Jeton Sadiku has been working as a steel trader for all of his career. When Jeton graduated from university in London, he had an opportunity to go and work in Russia for a coal company. He moved to Russia for that job when he was 21 years old. He speaks fluently and reads and writes in Russian, but he had to learn the language for this job. In the late 1990s a lot of steel producers were going through a hard time, and they had to pay the coal company in steel. Because of that, Jeton was asked to start selling that steel and that is how he slowly began to learn all of the details of the production process and how to trade steel, and he has been doing that ever since. He has been become a shareholder and a partner within the firm, but he is still working for the same company that he started with since the beginning of his career.
Steel trading is a very specific niche business where you have to ensure that all of the different processes are completed to ultimately get the steel physically to your customer. You specifically have to buy a cargo for a customer, deliver it, ship it, handle the financing, and everything that goes with it. Steel is the only industry in the world that is not regulated. When you trade steel, basically it is supply and demand, and it is exactly how it has been done 100 or 200 years ago. You are always producing the steel order. It is not a commodity that you can go and pick up. It is made to order for the customer’s specific needs. The specifications have to be me made, the chemistry has to be decided, the size, the time of delivery, and you always work on future contracts.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Everything began with my work for the coal company. Coal is the raw material for steel. I don’t know how to do anything else besides trade and produce steel, but it came from my start with the Russian coal company. I realized how big and interesting this industry is.
I am still working with the same group of people that I started working with 25 years ago. People don’t move around in this industry much. It is an industry based on relationship and it takes time to build those relationships. There is a lot of trust involved. The customer needs to trust you to deliver their product on time. If I am late on delivery, then the cargo will be late, and so forth and there would potentially be lawsuits and a chain of events that will cause losses. It is a very small world with only a handful of steel traders because it involves so much trust and relationship.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am always an early starter. I wake up at 4:00 in the morning because of the Asian market. If I don’t start early, then I miss half the day in Asia. I always start with a jog, but then I get busy checking on customers, looking at inventories, looking at supplies, checking any cargos we have at ports, what ship are we loading or discharging, etc. When Asia stops working, I take a two-hour break for lunch, and then in the afternoon and evening I focus more on my contacts in North America. I work 14 to 18 hours each day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am driven. My ideas come out of a desire to have a purpose. An idea has to serve something better. It has to make a difference for someone, a place, a country, or to a group of people. Any good idea needs a lot of passion to drive it forward. The end result has got to be that it serves something bigger than me.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The steel industry has cycles. The summer is always quiet. The busiest months are in the first and third quarter. After the summer, everyone stocks up. Because a lot of governments are trying to kick start their economy, there are a lot of government projects and infrastructure work, so there has been an increase in the construction steel being produced.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that does not exist anymore. I left at a very young age, but both of my parents were brought up under communism. I think what makes me different is the way I was brought up. Communism was an easy life in the sense that they had everything, but they had nothing at the same time, because the state owned everything. When I was sent to London to study and go to university, I was always driven to make a difference. I wanted to achieve something that no one had given to me. I think that gave me a stronger drive to work. I don’t get tired of working. I want to achieve something and be different.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The mistakes that I have made in life have been the best things to ever happen to me. I even wish I had made them earlier in life, rather than later, because I am a firm believer that it is how you grow up as a person, as a human, as a friend, as a husband, mother, or father, everything. Mistakes will propel you to become much stronger, quicker, and better. Mistakes teach you how to handle problems and how to handle stress. It’s okay to make mistakes. You will move forward and never do it again.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
In 2007 I said that the fundamentals are not there, and I could foresee that the 2008 crash to happen. At this time, prices were going through the roof. I told everybody that I think they should go short on the market, and everyone thought I was absolutely nuts. I did just that right at the end of it and came out with flying colors in the end. Everybody said, look, we owe you an apology. I think people refused to see it. You think you know what you’re doing, but then all the analysts, all the big banks, they were all saying, this is the new world, a new price, a new level. I do have a very good understanding of the markets at a global level. After so many years, you do get a feeling for the markets.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Every day, over and over, I tell myself that impossible doesn’t exist. I always write the word impossible and I put a dash between the “i” and the “m”, so it reads “I-m-possible.” It makes a huge difference to me and to a lot of people that I know. If you have enough passion and desire, you can do anything you want.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It really comes down to the loyalty of the people around me. I have been working with some of the same people for 25 years. You grow together. We don’t even need to say the words. We know what we are thinking and how we perceive things. They are looking to me to lead them, and I am looking for them to follow. There is a trust between us that I will do a good job at leading and they will do a great job at following. Without one or the other, it will not work. Loyalty is key in my book.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I did well after the 2008 crash because I shorted the market and I made the right call. Then I decided to go into production, and I learned a steel trader can never become a producer or an industrialist. My investment in production never worked because production requires a different mindset. Industrialists think about just in time production whereas steel traders need to have a more global picture. As a steel trader, I need to understand what is going on in the rest of the world. That is an information gap I fill for my clients.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think the next big thing in the future will be cider. It is beginning to be available in many places. It is produced from apples, and there are plenty of apples. It is surprisingly cheap to make cider. You need a small storage space and you can make your own cider. The flavor is determined by the type of apple you have. I think producing cider is a great business idea as it is becoming more popular.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a pair of cufflinks and was also making a charitable donation. I always think cufflinks makes a dress shirt look different on a man. I haven’t been wearing dress shirts since February because of the lockdown. I am just now getting back into wearing a suit and dress shirts.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Currency exchange is one screen I look at the most. It is information I need that makes a difference between making or losing money. It helps me greatly to do my job.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Anything from Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is worth the time. He is no longer with us, but for me all of his books changed my life and changed my thinking. It confirms why you should be driven, why you should be different, and why you should pursue the impossible and make it possible.
What is your favorite quote?
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing . . .” Winston Churchill
• Believe in who you are.
• Believe that you can do everything possible.
• Be loyal and honest.
• Never, never give up.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.