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Lessons from an E-waste Entrepreneur (Transcript)

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

[music]

[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with John Shegerian, executive chairman and co-founder of ERI. Welcome John, thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:37] John Shegerian: It's great to speak with you Liz, I'm really happy to be here today, thank you for having me.

[00:00:42] Liz: John, we usually start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in this industry?

[00:00:48] John: Yes. I'm going to tell you a couple of stories that I usually have not shared before. I grew up in the New York, New Jersey area and I wanted to be a jockey, and my dad broke the news to me when I was really young that I was already too heavy, but I could do other things around horses. He encouraged me, if I wanted to be around horses, to be a driver, which is the hardest racing type of horses that they have at the Meadowlands and other big tracks up and down the East Coast and across America. I did that as a young person, it was a great experience being around animals and the outdoors.

Along the way, my dad and I met a group out of Belgium, two brothers named the [unintelligible 00:01:37] brothers. They bought one of our champion racehorses named Noble Darby from us. They brought Noble Darby, but we also realized these guys had created one of the best windmills in the world and they wanted to bring those windmills to America, so my dad back in the late '70s was one of the first people and put together a group that brought windmills to America.

I, at a very young age, was exposed to the thought process of creating energy from different sources, in this case, the wind, and making the world a better place. Because there's alternatives out there that we should consider, but from a very young age, I started thinking about the environment and how to make the world a better place, all because of my racehorse background, ironically. But then because of windmills and then Windmaster, my dad and the [unintelligible 00:02:33] brothers windmill company became one of the most popular windmill companies in America. They eventually sold that company, but it was called Windmaster.

I got very excited about the environment young, but didn't come back to that, I had a journey in between, was a co-founder of Homeboy Industries, after the Rodney King riots where we helped gain impacted youth, get jobs. Father Greg Boyle, the co-founder and his revs has been running it brilliantly for 20-something years, over 20 years or 27 years or so now. He had a tag line said, "Nothing stops a bullet faster than a job." That tagline still even holds today and it really made a huge impression on my life, what we did with the gang impacted youth in Los Angeles, getting them jobs and giving people, who had historically been marginalized, a second chance.

My wife and I decided, we weren't going to get involved with any businesses anymore unless they don't only make a profit and we're a good business as a standalone, but they also had a social bottom line, an impact bottom line. My next business was FinancialAids.com, where we democratize student lending online from 1998, the year Google was founded, sounds ancient now, to 2004. Then we came across this opportunity of e-waste, which is the backside of the technological revolution that we're also living through and also benefiting from, but no one, when they invented all these wonderful gadgets -and we started this company before there was an iPhone or an iPad or before there was drones, robots or anything else that were part of our vernacular- nobody had given thought to where does this stuff go after we are done using it.

It was the fastest-growing solid waste stream when we started this business, and it still is the fastest growing solid waste stream. That's how we got involved, and for the last 17 or so years, we've been building this company from our extra bedroom in our house, brick by brick, to now eight locations. We recycle -and I'll go into that a little bit later- in our mind what recycle means, but we recycle approximately 25 to 30 million pounds a month of electronic waste.

[00:04:57] Liz: Well, first of all, your journey is remarkable, what an amazing way to enter the industry and do good as well and find profit in it, I think that's remarkable and you really were ahead of your time, John.

[00:05:09] John: Well, I got lucky. Things happen and you don't know why they're happening, at 16 or 17 years old, 15 years old, I didn't know why I was being exposed to windmills, but now when I look back and I realized it was such an amazing lesson in environmental studies, I remember having on my dad's boardroom table a map of America and every square mile, in an analog map, was broken down to average wind speed per day because they were looking, physically looking, before there was AI or any computers that were people really engaging, they were looking for the best places to place these windmills.

I got a tremendous bird's-eye view into trying to make the world a better place, but doing it on technology that was, again, a breakthrough, no one had ever thought of this before, no one was doing this really on a commercialized basis and it was a fascinating part of the journey. That's what made me fearless and thinking, "Okay, just because something hasn't been done before, doesn't mean you still can't do it." With that experience I've applied that to everything we've done, Homeboy and FinancialAids.com everyone told me all these things would never work, Electronic Recycles International, people told me, "It's just never going to work", and you just keep- you have to have something in your bank of confidence to give you the push through to say, "It will. Don't worry, I got this." That was part of it.

