How did you enter the recycling business? I was born into it on both sides of my family. I’m fourth generation on one side; on the other, my grandfather was in the auto wrecking business. My father, although a pharmacist, went into auto wrecking. Right after I graduated from college, I went to work for him. After we got out of that business, I worked for Columbia Iron & Metal (Cleveland) trading iron and steel scrap, then at the Federal Metal Co. (Cleveland) as a buyer of copper, brass, and bronze. I always really wanted to be a lawyer, so at age 38, I started taking night classes. I worked full time and went to law school at night for four years. When I graduated, I worked for Thompson Hine (Cleveland), where two of my previous employers were clients. I was there for about 7 1/2 years. I enjoyed practicing law, but law firm life does not lend itself to building relationships like the scrap business, and I got homesick for the scrap business. One thing led to another, and through old relationships I ended up where I am today, as general counsel at Reserve Management Group.
What do you like most about the recycling industry? The people and the relationships. There are people who are like family. Two of my closest friends are [ISRI Chair] Brian Shine and Matt Kripke, [president of Kripke Enterprises Inc., Toledo, Ohio]. I’ve known them since we were young adults in the business in the ’90s. Our wives became friends; we’ve been through life issues together. One of the most emotional moments of my life as an adult was at my father’s funeral, in January 2014, and both Brian and Matt were there for me.
What do you like least about the industry? The misperception in the public about what we do, including bad press, [such as] metal theft [or] environmental issues within the industry, and then the bad actors who perpetuate that.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your company or the industry? The challenge in the industry is, what do we do next? Do we embrace the other facets of recycling and what that entails—embracing Design for Recycling™, [advocating for the use of recycled materials], educating the public about curbside—or do we stay the course with our focus on metals?
How would you sum up your business philosophy? You have to work smart. In my role, I have to look at 360 degrees of an issue to make sure, when I’m analyzing something, that I’m considering all aspects of it, laying out the proper risk analysis.
What are the keys to success in the recycling industry? If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do something, be honest about it. Don’t lie. If you tell one lie, you’re a liar for life. This industry conducts millions of dollars of business by our word. If you’re not confident in whom you’re transacting business with, it all falls apart.
What lessons have you learned about business in your career? It goes back to the previous question: Be honest. I’ve tried never to burn bridges. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and those relationships [with my former employers] still exist.
How do you personally gauge success? Success is about my family: my kids—Josh, Matt, and Sam—and my wife, Becky. The kids are working hard, doing nicely at school, respectful to others. That’s success to me. When I graduated from law school, my father gave me a book of lawyer jokes, which I still have, to make sure I didn’t take myself too seriously. When he passed away in 2014, I made my mother give me his keychain, which was a little piece of brass that says “junk dealer,” and that’s what I use every day. It keeps [things] in perspective.
What are some of your greatest personal achievements? Aside from my family, I’d say my law school achievements: I graduated with honors and six academic awards. I’m very proud of that. In 2011, when MF Global declared bankruptcy, it created a unique intersection of the U.S. bankruptcy code and the Commodity Exchange Act. A gap in the law had ramifications for all the scrap dealers who had hedge accounts—their money was tied up at the CFTC. With the support of ISRI’s leadership, I met with the CFTC, and I was asked to draft comments that became referenced footnotes in the Code of Federal Regulations. Although just footnotes, for me it was a real accomplishment. Also, I was one of 33 [people] asked by the Senate Agriculture Committee to draft comments for the reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Which of your traits do you like the most? I hope other people would say it’s my integrity. If you ask me what I think, I will tell you. If you don’t want to know what I think, don’t ask. It might not be what you want to hear.
Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? Always. As a lawyer, if you really want to be successful and provide value to your clients, you have to be a student forever.
You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ISRI over the years. Why do you think that’s important? I was very fortunate that Federal Metal supported my serving on the board of the Northern Ohio Chapter and participating at the national level. I’ve always been passionate about the industry and advocating on its behalf, and that has not diminished even 25 years later. When I first got involved, [I saw] business owners and executives selflessly volunteering for the betterment of the industry, even on issues that might not be in their [companies’] best interest. I still see that. I have a lot of respect for the past chairpersons who still actively participate. I hope that younger people who are getting involved recognize the commitment these people have made. It’s not just the dollars to travel to meetings, it’s learning about the issues and addressing them.
What are your favorite movies? The Godfather parts 1 and 2 and Blazing Saddles. In high school I memorized Blazing Saddles.
Favorite foods? Food. I have celiac [disease], so I can’t have gluten. It limits what I can eat, but it hasn’t changed what’s on my favorite foods list.
Favorite drink? Tito’s [vodka] on the rocks. And Rain vodka from Kentucky. It’s very smooth.
Favorite TV shows? I like crime dramas. I think I’ve seen all the Law & Order episodes for the past 25 years. Right now I watch a cable show called Funny You Should Ask, with a panel of six comedians who are asked true or false questions. The one-liners are just hysterical.
Favorite musical artists? Genesis pre-1980, Todd Rundgren, and The Who.
What are your hobbies? I like movies, and I’ve always loved watching my kids in sporting events.
What’s your passion? My family. It may be corny, but it’s the most important thing in the world to me.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Chocolate. I’m happy with a Hershey’s bar or M&M’s. They’re gluten-free, easy, and straight to the point.
What makes you mad? Lying.
Is there anything you still want to accomplish in your career? There always is. I’m still learning new things. I marvel at what we do as an industry and how we’ve evolved, and I like learning.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? Maintain your integrity. Understand that what might be in the best interests of the industry may not serve you individually, but a healthy industry will help your business stay healthy.