Tampa Bay Steel's workplace proves its mettle

Published April 10 2015


For 24 hours a day, five days a week, Tampa Bay Steel Corp. cuts and reshapes steel to the exact specifications of its customers in construction, manufacturing and shipbuilding. ¶ As if they don't spend enough time together already, Tampa Bay Steel's employees also get together after work — and everyone's family is invited. ¶ "Everything we do," said owner, founder and CEO Buck McInnis, "we do together." ¶ That philosophy helped make Tampa Bay Steel one of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces. It was ranked 37th on the list of small companies.

That philosophy has guided Tampa Bay Steel since Buck McInnis and his wife, Eleanor, started the company with just two workers in 1980. Now their company is a leading metals processor and distributor located at 6901 E Sixth Ave., in the industrial belt east of Tampa.

"The way I look at it, I don't care if you're sweeping the shop floor," said Buck McInnis, 73. "You're adding to the success of the company.

"I don't feel any different than anyone else here. I'll do whatever it takes for the company to be successful."

But the company they founded is different in one way: Tampa Bay Steel is one of only two manufacturing companies to make the list of the bay area's best workplaces.

So what makes the firm a blue-collar (but high-tech) outlier in a sea of corporate offices and collared shirts?

"It's the culture, it's the core values of the company, it's the mission statement," said Tampa Bay Steel President Mark Stewart, 55. He became president in 2013 and has spent 26 years with the company.

"We have jobs to do and there are expectations and we have to perform at a high level," Stewart said. "But at the same time this is an extended family. We spend a lot of time together.

"We talk about it all the time. This is an extension of our family. This is our work family."

It's also an extension of the faith of the company's founders. The company's mission statement leads with "The Golden Rule" from Matthew 7:12.

In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

The company's vision statement talks about pursuing business goals while also "impacting people's lives now and for eternity."

Biblical principles are first on the list of core values, followed by continuous improvement, family values, performance, safety and training.

"One of the things at the heart of Tampa Bay Steel is that Buck and Eleanor have always been great Christian people," Stewart said. "It doesn't mean you have to be a Christian to work here. But those are the values we operate under at this company.

"In a lot of ways, this isn't just a company, it's a ministry."

That ministry includes weekly Bible studies in which 25 percent of the company's employees participate. The ministry also includes regular charity fundraisers and summer camps.

Tampa Bay Steel also takes employees and their families on regular outings to places like the Florida Aquarium or Lowry Park Zoo. It celebrates holidays with catered luncheons and guest speakers like former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy during Christmas and ex-general manager Mark Dominik for Easter. It mails birthday and anniversary cards to employees. The wellness program rewards them with gift cards.

The company also subsidizes health insurance, offers a matching 401K, pays employees to volunteer and hands out monthly performance bonuses. While the president did not disclose starting salaries he did say that it was "way higher" than Florida's $8.05 minimum wage.

Most of the employees work on the shop floor of Tampa Bay Steel's 220,000-square foot facility. Three shifts keep the shop running 24 hours a day. The work week ends at 2 Saturday morning and starts up again at 8 p.m. Sunday evening. The company processes tens of millions of pounds of steel a year.

Metals processing is a very specialized, very hi-tech field. Tampa Bay Steel uses a variety of powerful machine tools that can cut and reshape pieces of metal both large and small in a variety of ways: laser cutting, plasma cutting, water jet cutting, sawing, machining, forming and shearing.

The company also grooms its own workforce. Operations Manager Thomas Hampton, 40, started working there 21 years ago by pulling orders on the shop floor. Now he oversees dozens of workers and the massive machinery they use day and night.

Hampton said that he not only enjoys the culture that McInnis built, but the founder himself. McInnis still has an office at Tampa Bay Steel and still shows up every day to greet the employees there.

"Buck is a great guy," Hampton said. "You just enjoy the work and the way they run things here."

Receptionist Debbie Trigg, 60, has worked at Tampa Bay Steel for eight years. She compared it favorably to her former employer.

"There's so many similarities to IBM in how they treat the people here," she said. "They're very concerned with quality, very concerned with respect for the individual."

And she raves about McInnis.

"I cannot say enough about our founder and owner, Buck," Trigg said. "He is so approachable. I'll tell you, he comes in every day and he makes his rounds and says hello to everybody. Then he puts on a hard hat and goes out to the warehouse."

She remembered being especially grateful after a monthly performance bonus showed up in her paycheck:

"I remember thanking Buck as he was walking out the door," Trigg said. "He said 'Deb, Eleanor and I are just so pleased and happy that we can do that,' and they don't have to do that."

Hampton said that spending so much time together on the shop floor, day and night, can make things a little tense sometimes. But doesn't that happen in every family?

"We may not get along every day," he said, "but at the end of the day we're all family."

Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.