One on One: Sunil Bagaria

Jun 7, 2018, 21:26 PM
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May/June 2018

GDB International (New Brunswick, N.J.)

One-on-OneHow did you enter the recycling business? After finishing my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering in India, I came to the United States in 1991 to pursue a graduate degree. I earned a master’s in polymer science at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn in 1993 and then joined Honeywell in Morristown, N.J., as a research associate. Since I had the technical knowledge about plastics, one of my brothers—a cardiologist here in the United States—encouraged me to start a business. He provided the capital that allowed me to found GDB International on May 24, 1993. GDB are the initials of my mother’s name—Gayatri Devi Bagaria. At that time, India could not afford to buy virgin polymer, so I looked for plastic scrap to supply to India.

What do you like most about the recycling industry? This is one of the few industries where we can take care of the environment while we take care of our pockets. It’s a win-win situation. We divert material from the landfill, prevent waste, educate people about how to recycle, and in the process make money. We make a difference. This is the only planet we have, so it’s our responsibility to preserve it. We are guests here. I also like that this industry offers the opportunity to meet wonderful people and learn something new every day.

What do you like least about the industry? People who misrepresent their material to make more money.

What is the biggest challenge facing your company? The people in our company are our most prized assets, so I feel it is my biggest challenge to meet our employees’ dreams and aspirations. When our people walk out the door at 5 p.m. each day, I want to make sure I create an environment that will make them happy to come back at 8 a.m. the next morning. Another challenge is to maintain our growth trajectory as a company by adding new materials or doing something out of the box.

How would you sum up your business philosophy? I am a firm believer in good karma. In business, as in life, your karma plays a big role, so I believe in always doing the right thing. Do not look only at how you can earn more. Money is important, but you cannot stop being human in the pursuit of money. I also believe in the value of honesty, humility, and hard work.

What are the keys to success in the recycling industry? When you approach a scrap supplier, don’t look for the low-hanging fruit. Try to identify the customer’s problems first, then figure out how you can resolve those problems. Always value relationships more than profits. Take care of the customer’s interests, and your interests will be automatically taken care of as well.

How do you personally gauge success? The No. 1 measure of success is to be able to spend time doing things that don’t make money but bring you happiness. The biggest role of money is to give you time for the things you like to do. I also will consider myself successful if the company can carry on after I am gone. I should not be indispensable for the company. We’re still working on that. Once I become dispensable, I will become the happiest person.

What are some of your greatest personal achievements? My biggest achievement is that GDB employees are very happy. They think of this business as their own home. I also am proud of our company’s corporate social responsibility practices. From the money we earn, we give to charities in India, fund development projects there, help individuals with college expenses, and other activities.

Which of your traits do you like the most? I am a risk-taker, and I am good at listening to and trusting my heart when it comes to decisions. I also think I am a caring person. I believe your first responsibility in business is to be human. You cannot stop being human just because you’re a successful businessman or businesswoman.

Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? That is a long list! Sometimes I procrastinate. If I have to send an e-mail, perhaps I’ll send it tomorrow. I’m working on that, which relates to my need for better planning, better time management, and better delegation.

Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people. I like to dance. Give me some good music, and I’ll be on the dance floor. I especially love dancing to music from Bollywood movies. Also, people might think they can’t reach out to me, but I’m very approachable.

You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ReMA over the years. Why do you think that’s important? When we joined ReMA 12 years ago, I wondered what we were getting for our dues. After I started to get involved by attending chapter meetings, board meetings, and the convention, I realized what a wonderful organization ReMA is. It’s a great platform to meet people, network, and share ideas. I have met so many people who have influenced me with their knowledge, and our ReMA membership has directly helped us increase the volume of our business.

What’s your favorite movie? Dumb and Dumber. I laugh every time I see it.

Favorite food? A home-cooked meal by my wife. There is nothing better than that, not even a meal at a five-star hotel or a three-star Michelin restaurant. My wife, Suman, has been by my side every step of this journey. I can’t imagine life without her.

Favorite drink? Johnnie Walker King George V whiskey.

Favorite places in the world? Germany. I especially love the small towns with the cobblestone streets and the family-run B&Bs. I also love Miami, which is a close second.

Favorite TV show? My wife and I watch Indian soap operas after dinner.

Hobbies? Gardening is a big thing for me. We have a large vegetable garden in our yard, and I try to spend at least an hour tending it after work. That’s like therapy for me. 

What’s your passion? I have a passion to do well in life, to take the company to new heights, to grow it for the future. I am consumed by the company, but I cannot help it. It is my baby.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Dessert. I’m not supposed to eat it, but I have a sweet tooth.

What makes you mad? I get mad when I know people are capable of doing more, but they still don’t do it.

What constitutes a perfect day for you? Spending a day with family and not thinking about work.

If you had three wishes, what would you ask for (besides additional wishes)? First, I wish I would never have to say no to anybody. Second, I wish the day had 48 hours because then I could catch up on everything. And third, if I were reincarnated in human form, I pray that I would get the same parents. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? Always value everyone’s contribution in the company. Someone working on the sorting line is as important as the CFO of the company. Also, always think beyond the obvious in your business. What is obvious to you will be obvious to other people, so look for possibilities that are not obvious to you at first sight. And finally, get into the habit of taking notes. Whenever you see something, read something, or hear something in a meeting, write it down because otherwise you will forget it. You never know when you might need to refer back to the notes.

One on One: Sunil Bagaria, GDB International (New Brunswick, N.J.)
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