The Contrarian Brothers
Shortly after Jim and Fred started working together, it became apparent how similarly they were wired, and how much they stuck out – like mavericks – among their peers at the steel mill. Quick to offer a different perspective and inclined to evaluate alternative solutions to problems, both Jim and Fred were known to speak their minds – an often fatal behavior in large organizations. Luckily, on occasion their points of view were welcomed, and they didn't fall fate to their outspoken behavior. In recognition of their maverick ways, Jim and Fred were dubbed the “Contrarian Brothers” by their department head. Although the “brothers” inadvertently found out their moniker through an overheard conversation, they were not offended in the least. In fact, they wore it proudly like a badge of honor, since there was a certain truth to it. They were, after all, contrarians – wired differently than everyone one around them, and very similarly to each other. Mistaken for biological brothers on more than one occasion, it wasn't that far of a stretch to view them as brothers figuratively as well. Little did the "Contrarian Brothers" realize at the time, they were about to embark on a partnership that would change the way stainless steel is used in architecture.
The Making of a Business Plan
In 2000, with some coaching from Fred, his trusted colleague, Jim was working on commercializing a low glare stainless steel flat rolled product the company had developed which was appropriate for building envelope applications in glare-sensitive environments and tested on a few buildings. The company had a good, sustainable product but no infrastructure in place to effectively bring it to market. After about a year of research that included meetings with architects, contractors, fabricators, panel manufacturers and distributors, Jim presented his plan to the company. His recommendation was to create an architectural materials division that would focus on the construction market by making flatter, more visually uniform products, coaching architects on writing proper stainless steel specifications, marketing to architects, and supplying small quantities – as well as large – for a variety of applications. These activities were foreign to the way steel mills were managed, so Jim suggested a viable way to make it work by positioning the business as a separate unit. In reality, the business plan was a little too foreign to the company's management and the proposal was turned down.
Jim was initially disappointed, but then a light went off in his head. He and Fred had already been working on a separate business plan that involved the two of them leaving their employer to start a stainless steel strip company. The architectural products division was a great plan in comparison, and the company had turned it down! Why not adopt that plan and do it on their own?
Jim requested a follow-up meeting with their president, and succeeded in getting a commitment to assign distributor rights for the low glare stainless product to the new company he and Fred would create. It seemed, at the time, that the distributor arrangement eliminated his boss' big objection to the project – the need for investment dollars. The investment would be Jim's and Fred’s responsibility; all the steel mill would need to do was make and ship the full sized coils. Jim and Fred would get the product specified, make the small shipments, maintain the inventory and do all the dirty work. While this was the plan when Jim and Fred left the company, their former employer would reconsider their position within a few short weeks.
Contrarian Metal Resources Becomes a Reality
The "Contrarian Brothers" spent much of their spare time working on their plan. While the how to’s were complete, in terms of the steps the big company would take to create a division of itself, the mechanics of how a couple of meager salary earners were going to capitalize the business were not at all clear. After breaking their 401K piggy banks and having meetings with an accountant, a lawyer, and a banker, a viable financial strategy was created. The company was founded July 23, 2001.
Somewhere amidst all of the business planning that summer, the name of the company was discussed. Jim had thoughts of a more conservative name, but Fred insisted on Contrarian Metal Resources. The name was unique and defined not only the business, but the partners as well. After all, the company’s plan was to convince architects to envelope their buildings in stainless steel. That required a different way of looking at architectural design. It required a "contrarian" point of view.
The new company faced many challenges, including the withdrawal of the steel mill's support almost immediately after the distributor agreement was put in motion, and losing its first order in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack, yet Contrarian Metal Resources has prospered. Over the last decade, CMR successfully changed the way stainless steel is used in construction. In fact, many buildings now clad in stainless steel would have been built with lesser materials were it not for Contrarian developing new products and solving numerous application challenges. The company produces and distributes truly sustainable building products that are good for the environment and cost less in the long run. With the wind of the green movement at its back, Contrarian is making a meaningful contribution to the world.