LG: Do you prefer to be called General Batiste?
JB: John. I retired two years ago.
LG: Was that an adjustment to be called John?
JB: It was a little bit, because for 31 years I was “sir” to everybody. But when I came to Klein Steel, I introduced myself as John, and it’s been that from day one.
LG: Can you tell us about the transition from managing 22,000 men in the First Infantry Division in Iraq in combat, to running a small-to-middle sized steel processor in Rochester, New York?
JB: I retired in November of 2005. I had worked in the defense industry, and there were options and opportunities that I could have elected to do if I’d gone to work for the big defense firms as an army lobbyist.
LG: Why didn’t you do that?
JB: I wanted to get to do the private, non-defense, for-profit kind of work, and I also knew I was going to speak out against the administration.
LG: You couldn’t do that as a lobbyist for the defense industry?
JB: I didn’t want to be encumbered with all that. So how did [this path] happen? There’s an organization in New York City called Leader to Leader [Institute]. Consultant Peter Drucker started it. One of the things they do is link retiring generals with the private non-defense, not-for-profit industry. Joe Klein, the CEO and owner of Klein Steel, had been looking for a president for about a year. He was at a retreat and ran into Peter’s No. 2, a wonderful lady by the name of Frances Hesselbein, and said, “Look, I’ve got this problem; I can’t find the right president.” She said, “I can help,” and within three days I was up in Rochester interviewing with Joe. I brought my wife up. We fell in love with the place. This company has everything I was looking for: integrity, high standards, and a focus on people.