Bethlehem, which reported a second-quarter loss of $70 million and predicted a larger third-quarter loss, faces critical decisions such as whether it should renovate or close plants in Bethlehem and Steelton, Pa.
The company began shutting down its bar, rod and wire mill in Johnstown on July 31. Bethlehem also recently reached an agreement to sell a coal mine and 34,000 acres of coal reserves in Washington County, Pa.
The decision by Williams, 63, to retire was not unexpected, although some analysts thought he might delay his departure a year or two.
"The issue now is whether his successor is the right man" said Charles Bradford, an analyst at UBS Securities in New York. "Hank Barnette is a decent guy, but his experience isn't what the company needs.
"His background has been entirely legal, with a dabbling of labor relations," said Bradford. "He's had zero operations and zero financial experience, but when you look at where Bethlehem has most problems, it's in operations and finance."
Millenbruch and Penny had been generally regarded as contenders for the number-one job at Bethlehem.
Earlier this year, Bethlehem, the nation's second-largest steelmaker, announced plans to eliminate 6,500 jobs over two years in an effort to return to profitability. Company officials have blamed unfairly priced foreign steel and higher labor costs for its financial problems.
In a prepared statement, Williams said: "Our strategy is clear - concentrate on steel, restructure our businesses and rebuild our financial strength."