There is no question that the current business landscape is uncertain—chaotic, even. And yes, it’s true that environments of uncertainty create challenges for any leader. But in my discussions with CEOs, I am hearing consistently that this moment is different. Despite uncertainty, leaders are focused on growth and productivity. They are not stepping back from their long-term strategic goals. Instead, many plan to use this moment to accelerate.
This theme shone through brightly in my recent conversation with the President and CEO of U. S. Steel, Dave Burritt, who spoke to me for the latest issue of Leadership Rundown.
I found it particularly poignant to hear Dave describe the journey underway at U. S. Steel—a transformation that is focused on purpose, profits, and planet.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Dave, it’s terrific to be with you today. To start, tell me about the transformation underway at U. S. Steel.
We call our transformation strategy Best for All®, meaning that we’re focused on profitable steel solutions that serve not just our customers and our people, but also our communities and the planet.
It’s all about transforming our company into a sustainable, competitive business, enabling us to remain a pillar of our communities, a source of satisfaction for our employees, and the bedrock of sustainable American manufacturing for generations to come.
You’ve set some ambitious sustainability goals—guided by a vision of seeing the planet as your most important customer. Can you tell me more about this philosophy?
Our vision goes beyond the steels we make or the manufacturing processes we use. Our ambition is to deliver what’s best for our people, our customers, our communities, and our planet. It’s indeed a strategy focused on what’s best for all. And a recognition that steel is essential in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Best for All® has us well positioned to continue our transition to a less capital and carbon-intensive business while becoming the best steel competitor. Sustainability and strategy are inextricably linked.
Your strategy serves many different stakeholders. I’m interested to understand where you are along this journey, and how your employees and customers are responding?
We’ve made substantial progress on our transformation journey. While we’re rewriting what’s possible in steel, our employees and our customers are not only responding enthusiastically to our changes, but are often driving them.
It’s also meaningful to me that during the Great Resignation in 2021, our attrition was only 4%. When millions were leaving their jobs in search of something better, the vast majority of our employees chose to stay with us.
Along the way, we’ve rewarded not only customers with great steel solutions and employees with record profit sharing, but also stockholders with more direct returns from stock buybacks. When we do well, they do well.
An impressive feat amid a tight labor market. On the topic of talent, I’ve heard that you reject the term “remote work.” Could you tell me more about why that is?
There’s a Stoic mindset, “amor fati,” that means “a love of fate” that resonates with me. I tell my team all the time, don’t just find something you like in a bad situation—find something you love about it.
Amidst the tragedy and upheaval of the past few years, one silver lining for us at U. S. Steel has been our embrace of a new way of working.
For those who don’t need to be at our manufacturing and mining facilities, our policy is—you can “work from anywhere” as long as your supervisor supports it. This is getting overwhelmingly positive feedback. In our last employee survey, 76 percent said that a flexible work schedule/work environment was “very important” to them.
I reject the term “remote work” because it doesn’t accurately capture most of our experiences. In fact, instead of being “remote” I’m actually closer—to our team and our customers—than ever before.
I embrace what we’re calling “distributed but connected work.” We've never been better connected as an organization, more deeply involved with our customers, or more focused on finding new pools of talent to join our organization.
You have really solved for culture and connectivity—something that a year ago, CEOs said was among their biggest challenges. What do you view as the biggest leadership challenges facing CEOs today?
My team knows I dislike the word “proud.” I believe we must stay nimble and humble while moving forward, never standing still. It’s a dangerous thing for any one of us to feel too comfortable with what we’re doing and not recognize that we must always continue improving on what we do.
What’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that no one can really “go it alone.” Take the climate crisis for example, successfully addressing it requires collaborations with employees, customers, governments, communities, academia, and non-governmental organizations.
Absolutely agree, our collective efforts are needed to address the pressing issues of our time. Considering all the changes underway, what have you learned during your tenure as CEO that you could not have learned in another role? How has that perspective made you a better leader?
I so appreciate this U. S. Steel team. Yet, with over twenty-four thousand employees worldwide, one-thousand grades of flat rolled steel, and over 22M net tons of production capacity, I’m naturally limited in my ability to get “deep” into one area or another.
So, I think about what I can do to help the team achieve their goals—faster. I can help tell our transformation story externally, for example. And internally, I can make sure that when we do well, our employees do well. I believe in pay for performance. When our employees perform the best, I want them to be paid the best, and they are.
Asutosh Padhi is a senior partner and the managing partner for McKinsey in North America, leading the firm across the United States, Canada, and Mexico and serving as part of McKinsey’s 15-person global leadership team. He is also a member of McKinsey’s Shareholders Council, the firm’s equivalent to a board of directors.
Mentions of organizations or individuals are not endorsements by McKinsey & Company.