Todd Zyra’s goal at an early age was to become the president of a company.
“I’ve spent the last 20 years preparing for it,” says Zyra, 40.
Last winter, he achieved the milestone, being named president of Rochester-based Klein Steel Service Inc.
Founded in 1971, Klein Steel has locations throughout New York. The company employs some 200 people, including 170 in Rochester.
Zyra traditionally has learned on the job from the ground up—a style he prefers.
“It’s important to know the details of a business,” he says. “What you don’t know can hurt you.”
He has been interested in business, specifically business leadership, for a long time. That is why he concentrated in both marketing and accounting for his bachelor of science degree, which he received in 1995 from Niagara University.
“This gave me the basic knowledge of various aspects of business,” he says.
After getting his undergraduate degree, Zyra enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he worked his way up over a four-year period from private to sergeant in the infantry. While serving, he learned the essence of leading individuals and teams, along with how to plan, execute and complete missions. He also learned the importance of continuous learning.
He went on to earn an MBA with a focus on organizational design from Northwestern University in Illinois in 2002.
After the Marines, Zyra took a job with Cintas Corp., a manufacturer of corporate apparel, where he worked as the night loading dock supervisor. From there, he worked up over seven years through engineering, plant management, sales, account management and general management.
He next went to Nextel Communications Inc., where he took a general management role after making a conscious decision to change industries to keep learning.
Zyra joined Klein Steel in 2008 as operations manager. Before becoming president, he most recently was chief operating officer.
“I have been fortunate to work with some great people and afforded the opportunity to learn most businesses from the ground level up,” he says.
When named president, he replaced retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who was named president and CEO of Buffalo Armory LLC, a Buffalo-based company co-owned by Batiste and Klein Steel chairman and CEO Joseph Klein.
Zyra’s typical day begins and ends in the plant and at Klein Steel’s offices, talking with employees.
“It’s the best way for me to know what’s going on, not only in a professional sense but also how everyone is doing,” Zyra says. “It is important to me that I know and be connected with every person in the organization personally. More importantly, it is important that they know me.”
Building customer relationships is always essential, he says. Zyra spends 25 percent of his time traveling with Klein Steel’s sales team to meet with customers.
“We have a lot of thriving customers, and it’s a constant reminder of why we’re in business: to be the partner that makes our customers stronger and more successful,” he says.
Zyra describes himself as an enthusiastic leader.
“As I see it, my role is to foster a culture that encourages the Klein Steel team to achieve their goals in support of our company’s mission,” he says. “I am very results-oriented but also encourage a healthy environment of teamwork, collaboration and accountability.”
To support that mindset, Klein Steel conducts a monthly orientation to help new employees understand the culture and the company. Zyra meets with each new hire after she or he has worked there roughly 90 days as a way to touch base and stay connected. He also conducts monthly team meetings at all of Klein Steel’s locations and for all shifts.
“I want to foster a culture of building enduring relationships with our customers, suppliers, team members and the community,” Zyra says, adding that he focuses on the company’s values, imperatives and mission.
Chairman and CEO Klein says Zyra is a good mix of entrepreneur and organizer. He is also well-liked and respected by the employees.
“He’s a man of integrity,” Klein says.
He also spoke of Zyra’s experience in a range of business functions, including finance, sales and operations.
“He’s pretty cognizant in all areas,” Klein says.
What makes Zyra a good leader is his passion for the industry, the company and the people who work there, says Thomas Wolf, partner at Mengel Metzger Barr & Co. LLP, the CPA firm used by Klein Steel. He has worked with Zyra for the past four years.
“Todd feels an obligation to lead Klein Steel down a successful path in order to provide for the many families that count on Klein for their livelihood,” Wolf says. “Todd is a great listener and has a talent for hearing many points of view and then taking that input to make a decision.
“To that end, he is not afraid to make the difficult decisions and then implement the steps necessary to execute the plan connected with such decisions,” Wolf says.
The best part of the job is the culture at the company, Zyra says.
“We consistently challenge ourselves to evolve,” he says. “Collectively, we own our future at Klein Steel.”
His least favorite part of the day is attending unnecessary meetings. Since taking over, Zyra has put an emphasis on eliminating meetings that are not important to moving the company toward its goals.
The biggest industry challenge is overcoming the perceived commoditization of metals in a highly competitive marketplace, he says.
“Steel itself is a commodity, so international pricing pressures, market forces, regulation all have a big impact in areas we do not control,” Zyra says.
To compete, Klein Steel focuses on continuous process improvement, investing in new equipment and creating long-term customer relationships.
“Building trust takes time, and we are willing to invest the time and energy—especially for those customers with shared values,” he says.
Zyra did not disclose the company’s sales figures but said growth has been steady and annual sales have more than doubled in the past 10 years. He projected a roughly 10 percent increase in sales this year.
The firm has expanded its capabilities beyond traditional processing and distribution to services such as supply chain management, component manufacturing and full-service kitting, which is the preproduction process of issuing exactly counted and labeled materials needed for an assembly.
Klein Steel also became nuclear-compliant in 2012, which means the firm is able to serve customers worldwide in the nuclear industry. That work ranges from components for equipment manufacturers to steel used in a nuclear facility.
Inspiration and learning
Zyra gets business inspiration from many sources.
One role model is George Eastman, whom he describes as a “man who changed the face of the local community by building in his day a highly successful company that cared for its employees and gave back philanthropically.”
He also is inspired by quotes from well-known business leaders and motivational speakers. A few favorites are:
Steve Jobs: “If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”
Peter Drucker: “I’m more interested in people than I am in how businesses work.”
Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
In his free time, Zyra—who lives in Brockport—loves to travel and learn new cultures. He is an avid reader and lifelong learner who is studying German.
“I have always enjoyed working in multicultural environments,” he says. “People from various backgrounds and generations bring new ideas and vitality to the organization.”
Zyra’s office has pictures taken by his wife of 15 years, Mindy, of places the couple has traveled around the world, including Berlin, Greece, Italy, Russia and New York City.
He also enjoys hanging out with Mindy and their two cairn terriers, Blitzkrieg and Fenway. Zyra enjoys watching football, too, and is a Buffalo Bills fan.
Exercise is another priority. He enjoys running and believes physical fitness is a lot like business leadership.
“Business and leadership are endurance sports,” he says.
Position: President, Klein Steel Service Inc.
Education: B.S. in marketing and accounting, Niagara University, 1995; MBA, Northwestern University, Illinois, 2002
Family: Wife, Mindy
Activities: Traveling, reading, running, learning
Quote: “Business and leadership are endurance sports.”
6/20/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.
Preparation, knowledge key to his plan
Todd Zyra’s goal at an early age was to become the president of a company.