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Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2018: John Correnti

4 min read

John Correnti was a people person, a positive thinker and loved “pushing production.”  Often he would walk the operations line and talk to workers about their equipment, steel production, individual jobs, their lives and their families. He was proud of the professional friendships and working relationships he formed over the course of his career. And what a career it was.

Correnti was founder and chief executive officer for the Big River Steel mill in Osceola, Arkansas, just west of the Mississippi River in the northeastern part of the state. 

Big River Steel is big business. At a cost of $1.3 billion, the mill was reported as Arkansas’ first super project, bringing tremendous economic development, more than 2,000 construction jobs and 500 steel production jobs with average employee salaries of $75,000. The mill is an industry leader with the technology it uses to generate 1.6 million tons of steel products annually. It stands apart as the world’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified steel mill facility. The mill supports the nation’s infrastructure, energy and automotive industries through its advanced technology, automation and manufacturing methods. 

Correnti and then-Gov. Mike Beebe announced the construction of a new mill in January 2013 and construction began in July 2014. Although Correnti led the billion-dollar project, he did not see his vision become a reality. While on a business trip to Chicago in August 2015 – one year before the mill was brought online – Correnti died unexpectedly. He was 68.

Correnti was born in Mt. Morris, New York, in 1947 to Sara Annalora and Nicholas Correnti in the Finger Lakes area, just south of Rochester. After graduating from Mt. Morris High School, Correnti attended Clarkson University in New York, graduating in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After college he began work as a construction manager at U.S. Steel.

Correnti worked at U.S. Steel in different locations for more than a decade before leaving for Nucor Corporation in 1980. At Nucor, he worked as a construction manager in Plymouth, Utah. It was through Nucor that he met Ken Iverson, the chief executive officer, who originally hired Correnti and became his mentor and friend. His experience working and learning from Iverson changed his philosophy about the steel industry. From Iverson, Correnti learned the mini-mill science and culture. This influenced forever how he built and managed mills. 

Eighteen months later, Correnti moved to Brigham City to build another plant. Iverson promoted Correnti to vice president and general manager of the plant. This set the stage for the next 10 years of building and running steel mills. Correnti was promoted to president and then chief executive officer of Nucor in 1996, replacing Iverson in this leadership role.  

In 2000, Correnti left Nucor, the nation’s second largest mill, to oversee Birmingham Steel, a mini-mill, as the chief executive officer for the Alabama operation. James Todd, former chief executive for Birmingham Steel, recruited Correnti to save the struggling mill. Correnti, an innovative and seasoned leader, restructured the mill and sold it to Nucor in 2003.

During his time at Birmingham Steel, he began to dream of opening his own mill. His dream materialized in September 2005 when, as the chairman of newly created SeverCorr, he signed an agreement with Columbus Lowndes Development Link officials in Mississippi to open a steel processing plant after more than a year of tough negotiations.

SeverCorr became operational in late 2007 with Correnti leading operations as president and chief executive officer until 2008. Then Correnti sold his shares to Severstal, the largest steel producer in Russia and majority partner of the Mississippi mill.

Correnti, his wife Dawn, and their son N. J. lived in Texas, Utah, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi. In 1987, they built a home in Blytheville, Arkansas, that became their forever home. At that time, Correnti was vice president/general manager of Nucor-Yamato Steel Company, just outside of Blytheville.

It was through the Nucor-Yamato Steel project that Correnti developed a business relationship with then-Gov. Bill Clinton who worked hard to secure steel mill operation in Arkansas. They continued their friendship throughout the years.

“I’ll miss John Correnti, a great steel man, a gifted executive, and a good friend to Arkansas and to me,” Clinton tweeted after Correnti’s death in August 2015.

Though Nucor would move the Correnti family time and time again, they kept their home in Blytheville, returning to it for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and summer vacations. It was in Blytheville that they opened a family business. And it was in Blytheville, that N.J. at age 12 would take his first flying lesson and solo at age 16. 

Blytheville became home for the Correnti family. It was only natural that Correnti would bring them back to Arkansas for one last project – the biggest and most innovative of his career – Big River Steel. Correnti was laid to rest in Blytheville on August 22, 2015.

Correnti served on the boards of Navistar International Corporation, CoreCivic and Clarkson University. 

He is survived by his wife, Dawn; his son, N.J., daughter-in-law, Christina, and their two children, John Lucas and Lizabeth; his mother, Sara; sister, Maryann, and her children, Maria, Paul and John McKelvey.

See more of the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

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