One on One: Peter Van Houten Bob’s Metals (Portland, Ore.) ​

Oct 4, 2018, 18:57 PM
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September/October 2018


How did you enter the recycling business? After 30 years as an executive in the computer technology industry, I found myself consulting for a recycler going into electronics recycling. My background in technology, ISO standards, and leadership helped grow the business and led to my taking on the role of general manager/vice president of operations for the company in 2010. Then Bob’s Metals hired me in 2016 as their general manager. I’m loving the company, the family environment, and the integrity they bring to this business.

What do you like most about the recycling industry? The people and networking opportunities I’ve had through my involvement with the ISRI board and the convention. You get the experience of those who have been in the industry for years and the excitement and energy of young executives. I value lifelong learning, and I have learned a lot through these interactions.

What do you like least about the industry? That many scrap companies continue to operate as if integrity, standards, and regulations don’t apply to them. Companies that don’t comply with regulatory requirements gain a competitive advantage, and they do so at the expense of their employees, the industry, and the public. When they are caught, their actions reflect poorly on the entire industry.

What is the biggest challenge facing your company? Hiring knowledgeable or trainable employees who want to stay for the long term, especially [commercial driver’s license-holding] drivers.

How would you sum up your business philosophy? Start with defining reality; end with saying thank you; and for all things in between, serve.

What are the keys to success in the recycling industry? Integrity, solid business practices, employee empowerment and training, and exceptional customer service.

What lessons have you learned about business in your career? In all things, take care of your employees and your customers and maintain the highest levels of integrity.

How do you personally gauge success? I’m a fan of Andy Andrews’ “Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success,” which outlines the following philosophy: (1) The buck stops here. I am the only one responsible for my past, my present, and my future. (2) I continue to seek wisdom and be a servant to others. (3) I am a person of action. I seize this moment. I choose now. (4) I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured. (5) Each day I choose to be happy. (6) I greet each day with a forgiving spirit, including being able to forgive myself. (7) In all things, I will persist without exception. 

What are some of your greatest personal achievements? My greatest achievements have been raising three children to adulthood with the capability to make their own decisions, have a foundation in faith, be responsible spouses and parents, and be successful in their respective career choices.

Which of your traits do you like the most? Networking—I love engaging and meeting with people, especially those from differing cultures. When standing in line at Disneyland, by the time we get to the ride, I will have engaged with several people in front of and behind me, and most likely we’ll have set up a coffee meeting for the future. I’m that guy.

Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? My health—I need to lose weight, get my diet under control, and have knee surgery.

You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ISRI over the years. Why do you think that’s important? Being a member of ISRI brings several benefits, the greatest being the networking and camaraderie that goes on among the members, whether it’s at a chapter meeting, the convention, or at board meetings. However, to obtain these benefits you must be involved and invest the time and effort to participate. I also value ISRI’s resources, most specifically our lobbying/legislative and safety knowledge. I know I can reach out to an ISRI staff member and get an answer quickly.

What’s your favorite movie? It’s going to sound sappy, but my favorite is It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been a Jimmy Stewart fan for a long time, and the movie always reminds me that we never really know the significant difference we make in other people’s lives.

Favorite foods? I love to grill and entertain, so a good barbecue is top on my list: thick rib-eyes with corn on the cob and baked potato, all cooked on the grill. Fresh Chinook salmon on the grill is a close second.

Favorite drinks? Diet Coke. I drink way too much of it.

Favorite places in the world? My career has taken me around the world to many people’s bucket-list locations—Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, England, India, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, and nearly all 50 states—but when it comes down to it, my favorite place is the Oregon coast. Regardless of the season, it’s among the most beautiful coastlines in the world.

Favorite TV shows? I confess that my wife and I are drawn to “brainless” reality TV: Survivor and Big Brother. A new series I’ve become addicted to is Deception, which reveals how magic deception works in solving crimes.

Favorite musical artists? I’m not certain I have a favorite artist. Depending on my mood, I might listen to jazz, classical, oldies, Christian music, or whatever is on the radio. I don’t have a playlist on my iPhone.

What are your hobbies? I do professional photography on the side, mostly for nonprofits. I love being able to capture the essence of an event in a way that will create positive memories long after the event is over.

My wife and I also have opened our home to international students, hosting students from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Mali, Nicaragua, Japan, and Taiwan so far. Every experience has brought happiness and learning into our home. And we love to get out and explore, in the Northwest and elsewhere. Friends say that when we post on social media, they get exhausted just seeing the amount of activities we can fit in any one day.

What’s your passion? I have two: my faith in God and my family, especially my grandchildren.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Fresh Red Vines licorice.

What makes you mad? People who are chronic complainers and problem-finders, those who sit on the sidelines but won’t engage or participate in finding and implementing a solution.

Is there anything you still want to accomplish in your career, or have you achieved your goals? I am very fortunate in my career and life to have accomplished many things, but am I done? No. Every day provides a new opportunity to learn, to explore, and to make a difference, no matter how small.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? Make a difference, take risks, and engage with people. I realize that some days, trying to make a difference is hard. It can feel like our small efforts get lost in a sea of challenges, politics, and paperwork. For a young executive, it can be overwhelming when your best efforts feel wasted. Being a change-maker is hard, it’s never-ending, and the waves of oppression can be relentless. So why do it? I urge you to read “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley. It stirs something deep inside each time I read it. I hope it provides you the encouragement you need to keep being the change that our industry and our world needs.

One on One: Peter Van Houten, Bob’s Metals (Portland, Ore.)   
  • 2018
  • Sep_Oct

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