VIRGINIA — Robb Peterson is the newest and youngest manager of an Iron Range taconite plant.
Peterson, 43, on May 15, became operations manager at ArcelorMittal Minorca.
ArcelorMittal Minorca, a 2.8 million ton per-year taconite facility in Virginia, supplies high-quality iron ore pellets to ArcelorMittal's giant No. 7 blast furnace at Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, Illinois.
Peterson replaces longtime general manager Jonathan Holmes, who retired this spring.
For Peterson, who was born in Chisholm and grew up in Greaney, the job carries on a long family history in mining.
“I'm a fourth generation miner,” said Peterson. “My dad worked at National Steel Pellet as a consulting engineer, my grandfather Lynn was a surveyor for the Oliver Iron Mining Co. for forty-plus years and his father worked at the Sherman Mine in Chisholm.”
ArcelorMittal Vice President and General Manager Wendell Carter, says Peterson's industry-wide experience makes Peterson an outstanding fit to lead ArcelorMittal Minorca.
“Robb's experience in — and passion for — mining made him a great fit for this role,” said Carter. “Robb possess 19 years of experience in the industry, excelling in both engineering and management. He spent the last four years working at ArcelorMittal Minorca, which allowed him time to embrace the Minorca culture, understand the operations and learn the personnel in advance of his promotion.”
Peterson took a circuitous route to the top job at Minorca.
Peterson attended grades K-7 at Orr School. His parents Dennis and Audrey, then moved to Virginia, where he was on the swim team, graduating in 1993 from Virginia High School.
Two years of pre-engineering at Mesabi Community College led to a degree in civil engineering from North Dakota State in 1998. In 2014, he earned a masters degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota Duluth.
His first job was working for his father at National Steel Pellet Co. in Keewatin, who was a consulting engineer.
“After college, he asked me if I had a job and I said 'no'.” said Peterson. “He said 'good, because I have a lot of work and I need help'. I worked with him there for three years. I learned all my real world stuff and cut my teeth over there.”
Peterson went on to work as a mill engineer, maintenance manager, and pellet plant maintenance at U.S. Steel's Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron; as a structural engineer at NORAMCO Engineering in Hibbing; and as a maintenance engineer and in reliability for Cleveland-Cliffs at Northshore Mining. Co. in Silver Bay and Babbitt.
“I really wasn't looking for a job,” said Peterson. “I liked Northshore. But they [ArcelorMittal Minorca] called me up and said there was a retirement. It was a nice fit.”
Peterson moved his family from Aurora to Virginia and in 2014, started work at ArcelorMittal Minorca as a maintenance engineer. He later became plant manager.
When the operations manager job opened up, Peterson “put his hat in the ring.”
“They knew Jonathan was retiring and they were looking for an internal candidate,” said Peterson. “It wasn't planned this way, but it all ended up pretty good,” said Peterson.
A little more than five months into the manager's role, Peterson said he's still getting up to speed on some aspects of the mine and plant budget process.
But he says ArcelorMittal Minorca's workforce has the talent and opportunity to implement new technologies and consistent, reliability-centered maintenance that addresses potential problems before issues arise.
The facility, says Peterson, has a good workforce, which he wants to support.
“They know how to do the job, they have a lot of good ideas and I need to support them properly,” said Peterson. “I want to give them the tools and the systems to be able to do their jobs properly.”
Communication, said Peterson is key with workers within the taconite plant and mine.
“Communication goes a long way,” said Peterson. “I want to be as transparent as I can so they can do their work. We all have the same thing in mind. We all want to be here and we all want to see this mine run as long as it can.”
Retirements within the hourly workforce and hiring new human resources, safety, plant manager and operating manager positions, have been resulted in major personnel changes at the taconite plant, said Peterson.
With its new hourly and management employees and its pellet-making importance to ArcelorMittal, the facility is on solid ground, says Peterson.
About 25-30 years of iron ore reserves are currently identified and the single-line plant continues to be a key supplier of pellets to Indiana Harbor.
“They'll take all the pellets we can make,” said Peterson.
Peterson's varied careers, his love for family, the Iron Range, and activities like curling, ice fishing, camping, grouse and deer hunting, and retreats to the family farm, make northeastern Minnesota the perfect place for he and his family, said Peterson.
“When I was in school I was thinking about engineering and I was open to going anywhere,” said Peterson. “I would have worked for MnDOT. But I wanted to stay in the area. Now, I don't have a desire to go anywhere else. I like Range history. I like family history. I married a gal from Mountain Iron, we have two daughters and it's always been nice to have our parents close.”
Peterson credits his father, his wife Tina, former co-workers and instructors for mentoring and supporting him throughout his career.
In payback, Peterson makes a point to visit with students at area schools several times to serve as a mentor.
“My dad took me under his wing and was a mentor to me and that's why I'm here,” said Peterson. “Also, the grade school teachers I had, the high school teachers I had on the Range and the Mesabi Community College teachers I had on the Range all helped me to be where I am at. And my wife has been very supportive of me through all the twists and turns. She's always been with me. She's been a rock in all my work. I couldn't have done it without her.”