[00:06:46] Liz: Amazing, that's great. I can't believe the numbers that I'm reading about ERI, and how much capability you have to recycle a billion pounds of electronic waste per year and you guarantee the data destruction. Considering the weight of electronics, as far less than regular solid waste disposal, these numbers really are astronomical, how did you get there with your facilities? Can you talk about the creation of that? Then, when the iPhone or the iPad came about, how you had created systems that had to handle much more?

[00:07:27] John: Yes, those are great questions and there's a lot to all of it, even though when you're doing it you don't understand. Because again, we were creating what was historically just the scrap industry and this stuff was given to scrap yards, we started developing what would become a much more sophisticated solution because that's what the clients wanted.

We started in Fresno, California, we moved the company, it was originally started under a different brand name by my co-founding partner Aaron Blum in Vista California, which is North County, San Diego. He was introduced to me through one of my colleagues at FinancialAid.com who he grew up with, Kevin Dillon. We were all down in San Diego, and when we sold FinancialAid.com Aaron said, "Can you guys join on with me and take this to a different level, like the FinancialAid.com level".

We studied it, we work with Aaron and we decided, "Let's close down this, this it's not the best place from a reverse logistics point of view and let's move it to Fresno, California." Because Fresno is still the Ag belt of America, probably even in many ways, the world. What you had in Fresno -which sits in the middle of the state- is you have all these trucks going out with all these wonderful Ag, raisins, tomatoes, all nuts, almonds and cotton, coming back empty, so you a great reverse logistics opportunity here.

The mayor back then, Mayor Alan Autry, said, "Hey, listen, John, if you want to do this, it's great, I want to support. Let's look at some buildings in areas that need redevelopment, instead of building something new or going into a fancy nice building, let's put you into a building in an area that needs recycling." We took over a building that, ironically, 20 years earlier had been used to start a rag recycling company. Had been abandoned by its owners because it's so well they had to move to a new location, became the largest rag recycler in the world, but it just left there, had been left to sit empty by the owners because they were succeeding so much in the rag recycling business that they had no need to really rent it or do anything much with it.

We came in and it literally had been sitting empty, like they had just walked out 20 years ago. We came in, the whole team fixed it up, repainted it and we recycled this old building and started our building and our journey there. We thought, "How are we ever going to fill this building", it was 70,000 square feet and literally our first month of business, we got 10,000 pounds of electronic waste, the next month 20,000 pounds, and within six months we were so overloaded, there was electronic sitting in our parking lot. We said, "Oh my Gosh, we're onto something here, we better figure this out".

Today we have over a million and a half square feet of real estate across the United States that support our different locations in Boston, in Indianapolis, in Baden, North Carolina, Denver, Seattle, Dallas and New Jersey. In Fresno still, we have eight locations, a million and a half square feet. We started off with 70,000 and we thought, "Wow, we don't even know if we'll be able to fill this up", and now we're constantly looking for new space, constantly in negotiations with landlords. It's just fascinating because what's happened is, when you go to CS every year, you see that there's 22,000 or so new items that come out just at CS, this is beyond what comes out during the year.

We're still the innovation nation, we're still living through the technological revolution with all the great products that are being invented now even in America, but also in South Korea, in Japan still, in China and all around the world, and we have to answer the bell, we have to keep reinventing ourselves to handle all the new stuff coming in, it's something you just can't simply automate and just develop a robot that will handle this, you have to use automation and AI, which we've done -which I'll go into a little later- but also this is a very, very people-centric business where people have to be involved.

We thought it was just four of us working out on the extra bedroom of our house here in Fresno, now we have over 11,100 employees across America doing this important work.

[00:12:02] Liz: Tell me, what do you think with 5G on the horizon, how are you preparing for those mountains of e-waste set to enter the way stream.

[00:12:12] John: Well, that's interesting. We're told by people much smarter than us who run the big carrier companies and stuff like that, some of them are clients of ours, that this is going to be bigger, this 4G to 5G turnover, it's going to cause, eventually, not overnight, but in the years ahead our biggest turnover of electronics ever, more than black and white to color, more than 4G to 5G.

