Phil Casey is diving in bright sunshine from a weathered wooden platform on Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown, New Zealand. He’s taking a 300–feet plunge toward what appears to be a river of jumbled stone with barely enough water to make ripples. A bungee harness is strapped to his body. A cord trails him like the silk of a spider.
Casey does not drop from a killing height as the rest of us would. There’s no gangly tangle of flailing limbs, no snarled line, no rebel yell. Instead, Casey descends in a picture-perfect swan dive, his form straight out of a diving manual, his arms a neat Y, legs together, toes pointed. Think of those 15th–century drawings by Leonardo da Vinci that show the proportions of the human body, the arms spread, their reach equaling a man’s height. That’s how Phillip Casey looks making a 300-foot bungee jump that would trigger a heart attack in many a lesser man.
The photograph that Casey was given to commemorate this leap of courage and faith suggests two things about this lifelong adventurer, successful businessman, and 2010 Terry College of Business Distinguished Alumni Award winner.
First, Phil Casey is a highly disciplined man confident in his own skin, sure of what he can ask his athletic, militantly trained body to do.
Second, Phil Casey understands that when employees, equipment, and design measure up to certain standards – when the system has a requisite level of built–in excellence – the system will work . . . and flourish.
And it works pretty much the same way, whether you’re talking about the international steel business, or bungee jumping.
Phil Casey is not in a photograph at this moment. He’s at the wheel of a rental car, and he’s driving toward the Gerdau Ameristeel Cartersville Steel Mill about an hour north of downtown Atlanta. While he’s not in a photograph at this moment, he soon will be. He is on his way to a photo shoot for this Terry magazine article. He’s flown up from his home in Tampa, detouring for a few magazine poses before he heads on to Canada. The steelworks will be a fit backdrop.
It’s a bittersweet journey. This will likely be the last visit Casey makes to this mill or to any of 17 Gerdau Ameristeel steel manufacturing operations. Casey previously led the company as CEO (2002-06), as a director since 2002, and as chairman since 2005. He helped grow the company from a single failing mill in Tampa to the fourth-largest steelmaking operation and second-largest mini-mill steel producer in North America. In 2009, Gerdau Ameristeel brought in $4.2 billion in revenues — not bad in an industry deemed ready for a toe tag after the collapse of Bethlehem Steel and other American giants last century.
Tomorrow about this same time, Casey will be in Toronto, presiding over the counting of shareholder ballots that will approve the sale of Gerdau Ameristeel to a steel company from Brazil. At the end of that meeting, Casey will be out of a job, after a long career and a series of stations in life that read like a novel title – son, student, soldier, spy. Add steelmaker, corporate chieftain.
The lines on Casey’s still-handsome face are a topographic map of his rugged life. On the drive to Cartersville, he is, by turns, reflective and expansive about that life and his experiences. Why wouldn’t he be?