LENORE TRAMMELL’S BIG DREAMS LEAD TO BIG RIVER STEEL
Lenore Trammell took a very unlikely path to become the general counsel and the chief administrator at Big River Steel. She told Arkansas Black Vitality that from an early age she wanted to be a lawyer. The concept of justice fascinated her.
And then a chance encounter after college led her to the steel industry.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer. There were no lawyers in my family. I think it’s the idea of justice … I’m all about doing the right thing,” she said.
Trammell’s journey to the Arkansas Delta began in her childhood home in suburban Detroit. An avid dancer, she studied jazz, tap, and ballet. She competed in dance competitions.
She attended a private high school that was predominately white. An honors student, Trammell said she had a lot of white friends, but she had few connections to other minorities when she was in high school.
That changed when she decided to attend a historically black college or university commonly referred to as an HBCU. She chose Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Her parents were leery about her attending a college in the middle of a big city. She received scholarships to attend Howard. There she met many students from across the country who were honors students themselves, and they were Black.
“It was different … it was nice to be in a place with people like me,” she said. Trammell said she enjoyed college a lot. She thinks that her love of learning is one of the reasons why she liked it so much. After college she prepared to go to law school, but she was in for a shock.
After she applied, she got her financial aid package. Unfortunately, the school wanted her to take out thousands of dollars in loans and for her parents to do so as well. The thought of placing that kind of burden on her parents was too much, and she opted to take a year off and get a job.
She worked several jobs. On a whim, she went with a friend to a job fair in March of 1997. There she got a temporary job as a pricing representative in the steel industry. Spring quickly turned to summer; she planned to quit in the fall and go to law school. There was only one problem. The company she worked for wanted her to stay. The company offered to pay for her law school.
“Can you imagine that?” she said with a laugh. When she first contemplated law school, she never saw herself as the type of lawyer who would litigate in the courtroom. She envisioned herself as being in a rule-making or regulatory capacity.
An economics major as an undergrad, she thought she might become a lawyer in banking or other similar industry. The offer to cover her educational expenses meant she was going to learn business law as it pertained to the steel industry.
Trammell worked full-time at her job during the day and attended law school at night. Many of the students she went to school with were older and had families. Eventually she graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit.
During the next several years she worked as a lawyer in the steel industry. After a while she became involved in several large capital improvement projects, referred to as large capital expenditure, or “Capex” transactions.
This expertise led her to a fledgling steel mill project in the Arkansas Delta in 2014. The former president and CEO of Nucor’s operations in Mississippi County a man by the name of John Correnti wanted to build a massive, modern steel plant on the banks of the Mississippi River near Osceola.
It would become the first “super project” in the state’s history. Correnti, founder and former CEO of Big River Steel and Nucor Corp, oversaw the construction of a $1.3 billion steel mill in Osceola before he passed away in 2014.
A new steel plant would require multiple Capex transactions to complete, and Trammell seemed to be the perfect fit. When she arrived in Northeast Arkansas in 2014 the proposed site was a soybean field. Big River Steel had 10 employees at the time.
The company was purchased by Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel now boasts more than 750 employees and is building an adjacent mill, she said.
“I always call it ‘John Correnti’s field of dreams,’” she said. Trammell not only serves as BRS general council, but she also works as its chief administrative officer. The diversity within her duties is her favorite part of her job. On any given day she might have to work with the sales team, management of the mill itself, maintenance, human resources or other departments. Some days she deals with corporate issues.
“The nice thing about being general counsel is that you get to experience a bit of everything in the business,” she said.
The steel industry has traditionally been a male-- dominated world, she said. Being a woman and a minority has presented its unique set of challenges, but Trammell said she relishes it.
Finding your “voice” in a room filled with men requires some skill, she said. One thing she had to learn early on was to not get offended if someone disagreed with one of her ideas.
One thing she learned through leadership training is that she values people and process. Others have different values such as performance. Many times, differences in opinion are based on values, not gender or ethnicity, she said.
A unique challenge moving forward for the steel industry in the coming years will be the development of its workforce, she said. Mills have been and will become more technical and the industry will have to develop and lure more tech- savvy workers, she added.
In her spare time, Trammell said she enjoys reading and knitting. A voracious reader, she said she reads one or two books per week. Self-improvement, crime themed, those about African American culture, and the occasional historical fiction are among her favorite genres.
She also enjoys spending time with her husband, Raymond Trammell Jr. The couple has two children, Raymond III and Ladora.
Women encounter many obstacles while working in leadership within the corporate world, she said. Developing a personal career plan, and networking is critical for any type of long-term success, she said. One of the big mistakes women often make in the corporate world is they are risk averse, and you have to be willing to take risks, she said.
What would her advice to other women be and especially women of color who find themselves in similar career paths?
“Find your voice. Don’t be shrunken because you are the only woman in the room. Be curious. Find out why someone disagrees with your thought or idea,” she said.