There's other things to keep in mind, you asked me earlier, Liz, how and why we set up our footprint? That's also fascinating. We got our first break from Best Buy, Best Buy was the first big company that said, "Wait a second, we're not going to wait just for government to make laws", because this is a sad part, the sad part of our industry that I learned along the way, Liz, is this. Can you believe, in 2020, only 11 states have [unintelligible 00:13:20] redemption laws? Yes, it just doesn't make sense as a society, as people that are smart as we want to think we are in terms of environment, in terms of taking care of each other and taking care of the water we drink, the air that we breathe and the soil that grows our crops. It's only 24 or so states that over six or seven year period from 2002 to 2009, let's say, pass e-waste bans.

We had in 2005 and 06, that's five-step forward. One of our young salespeople back then was meeting with them and they said, "Listen, we want to be the first to step out and allow people to drop off their own electronics", and people thought they were nuts, people said, "This is never going to work, you don't give up golden's retail space for people to drop off old electronics", because the only purpose of retail space, everyone said, was sell new electronics.

Best Buy said to us, "Okay, let's run a test. 10 locations." They worked in California and they said, "Let's go to 20", and it was working. Eventually, they said, "a hundred", and then eventually, they said, "Let's do every location." That was a signal to America in many ways, that not only can corporations step in where government is not doing enough, where corporations, good corporations coming from the right place and transcend government, that's just sitting idly by out of benign neglect. We're just looking the other way, who knows why, but good corporations could come in and make the world a better place.

Best Buy went first, others joined in, Staples, who's a client of ours as well, and eventually most of the big retailers. Now, you some form take back where they allow customers, if they don't like the product even, there's all different rules around them, but they allow people to bring back the old electronics instead of throwing them in their trash, putting them on the side of the curb or whatever.

Best Buy lead with that and that was a big signal in terms of, "Let's not wait for government tell us what's right to do, let's all work together, all the stakeholders, manufacturers, the retailer's, citizens, the cities and the states also participate. Let's all be part of the solution, let's not put the burden just on one portion of the stakeholder group, let's all be part of the solution".

Best Buy was the lead on that and that was our first big break. We built our footprint a lot around Best Buy return centers across America because they would take it from their stores, send it back to their PVCs and other areas where they're collecting the stuff and we would get it from those centers. We also set up our footprint around population centers across America. Also, it was my wife, who came out of the food industry, who said, "Let's also build our footprint around reverse logistics centers", so she knew the best logistics centers across America there's in the food industry.

I'll give you an example, when we put her on third location in Plainfield, Indiana, everyone thought we were nuts and Low and Behold, my wife it's, "No, all the America goes through Plainfield or through Indianapolis." She was right. Now, one of Amazon's biggest delivery centers, fulfillment centers, is right down the block from us in Plainfield, as are many many other eCommerce brands right near us in Plainfield. Plainfield has become one of the biggest industrial reverse logistics and direct logistics centers in all of the world now.

We got very lucky, we had great people like my wife on board, who is now our CEO, she said, "No, this is how we have to build our footprint." It was a combination of population centers or growing client base, and then also the logistic centers of America. We could service every zip code, and we also service Alaska and Hawaii, but from our eight locations, we can service literally every zip code across America, and Alaska and Hawaii as well.

[00:17:56] Liz: Amazing. John, what percentage of e-waste do you say goes unrecycled? I know you're talking a little bit about legislation and where that responsibility sits, is there a way to quantify that?

[00:18:12] John: No. But let's break your question down into two answers, because there's two great answers here that your listeners have to hear. The e-waste that's being handled by responsible recyclers, ERI is one of them, and there's others, we have great regional competitors across America that are responsible recyclers, that have certifications and e-stores are R2. Also, we'll get into a little bit our new certification that we took on four or five years ago of need.

