Into the Blast Furnace

The Forging of a CEO's Conscience

Publisher: Vintage Canada
From one of Canada’s top CEOs, a heartfelt invitation to reimagine the business world as a place in which conscience and empathy count.

Steel manufacturer Stelco Inc. went into bankruptcy protection in early 2004. There was a lot at stake during the company’s gruelling court-mandated restructuring: 6,000 jobs, 10,000 pensions; the struggling economy of a company town; and the egos and pocketbooks of lawyers, investors, union leaders, politicians and hedge fund managers, each with a special interest to flog and no interest in compromise.

Also on the line was the reputation–and conscience–of CEO Courtney Pratt, who was hired to clean up the mess. To Pratt, survival for Stelco meant attempting to keep the company alive as he ethically reconciled the competing interests, a task made absurdly difficult by the circus-like atmosphere that reigned among those fighting over its future. But at what cost?

To answer that question, Pratt has joined forces with novelist and non-fiction writer Larry Gaudet in a collaboration the two almost jokingly call “magic corporate realism.” Their book provides a thoughtful challenge to the very tired notion that, in the age of Enron and Worldcom, all CEOs are incubated for the sole purpose of looking after their own selfish interests. Pratt’s story, told with imagination, honesty and wit, is about a more important challenge: how to stay human in a bottom-line world.


From the Hardcover edition.

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TOO NICE A ­GUY

September ­2007

It’s a blustery lakeside morning, threatening rain. From the upstairs family room in our townhouse, located in a suburb west of Toronto, I have views to the marina around the next cove, a ­five-­minute walk along the pedestrian path that skirts Lake...
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PRAISE FOR

"Finally, a business story that reads like a novel, revealing character and plot in a way that no other business book has ever done."
—Anna Porter, author of Kastner’s Train and former publisher and CEO of Key Porter Books

"An absorbing depiction of power in action, Into the Blast Furnace is not your regular business book. The epic struggle of a principled CEO determined to revive a debt-ridden, time-warped grand old steel institution is at times almost poetic and at other times grim. There are rare glimpses of boardroom banter, labour-management discord, tangled court proceedings, and nasty characters fighting over the dying company’s corpse. Above all, the authors demonstrate how deep distrust among stakeholders destroys collaboration for the greater good. This book offers lessons — and entertainment — for business executives, government leaders, board directors, labour leaders and all those interested in the inner workings of corporations in dire straits."
—Dr. Anne Golden, president and CEO, The Conference Board of Canada

"A fascinating read. No matter how deep the alligators, Pratt never forgot that although Stelco was not a swamp he created, it was his job to drain it — without sacrificing decency and basic human principles. Imagine in this day and age a corporate CEO who actually cared about the people whose lives would be affected, possibly ruined, by the decisions of number-crunchers who looked no further than the bottom line! Pratt and Gaudet’s exposé of the cynicism, greed and machinations of many of the key players is particularly revealing."
—Richard W. Pound, Chairman, World Anti-Doping Agency

"An original, dare I say, unique work of art and intellection. Part thriller, part memoir, part history, and for all that I guarantee the best damn business book you'll read this year. Courtney Pratt puts the lie to Mencken's dictum that the businessman is unique "above the hangman and the scavenger...forever apologizing for his occupation." In saving Stelco from the noose Pratt created a model for responsible commercial practice that should serve as an example for generations to come. Into the Blast Furnace is a turning point in business history. Long may it resonate."
—Douglas Bell, author of Run Over and former features editor of Canadian Business


From the Hardcover edition.