Monday, September 17, 2007

Who Says Old Companies Can't Grow?

While scanning the new Fortune Magazine list of 100 fastest-growing companies the other day, I was shocked to see that a venerable Cleveland company made the list. Among other things, venerable means old, and this company is very old, as these things go--160 years old. Cleveland-Cliffs was founded before the Civil War began (originally under the name Cleveland Iron Co.), and was as instrumental as any company in the town's early growth, shipping iron ore from the Messabi Range in the Upper Midwest to steel plants here and elsewhere, feeding the railroad boom. Eleven years ago, when Crain's Cleveland Business marked Cleveland's 200th anniversary with a giant section on Cleveland business history (spearheaded by my friend Jay Miller, the walking encyclopedia of Cleveland history), I profiled Cliffs and its illustrious history. At that time, if memory serves, it was struggling to remake itself as a dowdy old mining firm, with middling results. It seems the makeover has since gone wonderfully, given that to make the list, a company had to post 25% compounded growth over the last three years. Part of its success is no doubt due to the fact that the steel industry in the U.S. and around the world has rebounded nicely in the last decade, in large part because it's figured out how to operate more flexibly and efficiently, led by giant Mittal Steel. All of that has made the company a frequent source of takeover rumors.


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