But responsible recyclers that are doing this right, none of the electronics that comes in goes to a landfill, so it's literally zero-waste, zero-emissions, zero landfills. Everything that we have either goes to resale, if the contract allows that, or gets shred. We've developed and we own the world's largest electronic waste recycling shredders, and we shred it into commodities, plastics and metals. Those plastics and metals all go for beneficial reuses and are sold to smelters all around the world, some domestic and some in different countries.

Alcoa is a minority investor of ours, they sit on our board and they've been amazing partners, LS-Nikko Copper out of South Korea it's another minority investor of ours and they [inaudible 00:19:30] our journey back in 2009. People said, "Why? This has never happened in the recycling industry." Downstream partners started investing, they wanted all the off-take in Copper and in precious metals, so they get all our off-take every month of that material. Again, it all gets melted and all goes to beneficial reuse.

Everything that comes into a responsible recyclers facility should be zero-waste, zero landfills, zero-emissions. Now, the other side of the story, which you asked, great question. How much are we really producing? Nobody knows, Liz, unfortunately. Is still the wrong thing happening with some of it? Absolutely. Some of it is still going to landfills, some of it's still being shipped off our shores for different reasons and when I got in the business -which I can get into-, but the unfortunate part, yes, the problem is huge, it's enormous, it's still the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world and we need more solutions.

I would hope that people listening this podcast said, "Hey, listen, I want to go in the industry", this is not a zero-sum game, there's plenty of room for other players as well because this is a problem of enormous magnitude and the opportunity is still huge, we're still at the top of the third inning year, Liz, we don't have this thing solved, it's not all end game and it's not going to be for a long time, even as we see around the world in China, in India and other emerging economies. Their e-waste is just expanding as well because everyone wants to have all the same fun gadgets that we have here in America and people then don't know what to do with it when they come through their normal end of life. The opportunity is still huge, but the nice thing is when it is going to responsible recyclers, it's a zero-waste, zero landfills, zero-emission opportunity.

[00:21:35] Liz: It really is and you're really mining that end-of-life device or gold, I'm afraid.

[00:21:41] John: Yes. Gold, copper, plastic, aluminum, everything. Steel, steel is the number one thing that comes out of all e-waste. All goes to be recycled, to our good partners at [unintelligible 00:21:55], Schnitzer or whoever. We have lots of great progress in steel and all goes to be recycled, which is wonderful.

Here's a little fun secret that no one talks about the e-waste industry. When you recycle those metals, plastics and even the glass, there's a massive energy savings, so this is also a climate change story. I'll give you an example, I learned this from my good friends and partners of Alcoa. When you recycle aluminum because that's pretty much the high benchmark, you saved 94 or so percent, 93, 94% of the energy that you would otherwise expend mining this, mining aluminum from raw materials underneath the ground. It doesn't get talked about, Liz, but there's a massive energy play.

The same goes for gold, they're all not at the 94%, they're all the 80s and 70s. Even plastic, even glass is nor of 50%. There's a climate change story that even surrounds itself when it comes to recycling electronic waste, because you're saving massive energy. There's so many great stories that come out of responsibly recycling electronic waste that don't get told normally that I'm just wanted to share it with you and your listeners.

[00:23:19] Liz: That's great. I think we will all get a lot out of that. On the consumer side, John, I think some of the fear of data destruction and is it being done responsibly might be a reason why some of these devices sit in our drawers. How do you guys at ERI make sure that it's responsibly disrupted?

[00:23:42] John: Great question. First of all, when we started this business -remember, it was before Al Gore won any awards for Inconvenient Truth Nobel Peace Prize, Academy Award, all those great things- when we first started, Liz, was all about sustainability, "Keep the stuff out of landfills, keep them from being shipped to China or India or Africa", but what we started seeing quietly was this new trend of data [inaudible 00:24:09].

Here's the data points that we saw. We saw Palantir get born in Silicon Valley in 2003, 04 or 05 in that general area. We saw LifeLock get invented in Arizona in 2007, and we saw the rise of these trends and then these other competitors to Palantir. That put cybersecurity and the words privacy into our vernacular and our everyday lexicon.

We started putting more thought around this, and about seven years ago, I was introduced to a great guy named Bob Johnson. Bob was the executive director of NAID, "NAID." NAID is National Association of Information Destruction. It was really created for that and that's on paper, it's really created to help give great certifications to brands like Shred It and Iron Mountain, that shred paper that has important data on it. But NAID created a standard for data that's contained in a hardware.

