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Backbone of the nation: Steve McHugh

As an industry, steel production has been labelled the backbone of any economy. Lending weight to the boldness of such a claim, Managing Director of Total Steel of Australia (TSA) Steve McHugh has this to say: “If your steel industry’s busy, your whole nation’s busy, because it’s building, developing, progressing.”

Steve McHugh, Managing Director of Total Steel of Australia

It’s no less true in Australia, a country that Steve still sees as relatively young. Countless projects across a multitude of industries all require steel, from the heart of the big cities to remote rural areas.

Though Australia is a smaller steel producer compared with the larger nations, it still rides the highs and lows of the global industry, where incidents such as the US–China trade war can shift the fortunes of many.

Steve calls it a boom–bust industry, but during his time in TSA and the broader steel industry, he’s worked out the right way to ride the shifting tides to continued success.

“It comes back to the handling of the situation in a calm, rational and logical way,” he says. “Some things we have to accept. Weather conditions and those sorts of things can upset the apple cart, no doubt about it.”

For the past four decades, TSA has served a broad swathe of industries Australia-wide, providing cutting, welding, drilling and rolling services.

It also offers steel products of countless shapes and sizes, including pipes, plates, sheets and mesh. In supporting TSA’s clients through the provision of these goods and services, Steve believes the company is helping prop up the Australian steel industry as a whole.

“We believe our role within the industry is to solve as many problems for our clients as we possibly can,” he explains.

“A lot of that is servicing clients as quickly as we can, so they can keep their operations running. It’s not just the big infrastructure jobs, which are always nice for a nation to live off. In a lot of instances, steel is the backbone to fixing a breakdown. While the piece of material might be relatively cheap, it’s stopping a multimillion-dollar piece of machinery from doing something. That’s what we believe is important, keeping our clients ticking over as quickly and efficiently as they can.”

“We believe our role within the industry is to solve as many problems for our clients as we possibly can.”

The key to this support, Steve believes, is to make an effort towards understanding what a client is trying to achieve, as well as some of the difficulties they may be facing.

From there, the mission is to use TSA’s services to help them overcome those problems. This approach has encouraged suppliers, clients and employees alike to stick with the company for years; Steve says there are team members of TSA who have been with the company for more than
two decades, declaring it proof that the company has “a sound vision of taking care of those who are engaged with it”.

“Our staff can feel confident that management – not just myself but everyone involved – is making sensible decisions on their behalf for the long-term,” he says.

“Of course, that flows into their enthusiasm for the business because if they feel that the group is being smart about what it does and how it does it, they feel more secure in their position. That then flows on to our clients and suppliers, so that everyone is working to create a good, strong, solid business to service everyone.”

Steve McHugh, Managing Director of Total Steel of Australia

After all, that’s what keeps Steve coming to work each day – managing that relationship between clients, suppliers and TSA.

For him, it’s where his work holds the greatest significance, through understanding what the client needs and how to maintain a balance with suppliers and the broader industry.

At the same time, Steve has the responsibility of overseeing more than just TSA’s Australian sites. He also ensures he keeps a weather eye on the global industry, changeable as it is.

Beyond trade fluctuations, even things like dramatic weather events can shift the industry’s fortunes, which is why Steve focuses on “where we think we should be buying our steel from and where we think the forward market’s going”.

It’s also why he sees awareness as the most crucial skill for his role; steel has a diverse clientele, so a practical, realistic view towards industry fluctuations – good and bad – is a necessity.

As a relatively small country (and therefore a small steel industry), Steve says the means for Australia to keep pace globally is through innovation.

TSA makes a point of embracing the latest technology, but it’s not just production techniques it focuses on; logistics is a key issue for a company operating across a nation with vast tracts of remote, isolated land.

“Logistics, at times, can become a big problem,” says Steve. “But the isolation of some of the areas we’re working in – we’re sometimes dealing with clients 1,000 kilometres from our actual offices – means we’re trying to improve how quickly we can respond to reduce the drama at their end. The piece of steel itself might be inexpensive, but it’s holding up a much larger process within their organisation. It’s acknowledging the speed that we have to service our clients and reduce their stress levels.”

But on a personal level, Steve has his own logistics solutions – smart devices. Obvious, perhaps, but the utility of such technology can’t be understated.

“It might sound silly, but iPads and iPhones keep me productive,” he says. “I can get emails anytime and they allow us to respond quickly to changes globally and domestically. Because Australia is a large country, it’s difficult sometimes to visit everyone individually. But this way, we can keep in regular contact and fix many problems.”

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