After college Steve started working with a local, family-owned auto auction and insurance agency. During his career as a car repossession man, he helped the family start two companies dealing with car dealers and auto auctions: AutoCheck and AutoTec. And on top of that, he’s also President of Red Mountain Technologies.
Interestingly, when Steve bought what has now become one of Birmingham’s most popular music venues, he wasn’t thinking of his next business venture.
How did Iron City come about?
My wife is a children’s librarian and she plays the guitar and I’ve got two young sons. We wanted to buy a building to have fun with, where she could play her music and bands could rehearse if they wanted to.
I bought one building and then another building came available where I could put a restaurant and a bathroom and then saw I could put a mezzanine in it and thought “we could get a lot of people in here.” I started asking “can I make this a business?”
It was really interesting for me because I’d had a career in auto auctions and to start off in something completely different was interesting.
Why did you start Iron City?
We started in 2008 when the Birmingham economy was down and the main motivation was have a venue that kids could go to. I wanted to keep young people in town so they don’t feel like they have to go to Austin, Charlotte, or Nashville. I was just trying to make Birmingham hip.
What lessons did you learn starting out in something completely new with Iron City?
Starting a new business is hard. Nothing’s going to go like you expect it to. As soon as you jump one hurdle, there’s another hurdle.
You have to look yourself into the mirror before any sort of entrepreneurial endeavor and say are you ready for this sacrifice?
Although starting a business can be exhausting, Steve had a lot of great insight to share about how to be successful and build a great company.
What have you learned about leading a company for it to be successful?
To be successful you’ve got to have an open door policy with employees. Anybody can discuss ideas and critique. I think it’s important that everyone feels they can point out problems.
The genesis of the best ideas come from someone complaining. They say “your idea is stupid, what about this?” A good idea comes out because of the debate that gets started. People having no fear to criticize is important.
What are some important qualities of a business leader?
It’s about the little things. Do nice things for people. People want to do business with people they like. Caring about people, customers, your word, and integrity is important.
Favorite restaurant in Birmingham?
What would you tell other entrepreneurs in Birmingham?
Be prepared for how hard it’s going to be. Don’t give up. If you don’t quit, you aren’t beat.
And make a list before you go home of the things you need to get done tomorrow and do some of those things right now. Make a list and get after it.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
The people I’ve met and gotten to work with. What I’ve learned is how much fun business can be. You really don’t need to know statistics. It’s not even really work anymore because I get to see friends.