The plan to save the steelworks

BlueScope CEO Paul O’Malley figured the Port Kembla steelworks could be saved – even if plenty of others didn’t.

BlueScope CEO Paul O'Malley visits the region this week as his time in the top job winds down. Picture: Wayne Taylor

BlueScope CEO Paul O'Malley visits the region this week as his time in the top job winds down. Picture: Wayne Taylor

Mr O’Malley, who steps down from the helm of the steelmaker at the end of the year, was in Port Kembla for the company’s annual community function.

In 2015 he put forward two options to keep BlueScope afloat – one involved shuttering the Port Kembla steelworks while the other looked to cut $200 million in costs and 500 jobs.

There was a call from investors to shut the gates and Mr O’Malley said this week that some companies would have actually done that.

But he had a plan worked up by executives at Port Kembla.

“I think we were in the situation where everyone thought the steelworks was going to close and with that a reduction in our presence at Springhill,” Mr O’Malley said.

“In the back of my mind I knew there was a way to keep it open but it did require a lot of people participating.

“Did I think we could get there? I actually did, but there were times where it was very challenging.”

That steel is still being made at Port Kembla is a sign that they did get there – with the vital help of workers, unions, the government and the Illawarra community.

Mr O’Malley said it was that last group that was the reason he chose not to shut up shop and leave a city facing an unsure future.

“Even though I live in Melbourne, I’ve got family who come from Wollongong and I’ve got pretty strong relationships with the people here,” Mr O’Malley said.

“You can’t walk away from a community without fighting for the community. When we had a plan that could work, not only could we fight for it, we could actually win  – and win for everyone.”

While he is officially in the top job until December 31, his replacement Mark Vassella will effectively  take over in the middle of next month.

The outgoing CEO plans to spend 12 months with his family before starting to look for a job this time next year.

“I’m not ready to engage anywhere else and I don’t think I will be for some time because I’ve put so much emotional energy and presence into being at BlueScope,” he said.

But he will be keeping an eye on the steel prices.

“I don’t think I’ll ever not pay attention to them,” he said.

“I’ll have to let you know some time after December.”