Richard Swanson is like any other hard-working American. He gets up each day, drives to work, puts in an eight- or nine-hour day, goes home and does the same thing all over again the next day. His routine is pretty unremarkable.

But what makes him remarkable is that this month, he'll celebrate a landmark anniversary - 49 years at the same place of employment, rising from an accounting clerk in 1962 to division controller in 1996.

The Silent Generation

Swanson is a member of what's been called the Silent Generation, individuals who grew up sandwiched between the doomsday events of the Great Depression and World War II.

Swanson began working at Metron Steel in Chicago at a time when punch cards, not computers, were used for processing and storing data.

Pensions were prevalent, and the 401(k)s still were years away from implementation. Federal laws that now define the employment landscape - including ERISA, COBRA, FMLA and PPACA - didn't exist; neither did Medicare and Medicaid.

When Swanson joined Metron Steel, it was a family-owned business run by two brothers, Tom and Andrew Athens. The 40 or so employees had health insurance through their employer, but shouldered a good chunk of medical costs through coinsurance.

Swanson recalled a time early in his career when his wife needed surgery, and he found himself unable to pay all of the medical bills. His employer lent him the money after having him sign a simple one-page agreement drafted on company letterhead to repay the loan.

The terms included no repayment period, no minimum payment amount and no interest. The Athens brothers knew Swanson was a man of his word, and they wanted to help a valued employee.

Changing hands

One Athens brother eventually bought out the other and in 1990, the remaining brother sold his interest in the company to a French steel mill.

In 1996, the French sold Metron to Primary Steel, Inc., another privately held company. The new owner found investors, created a limited liability corporation, changed the focus of the company from a general line steel processor to a flat roll and plate distribution company, and eventually sold Primary Steel to Namasco, a division of Klockner & Company SE, in 2007.

As the company grew and changed hands, Swanson managed to survive and prosper. He attributes his long career with one company to his ability to get along with everyone.

Currently, the youngest worker on the floor is six years out of high school. Workers of all ages regularly consult Swanson for advice about benefits, paychecks and finances.

He tries to refer employees to the company website for information about their benefits, but the transition to self-service hasn't taken hold because Swanson is so accessible and clearly cares about each employee.

Since he enjoys working and relishes his interaction with people, Swanson says he isn't ready to retire. It's not that he's trying to mark 50 years with the same employer - he's already achieved the distinction of being the longest-serving employee with the company - it's that he hasn't figured out what he'll do with his free time.

No doubt that his long career has brought him satisfaction, and will be especially hard to leave behind.

Contributing Editor Leanne Fosbre is a senior summary plan description writer with HighRoads, an HR IT consulting company headquartered in Woburn, Mass. She partners with clients' vendors and legal counsel to create accurate, user-friendly and current SPDs in the HighRoads proprietary SPD content management system. Leanne is a certified employee benefits specialist, an ISCEBS Fellow and holds a master's degree in health care law from Seton Hall University in Newark, New Jersey. Leanne can be reached at

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