Business leader stays out of politics
In this excerpt, Iverson seeks to explain why, as a CEO in the steel business, he kept his company out of politics. First, he avoided lobbying Washington for trade protections because he believed in free trade—strongly enough to testify before Congress in support of it—but modified his absolutist position as he began to see cheap goods flooding U.S. markets. Second, he adopted a firm policy against corporate donations to politicians. It is not clear why he made this decision, but it seems to have stemmed from his sense of fairness.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Kenneth Iverson, June 11, 1999. Interview I-0083. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: Let's see. You made me laugh, and I've lost my--. Two questions about general philosophical outlook that are relevant to your company's history. The first [question is about] your choice not to -- down the road when the company becomes much bigger and foreign trade issues become very prominent, for example -- have the company engaged in trying to influence the political arena directly. Can you talk a little bit about why that is?
KI: That's right. We never had a representative in Washington. We felt that our business was the steel business, and we should really pay attention to that. We also were free traders. We felt there were sometimes steel companies outside the United States that could compete with us, but that we because of our processes and our employees, we were able to compete with any steel company in the world. We felt that we should not be denied access to their markets, nor should they be denied access to ours. I feel that same way today except for perhaps a little bit moderated in light of the low cost imports that were flooding this country during last year in the steel industry. I'm not quite as positive about that as I used to be.
JM: The point that qualifies your thinking is perhaps that we may be seeing dumping as opposed to just competitive trade?
KI: Yes. I felt it was unjust rather than just competitive trade. Although dumping itself is rather difficult to define because we have steel companies here that dump on the other side of the state and other parts of the country. I don't know if dumping is that good of a word if you define it as just selling less than cost.
JM: Right. Were there ever times when a certain issue -- in front of the Congress or otherwise -- along the way made you stop and think you should relax that rule and send a lobbyist up to Washington?
KI: Yeah. There were times. I testified before Congress at one time and the Senate, but it was against trade restrictions rather than for them. But there were times that I've had some double thoughts about it, particularly in recent years.
JM: Let me ask you about this, as well. As Nucor prospered and became identified as a highly successful company and one that had really charted a new path for American steel, I would presume that your blessing would've been a very important political asset for persons either in the political arena or hoping to get in the political arena. This is a question that I put to a lot of business leaders -- the extent to which their endorsement is sought out by political figures. The question [is about] the way politicians have come to you over the years. I'd be interested in having you reflect on that.
KI: We had a very firm policy in the company. The corporate company did not contribute to any politician. It was just not a part of the company. If individuals wanted to, that was fine, but there was no corporate approval or donation to anybody. That was because we were widespread and there were politicians in different parts of the country that were interested in our supporting them. We felt it was not fair because we had so many people in different parts of the country that the company should just stay out of that arena.
JM: So effectively then -- because you could never fully never remove the corporate hat, the Nucor hat -- you yourself personally kept a low profile on those issues as well?
KI: Yes I did.