Bob still runs NAID, so I met him and I made the decision after meeting him once that all of our facility had to get NAID certified, because this is what our clients are either starting to ask for, or are going to ask for in the future. This was about 2012 or 13. Low and Behold, Liz, both the man and a woman on the street, and the big clients that we have out there, the fortune 100, 200 and 300 companies, they all are really concerned about their own personal data, their corporate data and goodwill, and the data that's contained that is also surrounding their clients.

We created software that tracks all materials that come into our facilities from beginning to end. We also have data destruction, whether it's a wiping system in our facilities, which is the DOD and the NAIST wiping system standards, or some of our clients say, "Hey, we want you to wipe our paper clean, put it in your shredder and then send that shred material directly to your smelters".

There's all sorts of different ways to do this, but the bottom line is all eight of our facilities are NAID certified, and we proudly wave that flag and advertise it because we have more facilities that are NAID certified than anybody else in the hardware sector, than anybody else in the world. That's become an important part of the certification process, it's not okay just to be certified any more just to environmental standards, like e-Stewards or R2 [unintelligible 00:27:06], the two platinum environmental certifications. Now, if you're going to be involved in the e-waste industry, end-of-life e-waste industry in terms of recycling all the electronics, you really need to get your NAID certification. That's what we did about seven-eight years ago and it's paid off for us in a very very handsome way.

[00:27:29] Liz: As it should, that's great and that is a flag you should be waving because, as you said, privacy is such a huge issue now. You couldn't have anticipated that when you first started, so it's pretty amazing that you're doing that.

[00:27:42] John: As any business grows, you have to keep your eye on the trends, what's going on around you and adjust. Though it's so funny, we started a business all on sustainability before Al Gore won for Inconvenient Truth, but we've been in it long enough to see the evolution of even that trend.

There was no sustainability talk in America that much when we started the business. When I traveled the world, I saw it was a big deal in UK, in Germany, in all these countries, in Japan, in South Korea, that have been talking about sustainability for generations already because they're such small countries that can't throw out their stuff in all these landfills, so they were forced to think about circular economy and sustainability back then.

Now, the expanse of America just started getting with the program after Al Gore put it on our agenda.

The fun part of the journey, Liz, as that backed down and data came up as a huge opportunity and data destruction. Low and Behold we had the birth of the new generation, the Gen Xs and the new generation of young people that have now come out and are leading the way, taking the torch of sustainability and now putting it on our agenda again, a circular economy and climate change, like Greta Thunberg and other young leaders around the world and here the United States as well and saying, "Yes, we care about this. Yes, as consumers we're going to [unintelligible 00:29:22] pocketbook, you better be doing the green thing. Mister and miss. Politician, if you want me to vote for you. You better be doing the green thing, Mister and Miss Corporation if you want us to buy your products".

That's really fun to see, that whole sustainability revolution now turned into a circular economy discussion, which is literally in every boardroom across America and across the world, it's literally on most politicians, good politician's and good government's mind. It's being by a new generation of very activist young people that really want to ensure that their future is safe living on this planet, and their children and grandchildren's future is safe, so there's a lot of fascinating trends, circular economy, 4G to 5G, cybersecurity, NGDPR coming to America and privacy that are all playing into the e-waste revolution. Also the need to recycle electronics couldn't be greater than ever than right now because of these massive trends that are evolving and not going away anytime soon.

[00:30:49] Liz: Absolutely. You know that the younger generations will not accept anything less, so everyone is thinking about this. John, are you starting to see that from the manufacturers themselves and the brands themselves? Are they starting to think about end-of-life when they're creating these devices?

[00:31:08] John: Yes. Liz, great question. Yes, they're actually sending their engineers now that are the developers of new gadgets into our facilities to see, "Are they making them too hard to recycle? How could they make them easier to recycle?", and then numerous of the manufacturers have come to us and said, "Can we start specking your copper, gold, other metals or by the way, plastics to go back into some of our new products?".

