John Correnti, Ex-Nucor CEO Who Led Big River Steel, Dies

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John Correnti, the chief executive officer of Big River Steel who helped shift the U.S. industry geographically and technologically by building new mills, has died. He was 68.

He died Tuesday in his Chicago hotel, according to Patricia Rioux, an outside spokeswoman for the Osceola, Arkansas-based company. He was visiting the city to attend a board meeting of Navistar International Corp. A cause of death wasn’t provided.

Correnti was leading Big River Steel to build a $1.3 billion mill in Osceola, near the Mississippi River. The facility is planned to supply high-quality steel products to customers including automakers and energy companies.

Correnti, who served as CEO of Nucor Corp. from 1996 to 1999, helped move the U.S. steel industry away from Pittsburgh. He helped build a mill in Columbus, Mississippi, that’s now owned by Steel Dynamics Inc. The facility was an electric arc furnace, an innovative plant that produces the metal by recycling scrap steel. Such furnaces, which are less common outside of the U.S., have lower fixed costs than traditional blast-furnace factories that refine iron ore to make steel, giving operators more flexibility.

Michelle Applebaum, a Chicago-based steel research analyst, remembered spending time with frugal Correnti when he was Nucor’s CEO, eating cheap pizza slices at the airport and driving to meetings in Applebaum’s car, instead of paying for a car service. His values contributed to the company’s horizontal, meritocratic culture, she said.

When Correnti found creative ways to overcome obstacles, he said he had “Nucorized” the problem, an attitude that Applebaum said contributed to Nucor’s growth as it competed with mills that had dominated since the domestic industry’s birth.

Correnti’s death will not affect construction plans, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Big River will be managed by its operating committee, the company said.

Correnti was born in Mt. Morris, New York, in 1947 and graduated from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He was trustee for his alma mater. He also served on the board of Navistar, a Chicago-based truck maker.

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