with finding any scrap of used steel he could.

Even without a consistent source from producers, State Steel was a full distributor from the start, selling whatever product it could get its hands on. And soon it was more than just a distributor.

Shortly after joining the company, Jack Bernstein was in Chicago on one of his many trips to secure equipment. Ben Verson, father of Jack’s wife Gail, was the brother of the founders of Verson All Steel Press Company, a Chicago-based equipment maker. Ben Verson urged his son-in-law to start expanding beyond mere distribution of metal in processing, to add value to the product.

State Steel purchased its first Verson press in the mid-1960s, a machine that still operates at its factory in downtown Sioux City, side-by-side with state-of-the-art cutting machines from Bystronic and TRUMPF.

The business grew, with Sam – who died in 1996 at the age of 89 – giving way to Jack as the driving force behind State Steel, which was making its mark as a premier distributor in the Upper Midwest. In 1973, the company attempted to expand its reach into central Nebraska, a task made more difficult by the distance and some overwhelming competitors. Other companies had started offering overnight delivery, which State Steel couldn’t match.

Dennis Edwards, an outside salesperson at the time, pushed Jack Bernstein to make the tour trucks keep pace. Jack did better, jotting down blueprints for a new facility and asking Edwards to find the land and run State Steel’s first satellite operation. “It was way more than I asked for,” said Edwards, who now runs a similar State Steel operation in Omaha.

Since this initial expansion, State Steel has added four more facilities, in Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Spencer, Iowa; and Omaha. With each new installation, the company adds shears, saws and press brakes, as well as other processing equipment if the situation calls for it.

The company has also added coil processing equipment, both in Sioux City and Omaha. While State Steel’s current footprint is exclusive to the ring around Sioux City, the company isn’t ruling out expanding further.

“As it develops, yes. Anything is possible, ”says Bernstein.

It is an apt description of their current holdings. In addition to the main business of the service center, Jack and his son, Dave, continue to maintain an interest in the local scrap metal business, run by Jack’s brother, Norman, as well as an interest in a joint venture of separate scrap.

More recently, in 2019, State Steel and neighboring SPS formed a joint venture to acquire laser product makers Kooima Company.

Unlike many in the service center industry, Jack Bernstein has a deep understanding of all aspects of steel fabrication, the equipment used to process it, and the proper applications of the finished product. Besides his history in the family business, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering and did some brief postgraduate studies, although he downplays the relevance of his academic career.

“There’s nothing better than just going out and doing it. I learned a lot more from our customers, ”he says.

Prior to the acquisition, the Kooima company was a long-time State Steel customer, and he knows where to turn when he has a question about the metal.

“I like to work several times with higher grades of steel. Jack became a resource to talk about some of these properties and the effect they would have on forming, machining, heat treating, all of those things. Sometimes I would just call him to let him know about a process to get his opinion if it worked, ”he says.

Acting in the best interests of the customer is the rule at State Steel, and one of the reasons the service center industry in general continues to thrive.

“A steel plant cannot serve a customer like we can. I get annoyed if we’ve disappointed a customer, even though it’s not our fault, ”says Bernstein. “If we are shipping something on an LTL and the driver has an accident and it hasn’t happened, how are we going to fix it? We only care about taking care of our customers, and that’s something we constantly say to our employees.

Although initially hesitant to sell to a small company like State Steel, the domestic production community no longer has this problem. The company’s growth has been facilitated by its long-standing membership in the North American Steel Alliance, where Dave Bernstein is currently president of the purchasing cooperative.

The company sources almost exclusively domestic products, its facilities being too far from Houston or New Orleans to import equipment economically. The only exception are some of SSAB’s high strength materials which are made in Sweden, rather than the domestic factories the company also buys from.

By the end of the year, Jack Bernstein had started to see some improvement in the supply situation for factories, with reduced delivery times. He is pleased to see the increase in the online capacity of some of the domestic producers, believing it to be necessary. “We cannot let what happened with the chip supply happen,” he explains.

In addition, he is also impressed with the management of today’s steel mills, believing that the production base is “in very good hands”.

While Bernstein applauds leadership elsewhere in the industry, his employees and peers have similar things to say about him.

“I grew up in the business here. This is where I have been all the time. Jack has been my mentor for all I know, ”says Eric Rubel.

Dennis Edwards has an almost identical take. “I learned everything from Jack. I learned the product, the process, the customer service.

Bob Jacobsen, vice president of operations for State Steel, had worked for another steel organization for 35 years. He retired from there, but came out of retirement to join Jack at State Steel. “Jack brings every stroke to the business. It is a pleasure to work with him. Every day is something new and you learn something new from it. Everyone here respects him enormously.

Today, Jack is focusing at State Steel on the flat-rolled side of the business, leaving his son Dave to handle the big picture, company-wide items. Jack Bernstein helped steer the business to the flat side of business and it remains his area of ​​greatest pleasure.

“I like the different classes. You put in a spool, you have 45 to 50,000 pounds of product, ”he says. “60 to 70% of the industry is made up of flat rolled products. “

And for almost 60 years, being a part of the action of steel is where Jack Bernstein always wanted to be.


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