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Educated decisions Featured

10:33am EDT June 28, 2005

Don McNeeley started with the Chicago Tube and Iron Co. right out of high school in 1972.

He quickly took advantage of the company's continuing education program that allowed him to work while having his school paid for. Each time he completed a degree, he was given expanded responsibilities, eventually taking over leadership of the company. McNeeley used his knowledge to guide the company through several challenges.

It moved from primarily being a distributor of steel to taking on more of a manufacturing role. This transformation was built on the concept that the company could no longer achieve the growth necessary for survival by simply continuing the geographic expansion it had traditionally employed; it needed to expand vertically in addition to horizontally.

This strategy allowed the company to maintain profitability through a period when there were tremendous losses and high failure rates in the steel industry, and it has maintained 90 years of profitability and has never used debt financing.

McNeeley has a strong devotion to education. The company funds 100 percent of the cost of continuing education for any employee. He says it would be hypocritical for him to change a program that played such a dramatic role in his own success.

The company's success has attracted many buyout offers, but McNeeley says he grew up with the company and its employees and would not do anything that is not in the best long-term interest of Chicago Tube. This attitude helps foster loyalty among the employees, who have the longest average tenure in the industry.