Stronger finances, safety part of retiring CEO's legacy at GrafTech
After almost 40 years in the steel industry, Dave Rintoul had long been a customer of GrafTech International Ltd.
GrafTech in Brooklyn Heights is a maker of graphite electrode products used in steelmaking. So when the opportunity to help rebuild the company — and take it public — arose, it intrigued him. It seemed like it could be a good way to end a successful career.
Rintoul took on the role of president and CEO for GrafTech on March 1 of 2018. Later that month, the company officially filed the paperwork to go public. (Again, that is. GrafTech previously had been a public company before it was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management Inc. in 2015.)
Rintoul had been part of private companies and public ones throughout his career, but he had never been part of taking a company public. It was a "phenomenal" learning experience, he said, and "exciting." It's an experience most people, even those in the business community, don't get to have, he said.
For Rintoul, that whirlwind start — the company was on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "EAF" by the end of that April — was just the beginning of his time with GrafTech. In the past four years, he has helped the company strengthen its balance sheet and improve its safety measures. Now, he's looking forward to retirement, where he plans to golf and pick up old hobbies like tennis and piano.
A February news release noted that Rintoul planned to retire as the company's president and CEO, as well as from the board, by the end of June, or later, based on when a successor was named. Rintoul's successor has not yet been named, and he said he couldn't share any updates to that previously announced timeline.
But Rintoul said the company is positioned so its next leader may be able to help it to grow. It's a "good company with good people," he said.
The year before Rintoul came on board, GrafTech's finances were just about breaking even. In the past four years, the company has generated about $2.5 billion in free cash flow, Rintoul said.
That's significant, but Rintoul said he's most proud of the improvements he has overseen in safety at GrafTech.
"Because of my years in manufacturing, I have a fundamental belief that companies that are sustainable over the long haul can only be that way if, particularly in the manufacturing world, if they can get safety and the environment right," Rintoul said.
When he arrived at GrafTech, the company's recordable incident rate, an OSHA measurement for on-the-job injuries or illness, was about 1.6. The lower that number, the better. And last year, GrafTech's was 0.49, Rintoul said.
"Everybody that comes to work each day expects to go home the exact same way they came in. Maybe a bit more tired," he said, "but outside of that, they go home the exact way they came in."
The company has to do the work to meet those expectations. GrafTech put a focus on the basics, such as lockout-tagout procedures. And it communicated those to employees and reminded them that they have a responsibility to one another, Rintoul said.
Rintoul said it has been the people that have made his job at GrafTech enjoyable, both the company's approximately 1,300 employees and its customers across the globe. And he spoke to the importance of listening to both groups. Companies can't just be a provider of products; they need to provide solutions. That's what customers are looking for, he said.
"I think that's true of most of things in life," Rintoul added.
Rintoul grew up in Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario where Algoma Steel Inc. was the biggest employer in town. He got a scholarship from the steelmaker that included a job each summer. After he got his associate's degree in mechanical engineering technology from Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology, that summer job turned into a career.
"I graduated on a Friday and started work in the flat-roll mill on a Monday," Rintoul said.
He recalls that his first post-college job was learning how to roll steel. As a young engineer, he wanted to learn everything he could about the business and the science behind it. And he had ambitions of moving into a management role.
He was doing shift work, trading all of his day shifts so he could work at night and attend school during the day.
Rintoul ultimately earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from Lake Superior State University, as well as, later, an MBA at the University of Notre Dame.
And as he reflected on his career, it's clear he still enjoys the work GrafTech helps make possible.
"Being a former steelmaker — I guess I still consider myself one — it's always a thrill for me to walk into a melt shop when the arc is being struck in an electric arc furnace," Rintoul said. "It's a thrill that never goes away for an old steelmaker."
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