Steel CEO Who Fights With Goldman Takes on US Industry Icon

He once ended an earnings call with a diatribe calling out a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst by name: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Three years later, another Goldman analyst was “W-R-O-N-G wrong.” Other targets have been “blind,” “horrible” and embarrassments to their parents.

(Bloomberg) — He once ended an earnings call with a diatribe calling out a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst by name: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Three years later, another Goldman analyst was “W-R-O-N-G wrong.” Other targets have been “blind,” “horrible” and embarrassments to their parents. 

Lourenco Goncalves has long been famous in the metals world for his combative style. Now, the Brazilian-born chief executive officer of Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. may just have started his biggest fight yet as he takes on an icon of American industry.

The Ohio-based steel and iron ore producer spent Sunday afternoon in a war of words with rival United States Steel Corp., after going public with a cash and stock takeover offer that valued the other company at about $7.3 billion based on Friday’s close, a 43% premium. The proposed deal, which US Steel has rejected, would create one of the world’s biggest steelmakers, reshape the domestic industry and — crucially — give Cliffs and Goncalves a dominant position in supplying steel to American automakers.

Read more: US Steel Soars After It Rejects $7.25 Billion Cliffs Bid 

In an interview on Monday, Goncalves said he’s taking point on the offer himself and sounded a confident note about his plans to create a new “national champion” of steel.

“We’re going to get to the right spot no matter what,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. When pressed about the potential benefits from putting the companies together, Goncalves responded that “I have a track record of over achieving.”

The CEO — known across the industry simply as “Lourenco” —  has already been the most-active dealmaker in American steel in recent years. When he joined Cliffs in 2014, the company’s main business was digging iron ore out of the ground. Today, it ranks among the top four US steel producers, and is the biggest supplier of automotive steel in the country, which already makes Goncalves one of the most important suppliers to companies like General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co.

The brash 65-year-old’s colorful style makes him the can’t-miss speaker at industry conferences, drawing bigger crowds than the leaders of some larger rivals. An imposing figure in black-rimmed glasses, he’s got a reputation of being friendly with unions — the powerful United Steelworkers group has given its backing for the US Steel bid — and tough on customers in Detroit. His chief financial officer is his son.

On Monday, American steel processor Esmark Inc. made a rival offer for US Steel, with a bid worth $7.8 billion. US Steel shares spiked on the news, rising as much as 43%.

Read More: Steel Firm Esmark Bids $7.8 Billion in Cash for US Steel 

In Sunday’s tit-for-tat press releases, the tension grew palpable after Cliffs announced its takeover offer and said that US Steel had taken two weeks to eventually reject it. In a response, US Steel said the two companies had discussed a non-disclosure agreement in order to open their books and assess the deal value. But Cliffs wanted US Steel to agree to the economic terms of the takeover before it would sign an NDA, and it all fell apart. 

Cliffs was being unreasonable, according to US Steel, which traces its roots back to 1901 when J. Pierpont Morgan merged a collection of assets with Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel Co.

US Steel has started a review of its strategic options, which it says Cliffs is welcome to participate in, while Goncalves says he’s still keen to do the deal and ready to talk anytime. 

According to Cliffs, the consolidation would create a more competitive domestic US steel producer, could produce savings of about $500 million and would enable the companies to reduce their emissions by working together.

The last point may raise some eyebrows, as Goncalves has staunchly insisted that Cliffs would not expand into electric-arc furnaces, the greener, newer plants that melt scrap into steel rather than producing it from iron ore in traditional blast furnaces. One of the key differences between the two companies is that US Steel has spent the last few years shifting its investment focus toward the more modern types of plants.

Read more: US Steel Bets on a New Technology—and the South—to Survive

A successful combination would also give Goncalves a more powerful negotiating position with his biggest customers: the Detroit automakers.

However, consolidation created by the deal may also raise regulatory questions. In its letter to Cliffs rejecting the deal, US Steel flagged “antitrust risks” as one of the key issues it wanted to assess further. The combined company would hold a powerful position as the primary supplier to the US auto industry, as well as ownership of 100% of domestic iron ore reserves.

One crucial question has already been resolved, according to Cliffs, with the support from the USW union. The group has a right to intervene under its collective bargaining agreement with US Steel, but has endorsed the Cliffs proposal and stated that it won’t support any rival offer, according to a letter published on the Cliffs website.

“He’s a tough businessman,” USW president Tom Conway said in a phone interview. “I think he’s smart about the steel industry and can put together a good plan that makes sense.”

In the interview on Monday, Goncalves said he’s confident the deal will succeed, particularly due to the USW support.

“We have this locked in and that should do it.”

(Adds Esmark bid in eighth paragraph)

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.