One on One: Shawn State, Pratt Recycling (Conyers, Ga.)

Jun 22, 2020, 15:57 PM
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May/June 2020

How did you enter the recycling business? I had been working in the corrugated box business with Pratt Industries and was asked about joining the recycling division. It was 2007, and Pratt had one small baling plant in Greer, S.C., at the time. The aspiration was to grow the business to support our growing containerboard mill system, which is what we have done. We currently have 19 recycling facilities, from the East Coast through Texas.

Graphics_MJ20_300 x 2006Did you ever consider doing anything else for a career? I graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science in packaging. After graduating, I was offered a job at a large containerboard mill system on the West Coast. Just prior to my packing up and leaving Michigan, I also was offered a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep on the East Coast. That was probably the only time I considered doing anything other than working in the paper industry, but I had [already] made the commitment to the packaging company.

What do you like most about the recycling industry? Every day is different and challenging. Markets can change week to week, and sometimes day to day. It keeps the job exciting. I also really enjoy the relationship dynamic in the recycling industry. I cannot think of too many other industries where buyers and sellers are competing against each other so aggressively, yet we need to treat each other as if we are best friends (and in many cases we are) because we know we will need each other as market dynamics change.

What do you like least about the industry? There isn’t really anything I don’t like about the industry.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your company? Not enough domestic end-use markets for recyclable material. The industry really relied on the export market to consume materials collected in the United States. We need to focus on creating and developing end-use domestic markets.

How would you sum up your business philosophy? Communicate clearly; stay focused and committed; and follow up, follow up, follow up.

What are the keys to success in the recycling industry? With any industry, you need to have good people working with you. We have done a nice job at Pratt of surrounding ourselves with knowledgeable industry veterans, but we take calculated risks on young people as well. We need to make sure we have a pipeline of younger people to help grow our business, but also maintain key leaders that can be mentors and establish a legacy for others to follow.

What lessons have you learned about business in your career? One of the bigger lessons I have learned is that we need to operate with fairness, consistency, and a high degree of integrity. It is important for me to treat the people I work with the same way I would want to be treated.

What’s the strangest or funniest experience you’ve had in your career? As I was interviewing a person to be in sales at one of our facilities in Texas, the interviewee, who was an industry veteran, pulled a piece of paper out of a mixed paper bale, put it in their mouth, and started chewing it. This paper came into the [materials recovery facility] via a curbside collection truck, had run through the MRF, and been baled. The interviewee told me that they could tell what kind of paper it was by tasting it. They didn’t get the job.

How do you personally gauge success? First and foremost, we need to make sure every employee we work with comes to work and goes home safely. A very close second to that is we must hit our annual budget. Everything else is just background noise. We need to operate a safe work environment and hit our budgets.

What are some of your greatest personal achievements? I’m proud of how I have developed as a father and a leader. As I have gotten older, the attribute that most helps me is having emotional intelligence.

Which of your traits do you like the most? I am pragmatic and consistent in how I approach nearly every situation. I am also very direct. As difficult as that can be for some, I think people appreciate that about me.

Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? I need to learn to be more empathetic.

You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ISRI over the years. Why do you think that’s important? My former boss, Myles Cohen, introduced me to ISRI. In fact, I think Myles introduced Pratt Recycling to ISRI. I do view ISRI as the face and voice of the recycling industry. There are a lot of great organizations out there that we are a part of, and [they] collaborate to do what is best for our industry, but ISRI has a very strong voice.

What’s your favorite movie? Any baseball movie. Moneyball is a good one.

Favorite TV shows? When it was on, 24 with Kiefer Sutherland.

What are your favorite foods? Breakfast at Waffle House.

Favorite drink? Water.

Favorite place in the world? Nashville. My wife and I enjoy the live music and the bar scene there.

Favorite musical artists? Anything country.

What are your hobbies? With two children ages 13 and 16, my hobby right now is carting them around to all their events. When I’m not doing that, I enjoy getting to the gym early in the morning.

What’s your passion? Providing for my family.

What’s your guilty pleasure? I watch a lot of cheesy action movies if I get bored late at night.

What makes you mad? Bad calls at my son’s baseball games.

Is there anything you still want to accomplish in your career, or have you achieved your goals? I have a lot left to accomplish. I plan to work for at least another 15-20 years. The short-term goal is to help Pratt Industries double in size in the next four to five years. That won’t be easy, but we need to make that happen.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? Work hard on promoting and developing end markets for our products. To run a profitable, sustainable business, we need more end markets. I also think the current generation of recyclers needs to promote what we are doing to the younger generation. We need young people to learn to love this business and to embrace it.

One on One: Shawn State,  Pratt Recycling (Conyers, Ga.)
  • 2020
  • May_Jun

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