Rodney Mott, plant manager

Rodney B. Mott doesn't look like a top executive as he cruises along the shop floor at Nucor Corp.'s new steel mill in Hickman, Ark. But his hard-hat exterior is deceiving. The 43-year-old Mott, a former mill manager at U.S. Steel Group, is one of 21 plant managers whose surprising independence is at the core of Nucor's nimbleness.

There's no cumbersome bureaucracy at the Charlotte (N.C.)-based company. The agile steelmaker has decentralized decision-making so much that plant managers run almost every aspect of the business. Mott, for example, scours the world for his own raw materials. He also scouts out his own customers and sets his own production quotas. "Hickman operates like a separate company," Mott says. And he has a big say about when to expand. Last spring, he installed a second $50 million caster, which turns liquid metal into bands of steel, nearly doubling the Hickman plant's capacity, to 36,000 tons a week.

That doesn't mean that headquarters isn't paying attention. Frequent phone talks with the central office are common. And almost every measurable aspect of each plant's performance is reported throughout the company. That, in turn, leads to plenty of competition among the plants. "There's a lot of little sibling rivalries going on," Mott acknowledges.

As his Hickman plant grows, so do Mott's responsibilities. His plant now supplies scrap and pig iron to other facilities. He is also scouting out the Carolinas and Virginia for a good spot to build Nucor's next factory. All this strengthens Mott's hand within the company. He's among the favorites to become chief operating officer when Chief Executive F. Ken Iverson, 69, steps aside for his heir apparent, President John D. Correnti.

Perhaps with an eye to that possibility, a year ago Mott turned down the presidency of Gallatin Steel, a Kentucky startup. While the Gallatin position paid more money, he says, "I'd still be taking orders." That would be quite a change from Nucor, where the usual advice Mott gets from his boss is "trust your gut." It's not always easy to do. But that's the way decisions get made at Nucor.

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