We're actually working with great brands, like HP. Some of our plastic goes to one of their manufacturers, can go into their new printers, and other manufacturers [unintelligible 00:31:59] the same thing with our plastics and metals for their new TV sets and other items. So, yes, manufacturers are just another great stakeholder in this circular economy that are getting very involved now with creating their products in a much more sustainable and greener way. Which is a great trend to see. We didn't see that when we started our company, but now they're all over us for this, and it's both fun and encouraging.

[00:32:27] Liz: It is, it's an exciting time. I can't wait to just watch it improve more and more because we've hit the tipping point even in our industry as we normally deal with the end-of-the life-cycle of a product. It's changing and there's no going back, it's fantastic.

[00:32:46] John: Yes, you're right, Liz. That's the exciting part about your podcast and your show, because you get to highlight how really, when we put our mind to it, and then everything that we historically throw away could have a second life in another product, another beneficial reuse, it doesn't all have to go to landfills anymore. That's a huge opportunity for all of us, but also for the next generations behind us.

[00:33:18] Liz: Absolutely. I know we're talking about innovation and technology, how have you used that in the facilities themselves? I heard you were one of the first to install AMP Robotics, I would love to hear more about that.

[00:33:31] John: Yes, that came from my good friend Ron Gonen. Ron and I became friends when we were both starting in this industry, starting our Journeys. He started in a little company back they called RecycleBank, and I was always his big fan he was a fan of ours when we started ERI, always help each other and encourage each other. Ron and I have maintained our friendship and then he started a fund, great innovative technologies to help the waste industry as a whole. One of the companies he first funded was AMP and he sent them to me, thankfully. I started working with the Matanya Horowitz, their CEO and he was just a gem of a guy before he had sold any units-

I put him in touch with my engineers and he started working with them, and in Low and Behold he put a couple of test models into a MRF in Denver, we went out to see them, we work with their engineers out in Denver, in Colorado, and within two and a half years we were the first US recycler in the world who put AMP Robotics into our facilities. It just made us more efficient, it made us a better company, so we have now AI, robots and cobots in our facilities, and it's all thanks to Ron Gonen, AMP. Matanya and also our engineers who work with them. Again, it comes down to just keeping good friends and keeping good relationships who really want to do the right thing, and then, as technology evolves we got first crack at it in our industry.

it's also working - I know- in the greater waste industry, Matanya is having tremendous success as well. But in the e-waste industry, we're their biggest consumer and their biggest fan, I'm still the CEO of Matanya's and Ron's [unintelligible 00:35:25] because of all the good things they've been able to bring to us over the years. AMP is in our facilities doing super well, the robots in the cobots [unintelligible 00:35:35] but like we said earlier, Liz, that's only one part of the story.

Yes, we could bring an AI and robotics and we're constantly innovating like that, but, it's still a very people heavy business because you need people to make judgments about tech cup lines and other things when old products come in. What has to go to get shred, what can be reused and all sorts of other things. When we bring in a robot or a cobot, we just shift people our facility because finding great employees isn't easy in our country anymore, so we're constantly growing our employee base, but we're also constantly innovating and bringing in new technologies, and AMP was one of the greatest technologies we've ever brought into our facilities.

[00:36:22] Liz: That's great, that's amazing, they're doing great things and I love your point about it's helping you gain efficiencies, but you still need that human side of things too, I think that's the best way for it all work together.

[00:36:36] John: 100%. There's no such thing as really robots misplacing in our business, at least robots displacing people. We love our employee base, that's how we built this company, that people have been with us for a long time, our core team and the employees. That's really important stuff, always innovating, but also always taking care of your people and building a good culture so everyone understands this isn't just about a paycheck, this is about also the greater mission that we have of making the world a better place.

People love that part about coming to work at ERI, I hear that from everyone, whether the people that are working on the shredding line or people who work in the offices, people just love the mission and that makes me happy every day, that makes it worth getting up every day and going back at it, it really makes it exciting.

[00:37:30] Liz: It does, that's great. Jon, I know you're moderating a recycling session at WasteExpo' Business Leadership Forum. Can you tell me any more about that? What attendees might walk away learning?

