Into the Blast Furnace: The Forging of a CEO's Conscience.


326 pages
ISBN 978-0-307-35603-1
DDC 338.7'669142092




Reviewed by Louise Karch

Louise Karch is a career consultant with Carswell Partners in London, Ontario.


Into the Blast Furnace is former CEO Courtney Pratt’s and writer Larry Gaudet’s account of Stelco’s meltdown and turbulent turnaround. I dutifully read business books for professional edification; rarely am I engaged to the point of not wanting to put the book down. The book provides a front-row seat at another power play for a Canadian resource-based manufacturing company.


Like all good Shakespearean dramas the authors sets the scene. Stelco is facing bankruptcy, and a life-and-death fight is on between steelworkers, shareholders, pensioners, managers, union bosses, foreign bondholders, a small town’s worth of lawyers, and consultants, with Justice Farley presiding. Then there’s Pratt trying to do the right thing as the CEO while his wife battles cancer and his company hemorrhages in a shark tank.


The book, pardon the pun, uses a novel approach. As marketing people know, “Facts tell, stories sell.” This is a Stelco story: the authors use real and fictional characters as intentional composites of people who made the Stelco power play dramatic. They are there, says Pratt, to represent a dimension of his conscience—an intentional ode to Dickens’s morality ghosts from A Christmas Carol.


This shifting of perspectives takes a while to get used to, and some readers might find it jarring. Pratt’s first-person account in the prelude is so candid that you want more of him. Alas, the story is layered with so many competing interests that I understand why they’ve aimed for a 360-degree perspective.


I ached as I followed CEO Pratt’s leadership arc. One watches him try to navigate ethically as he becomes cornered by judicial policy and foreign interests. How does a homegrown leader of a Canadian, publicly owned resource firm become an observer? Pratt worked to protect the innocents (pensioners and workers), but in the end Stelco was sectioned off and sold. Pratt ended up with a severance package and a thank you seat on the board.


While the authors try to stay neutral about foreign ownership and the inevitability of globalization, one can’t help feel concerned about Canada’s future. The book showcases a defining moment in Canadian business history; it is a morality tale for the nation.


Pratt, Courtney, and Larry Gaudet., “Into the Blast Furnace: The Forging of a CEO's Conscience.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,