WVU alumni lead global aluminum industry
Alcoa, Constellium, Kaiser and Noranda are four major corporations within the international aluminum industry. While they have different specializations and produce unique commodities, they all have one common denominator – a West Virginia University industrial engineering graduate on their executive team.
Jon Rateau is vice president
for global power generation operations of Alcoa Energy and president of Alcoa
Fuels in Knoxville, Tennessee. Rateaus’ resume includes many notable
accomplishments, including a recently completed four-year assignment in Saudi
Arabia to join Alcoa and the Saudi Arabia Mining Company to construct the
largest vertically integrated aluminum complex in the world. The total
investment in aluminum, water and power plant facilities exceeded $16 billion.
A Weirton native, Rateau graduated from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in 1981.
“Being a West Virginia native and growing up a Mountaineer sports fan, attending WVU was a natural choice,” said Rateau. “I chose industrial engineering because industrial engineers can work in a variety of contexts, environments and industries – opportunities and career choices are unlimited, and that was appealing to me.”
During his time at WVU, Rateau was involved with the American Institute of Industrial Engineers, Student Government Association committees, Club Rugby, Ski Club and worked as an undergraduate student research assistant. He credits his extracurricular involvement and course load for helping him start his career on the right foot.
“On top of the knowledge I absorbed in my course work, many of the engineering courses at WVU involved team projects or experiential learning opportunities, which directly correlated to my career that has included a lot of team projects,” said Rateau. “Taking advantage of student life programs was a way to grow and build social and leadership skills.”
Just two hours from Morgantown in Ravenswood, sits Constellium Rolled Products, one of the world’s largest rolled products facilities with more than 1,100 employees. Buddy Stemple is the company’s chief executive officer.
Stemple began working for Constellium – then Kaiser Aluminum – during summer breaks from WVU. After graduating in 1982, Stemple worked for Alcan Aluminum/Novelis, where he held various positions in operations, human relations, sales and marketing. Stemple received his master’s in business administration from WVU in 1987 and continued to move up the ranks, eventually becoming vice president and general manager of Novelis Specialty Products, a position he held through 2009.
In 2010, Stemple joined the Oman Aluminum Rolling Company, a 140,000-ton-per-year light gauge rolling facility in Sohar, Oman, as chief executive officer overseeing the establishment of the facility, organization and marketing plans for the company. In 2014, he returned to his hometown of Ravenswood.
“I never visited another college, I always just assumed I would go to WVU,” said Stemple. “As for working in the aluminum industry – that just made sense, too. Constellium played such a big role in my community and I enjoy the unique capabilities of aluminum and its value proposition.”
Stemple describes his years at WVU as a “rounding experience” and urges current students to grow as much as possible during their time here.
“I was an average student, but I worked very hard,” said Stemple. “A lot of people I went to WVU with were smarter than me, however I have never met anyone that I cannot out work.”
Keith Harvey is president and chief operating officer of Kaiser Aluminum. Born and raised in Beckley, WVU was the only option he ever considered.
“I loved the Mountaineers all my life – I never even considered applying to another school,” said Harvey. “I enjoyed math growing up and felt that industrial engineering was the perfect springboard for the technical career I wanted.”
Harvey has worked for Kaiser since graduating from WVU in 1981 in a multitude of positions including industrial engineer, senior vice president of sales and marketing and executive vice president of fabricated products. He now resides in Coto De Caza, California, near the company’s headquarters.
Harvey considers attending WVU the best decision he ever made.
“Attending WVU and majoring in industrial engineering was the best decision I have ever made,” said Harvey. “The education was appropriately diversified to allow me to go into any industry or discipline with confidence of being successful. We were extremely well prepared for the ‘real world’ and the memories and friends I made there have been with me my entire life.”
Another Weirton native, Don Suray is vice president of treasury and risk management at Noranda in Franklin, Tennessee.
Suray began his career in the steel industry after graduating from the Statler College in 1988 and attended Carnegie Mellon University at night to earn his master’s in business administration with a concentration in finance in the mid-1990s before switching industries due to a spiraling steel industry. Over the past 20 years, Suray has worked in the pharmaceutical, semi-conductors and durable goods industries before finding himself back in the metals industry.
“Coming back to the metals industry reminded me how impressive the engineering and design is required to convert these various chemical reactions you see in a lab to large-scale manufacturing operations,” said Suray. “It felt nostalgic to walk through the factories with a hard hat and safety gear on, and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed this environment.”
Suray believes the personalized education at WVU helped him become the successful professional he is today.
“Though WVU is a large, state university, the engineering program always had a more personal, small-school feel,” said Suray. “We were all very competitive but also willing to help each other. We learned to be problem solvers and team players.”
Morgantown will always hold a special place in Suray’s heart, and he urges current engineering students to make the most of their time at WVU.
“You will leave WVU as an expert at analyzing and programming, but advancing your career will take leadership skills,” said Suray. “Learn to listen well, communicate and convey ideas succinctly and effectively.”
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