MEET THE PLANT MANAGER
A Team Stronger than Steel
Nucor plant manager Lester Hart believes empowering employees motivates them
to reach and surpass production goals.
Lester Hart and the steel industry have been inseparable since birth. Having entered the world in the heart of the Rust Belt (Northeast Ohio) at the time of a lucrative manufacturing boom, Hart even took his first breath inside a hospital named after a steel company.
Given his roots, it’s no surprise Hart has spent his entire professional life (35 years and counting) climbing the ladder in the same line of work as so many did back home. Beginning as an apprentice electrician in a steel mill, Hart eventually became overseer of this vital Nucor Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) facility within the Port District — a position he has held since the plant’s inception five years ago.
Nestled next to a mile-long stretch of the Mississippi River in Convent, the Nucor plant Hart oversees sits on 4,000 acres and operates around the clock for 365 days a year. Roughly 175 full-time employees — the majority of which work four-days-on/four-days-off shifts — play key roles in the process of producing direct reduced iron pellets that become various forms of steel used in everyday things, such as washers and dryers, siding and automotive parts. The raw material (iron ore) is brought in through the Port of South Louisiana via Panamax or Baby Cape vessels and unloaded at the Nucor facility. They send the finished product to four different steel mills.
“When I first moved here, everyone asked me, ‘What are you looking for in Nucor? What do you want from your team?” Hart recalls. “And it was [really] easy; my daughter was in kindergarten, and all [of] the values she was being taught [were] what I was looking for in employees: honesty, integrity, optimism, working together, treating people the right way, having pride and adopting a can-do attitude.”
“Now with that said, we have a potpourri of talented, driven and skilled workers at Nucor — everything from a degreed chemical engineer to a person who just graduated high school a couple [of] years ago here in Lutcher. Motivation is never an issue with this group.”
One reason Hart seems to be surrounded by so many self-starters is due in part to Nucor’s “pay-for-performance” incentive program afforded to all [of] its employees. The standard to meet varies depending on the department, but regardless of the goal, the program rewards hard work and allows Nucor members to build up “sweat equity,” as Hart called it.
“It gives off an innovative spirit,” Hart says. “When you’re working on a project at home, you’re motivated to do it in the most efficient, safe and cost-effective manner possible; same goes here. It gives you a deep sense of ownership within the company, a great deal of personal responsibility and team responsibility as we each strive toward meeting and exceeding goals, safely.”
Much of Hart’s managerial demeanor — self-described as encouraging, focused and team-oriented — was forged during the 25 years he’s spent at Nucor’s domestic and international sites. Before heading to Louisiana, Hart helped shepherd the start-up of a similar DRI facility in Trinidad in the mid-2000s, staying on to manage the infant years once the plant was operational. Hart also led a steel plate plant near Nucor’s headquarters in North Carolina.
“I tend to set expectations high, where people kind of view it as a stretch goal,” Hart says. “And I do everything I can to help the team succeed. When people fall, I view myself as someone who catches them and puts them back on their feet, brushes them off and tells them to go back after it. You have to be in-tune with people and people’s thoughts as much as the technical aspects of the plant.”
By William Kalec