[00:37:45] John: Yes, I'm very honored to be invited by my friends and my bankers at Comerica Bank, who are hosting this at Waste360 the WasteExpo in New Orleans. Last year I participated as well in their forum and it was really a great experience, they had three or four different sectors and I'm hosting on this year, called Recycling Strategies from Curb to Mill, were great and legendary figures from the industry. On my panel I know John Casella, John is a legend in our industry, the waste and recycling industry. Chris Han is going to be on it as well and some others are still in discussions to join that panel.

But we're going to be talking from Curb to Mill, how it comes into basically a waste company then it eventually goes for beneficial reuse in the mill and how it doesn't have to go to a landfill. I just love that story, I love circular economy discussion. That's going to be the panel that I'm hosting, Recycling Strategies from Curb to Mill.

I want to also get a shameless plug here, Liz, to Waste360 at the WasteExpo and Comerica Bank for putting on this forum. Because here's the secret, one of the superpowers when people ask me about how to be an entrepreneur. Part of it is not constantly living in the chaos of worrying about how to finance your company. The Comerica Bank, I met them in 2007 and they have financed our company since then 13 years, which is an incredible run of a relationship. They have emerged over those years as the leading waste and recycling banker in America, and I'll tell you why, those guys do it right, that team does it right, the one run by Joe Ursuy.

They're are a big reason for our success, so when they asked me to come and do these moderating panels and stuff, it's more than an honor, but it's first of all, I'm around all these legends because I sit in and I watch all the panels. All the panels are going to be great. The first panel on building winning teams is moderated by Ian Burns, is a good friend of mine. Again, legends in the industry are on that panel, Joe Winters and Charlie Appleby, these guys are legends in the waste industry.

Funding growth is going to be moderated by another friend of mine, Matt Breight from Comerica Bank and Jow Ursuy is on that. [inaudible 00:40:46] other investment bankers and other people. You can learn so much by listening to these panels and what other people have done, how they built their company, who they partnered up with and how to make it work. It's not just one way to the finish line, there's numerous ways, so by going to this forum and surrounding yourself with people who are literally the legends, who have started waste companies, sold them, started another one, sold them, and now on the third or fourth waste and recycling company.

I learned so much by just being in and around these folks for the last 13 years, and I've been exposed to the [inaudible 00:41:27] at Comerica Bank and because of the WasteExpo. It's just an honor to be participating and being asked to moderate this. I really urge your listeners to attend, come on out, get exposed and you're going to come away with a lot more knowledge after you're sitting on this forum than you had before you went in. I always come away with some great pearls of wisdom and I encourage others to do the same.

[00:41:57] Liz: That's great, we can't wait to see you. You're absolutely right, I feel it's real advice, it's big-picture stuff, but it's also real advice, concrete ideas they can walk away with and actually apply to their businesses, which is awesome.

[00:42:13] John: Yes. By the way, also it's tremendous networking. You're going to meet [crosstalk] people right there, both investment bankers and other people that want to invest in their space. There's tons of money on the sidelines right now, today they just drop the interest rates again. This is the time, you want to always have financing available to you, if you're running a good business, you're always want to have financing available to your work, know where to get it. But by having the relationship with Comerica Bank and all these others financiers that they having at their forum at the Waste360 Business Leadership Forum it's only going to be beneficial if you're an entrepreneur trying to run and grow your business. It's a win-win on every level, knowledge and also relationships and business cards from all these real leaders of the industry.

[00:43:06] Liz: So true. We've talked about the excitement of the industry and you seem to be so generous with your advice and time. What advice would you give to young people entering the industry, John?

[00:43:20] John: Yes, that's a great question. I just wrote a book for the marketing masters, it's about marketing and it's on my journey, it's with a co-author business partner of mine, Brendan Egan. In the foreword of the book, put, "My secret superpower", Liz, I wanted to put it right upfront.

There's a new generation that's coming to work for me, coming to work with all the big waste companies across America and coming to work in the workplace and workforce of this great country. Here's the curse and the blessing. The curse is, that generation has grown up with all this technology you and I just discussed the left 45 minutes to an hour, they grew up as a normal course of life with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and also text messaging and cell phones, at their 10, 11, 12 or 13 years old. But here's the problem, technology has horribly depersonalized our society, both on personal relationships and unfortunately also on business relations.

