A beacon in the night for Sparrows Point New logo: Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point division alludes to sweeping change with image of lighthouse.

April 30, 1996|By SEAN SOMERVILLE | SEAN SOMERVILLE,SUN STAFF

Three years ago in Pittsburgh, Duane Dunham, president of Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point division, faced union officials who were wary of making the changes he believed were necessary to make the company competitive.

"A lot of people looked at change as trying to hold back the night," Mr. Dunham recalled yesterday.

Taking square aim at that perception, Mr. Dunham closed his slide presentation to the union leaders with a photograph of a lighthouse. After the meeting, people who were strangers to Mr. Dunham applauded the idea. They said it not only made the point, but it fit in nicely with Baltimore's heritage as a port town.

That's when Mr. Dunham got the idea of using the lighthouse in a company logo. Now, after three years investigating the idea, the Sparrows Point plant has started using a lighthouse logo that is rich with symbolism.

"It's a way of painting a picture for people so they can understand where we're trying to go and who we're trying to serve," Mr. Dunham said.

The lighthouse represents the need for Sparrows Point to serve as a "beacon of light and hope" for customers, employees, communities and shareholders, he said, as well as serving as a constant reminder of the need for change.

Those are no easy tasks for a steel company in the 1990s. A week ago, Bethlehem Steel Corp. reported earnings of $100,000 in the first quarter of 1996, down from $52.5 million for the same period in 1995.

Hit with low prices, a harsh winter and a General Motors Corp. strike, Bethlehem Steel has more challenges on the horizon. For instance, competitor Nucor Inc. plans to open a plant in South Carolina this year that is expected to rival Sparrows Point.

The need for Sparrows Point to take the lead in beating back its competition became apparent in early 1993. Beth Steel loosened the reins on its various operations, transforming them into business units that became more accountable.

"It's a significant change because all the customers now go to the business units," Mr. Dunham said. "They don't interact with the corporate offices."

Consistent with that approach, the lighthouse logo gives far more prominence to "Sparrows Point" than to Bethlehem Steel. Beth Steel's Burns Harbor, Ind., plant has a logo that integrates the sand dunes of Lake Michigan.

Mr. Dunham introduced the lighthouse logo in a company newsletter last month. He called the partnership between management and labor a beacon for Sparrows Point, saying it will help the company compete in the the next century.

Recounting that Sparrows Point has its own old lighthouse near Pennwood Wharf, Mr. Dunham told employees that lighthouse beams represent safety and security.

"The Sparrows Point beacon for employees leads to a good paycheck and a safer place to work," he wrote, adding that employees had benefited from profit-sharing and a lower injury rate.

Designed by a Baltimore artist who wishes to remain anonymous, the lighthouse logo also represents the company's contributions to charity and environmental groups, company officials said.

David Wilson, district director for the United Steelworkers of America, applauded the selection. He said the imagery of the beacon is "pretty good," despite the loss of tens of thousands of jobs at Sparrows Point over three decades. "Things have changed in the steel industry," Mr. Wilson said.

Even though environmentalists and Beth Steel have clashed, Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he liked the lighthouse logo. He said it promotes the bay in a subtle way without making political statements.

"This is nothing but positive," Mr. Baker said.

Customers and employees alike will soon be familiar with Sparrows Point's new logo. It's already emblazoned on stationery and packaging that goes to customers. It will soon be on company signs, Mr. Dunham said. Also in the works is a medallion for customers and possibly the construction of a lighthouse at the plant's entrance, said Beth Steel spokesman Ted Baldwin.

Charles Bradford, an analyst for UBS Securities, said the lighthouse may help Sparrows Point educate its employees.

"It makes absolute sense to use whatever is available to make your people knowledgeable so that everyone knows what's going on," he said. "You need to shine the light, if you will, not only on what you're doing but on what your competitors are doing."

Mr. Bradford also said the logo captures the need for Sparrows Point to close the distance between itself and customers.

"An occasional golf game doesn't do it anymore," he said. "The customer wants you to be directly involved in business. You can't do that from long distance."

Listen to Mr. Dunham and it's clear that the logo is about more than stationery, packaging and medallions. "It allows us to look at our business differently from in the past," he said.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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