When I was 21 or 22 years old -and I'm 57 now- all my business meetings were done in person, they were done nose-to-nose and that was just normal. Now, there seems to be a new generation that is adverse because they've been depersonalized to meeting people face to face. Even some people I find are depersonalized from even picking up a phone, they think email, text messaging or Skyping is enough, and it's not. My message -and I share this with my salespeople at my company and my leadership at my company all the time at ERI- just get your face out of Facebook and go get in someone's face, whether you have to walk, drive, fly, train, it doesn't matter, go meet people face to face. There's not one deal I've ever closed that I want to talk about over text message or over email. My message to everyone is you close nose-to-nose, you personalize.

Here's why it's a secret superpower. Because as soon as you stand out by going to personalized relationships, one of the reasons ERI has thrived so much is because I don't put a travel budget on our sales and marketing team, they're not looking over their shoulder, "Did I spend too much? Did I fly on the plane?" It's not that they waste money by flying on first-class or anything, but just a restriction or even just flying in coach, even just staying in hotels, I'm, "No, the more you're on the road, the more you're winning", whether you're landing business or you're not, you're personalizing every opportunity, whether they join with us now or not doesn’t matter. That's why all the successful people I've seen now, both in my generation, back and all the way down to young people in their twenties that are succeeding, are personalizing.

It's so out of the norm now compared to when I was 21 or 22 years old, it becomes a secret superpower by going and doing things in person. People will never forget that you showed up, they never forget that you came to meet them in person. That would be my greatest advice to the next generation of new leaders and young people coming into the waste and recycling industry that are going to invariably make the world a better place and change the world, but to jumpstart their career and to find the fastest path to success, personalize everything you do, it will set you apart from everybody else.

[00:47:41] Liz: That's great advice and it really is a superpower. Especially in this industry, John, I feel it's all about relationships. A lot of family businesses, it's like a really big community of people who care about each other, that's amazing advice.

[00:47:58] John: Well, Comerica Bank, Joe Ursuy told me from day one, the day I signed the papers with him in 2007, "John, we're not the cheapest, but we give the best service." That's exactly what they've done for 13 years, and that's what sets apart winning teams from everybody else. The same thing for ERI, we're not the cheapest, Liz, but we give the best service, that's why our clients love us, they never leave us and we love our clients. It is a secret superpower and I really urge the next generation just to try it, it will set them apart from everybody else.

[00:48:36] Liz: Fantastic. John, anything else we should be paying attention to in the world of waste recycling in organics?

[00:48:43] John: I'm very hopeful, like I said, just for our industry, Liz, we're at the top of the third inning. I believe we're at the bottom of the second at the top of the third for almost every sector, no matter what you want to recycle or no matter what you want to put back to beneficial reuse, I think the opportunities are bigger than ever. I think this is an industry that's only going to keep exploding with the circular economy, looming out there and constantly now being message and people caring about it more than ever, I think the opportunities of the ways of recycling industry are larger than ever. I urge the next generation to get involved, come on in and make the world a better place.

[00:49:26] Liz: We really can. I think that's fantastic, you're so inspirational, John, I can't wait to see you at WasteExpo and the Business Leadership Forum.

[00:49:36] John: Liz, I can't wait to see you there and everybody else who joins us, everyone's going to benefit from coming to the Waste360's Business Leadership Forum. I'm honored just to be part of it.

[00:49:47] Liz: Can't wait. Just thanks for everything, this has been a wonderful conversation. I will see you in May. I downloaded your book, by the way, I can't wait to read it.

[00:49:58] John: You're too nice and thank you very much for that. Like I said, I ended up in the [unintelligible 00:50:05] that's my secret superpower, if that's all they read, then they'll get enough out of it and I'll be really happy, so thank you for that, Liz. Again, I look forward to seeing you and everybody else on May 5th, at the Waste360's Business Leadership Forum.

[00:50:21] Liz: Thanks John, we'll talk soon, take care. Thanks for all the work you're doing.

[00:50:26] John: Thank You Liz, thank you for your time today, this has been a true honor.

[music]

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