This year’s recipient of ISRI’s Young Executive of the Year award, Dan Garvin, was almost an executive in a completely different industry. Scrap News spoke with Garvin, president of Colorado Iron & Metal, about how one summer working for his uncle changed the trajectory of his career, and the pride he has in leading a family-owned business.
How were you introduced to the recycling industry, and what about it did you find compelling?
I started in the summer of 2000 after graduating high school. I was living in Minnesota at the time. My uncle, who was also from Minnesota, asked me what I wanted to do in life. I was working for a family that owned a small chain of pizza restaurants, so I said I wanted to own a pizza restaurant. He suggested I work for him over the summer at Colorado Iron & Metal—which he bought from a family friend in 1995—to show me what it was like to own a business and be my own boss.
I worked in the scrapyard cleaning radiators, stripping copper wire, buying aluminum cans, and helping customers. I fell in love with the business. Once summer was over, I went back to Minnesota to start college and forgot about the pizza business. I just wanted to get in the scrap business. It’s a common theme in the industry. You’ll hear people say, “Oh, I just fell in love with it, it’s in my blood and I can’t get out of it.” It’s 100% true for me. I fell in love with the work. The people were interesting, the job was interesting, and I never looked back. That’s all I wanted to do after that summer.
What led you and your brother to purchase Colorado Iron & Metal from your uncle?
I graduated college in 2003. I graduated on a Wednesday, moved to Colorado on a Friday and started working in the scrapyard on a Monday. The year I graduated was a good time to start in the industry because commodity prices were taking off. Our company saw rapid growth in those early years, and my uncle and I had multiple conversations about needing more help. We decided to bring my brother Marty and his family into the business so we could manage it together. From 2007 to 2010, we received some minor ownership in the company. In 2014, my uncle finalized the deal, stepped down, and passed the reigns to us.
Tell me about your tenure as president of Colorado Iron & Metal. What were some challenges you’ve overcome thus far?
My time as president started in 2014. When we bought the business, we bought it based on the assumption of previous years where commodity prices were really high. But 2014 was the beginning of the downfall, with 2016 probably being rock bottom. Those first three years as president were extremely difficult. We worried every month how we were going to pay my uncle. We didn’t have a lot of equity in the business when we bought from him. He carried the note with us, and those years were rough.
There were many sleepless nights. Around Thanksgiving 2016 I probably didn’t sleep for a week. I was thinking about the market, wondering if I was going to make payroll, and if I was going to make the payments to my uncle. Somehow, by the grace of God, it all came together, and we survived it.
After 2016, we slowly clawed our way out from the bottom. For most of the business, 2018 was a really good year. Then COVID-19 struck in 2020. Besides the everyday dealings of a commodity-based business and dealing with prices, we’ve got the same problems as everyone else. Finding a good workforce that wants to return to work is difficult. There are outside pressures too. Are we being good neighbors? Are we being good stewards to our communities? In both cases, yes, we are. But there are a lot of outside forces I had no idea we’d be facing today.
How were you introduced to ISRI, and what are your fondest memories of the association?
My uncle was a longtime supporter, and joined ISRI around the turn of the century. Our family has always been a big believer in the trade association for our industries. The first chapter meeting I attended was the Rocky Mountain chapter’s 2004 winter meeting. Chapter meeting members would go to a ski resort town in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a fantastic get-away.
There are many fond memories. I think my first national convention was in 2006 or 2007 in Las Vegas. Thinking about all the people I’ve met at conventions and the chapter meetings brings up so many great memories. Even now later in my career, I look forward to ISRI’s quarterly board meetings. I can’t wait see my colleagues and friends in person again.
How did you react to hearing you were this year’s Young Executive of the Year?
I was extremely excited. And I was really humbled to be acknowledged by my peers. It’s a fantastic organization, and I’m absolutely thrilled to represent it as the Young Executive of the Year.
I entered the industry when I was 21. When I went to my first Rocky Mountain chapter meeting, I was probably the youngest person there by at least 15 years. Even rising through the ranks of ISRI, becoming president of Colorado Iron & Metal, and becoming a director at large, there weren’t too many young people out there doing these things.
I’m happy to see the growth of ISRI’s Young Executive Council (YEC). We’ve got some real talent within the group. I’m excited for its future and truly honored to be recognized with this award.
What advice would you give to the next generation of young executives?
Get involved with the chapters, that’s where it all starts. Meet your board, meet your chapter president, attend the meetings, and start networking. Tell your boss or employer you want to get involved. The benefits for your company greatly outweigh any expenses involved with attending these meetings and getting involved with ISRI.
What would you like to accomplish in the short term and long term?
I strongly believe I’ll spend my career in the recycling industry, working as a family-owned operation. With all the mergers and acquisitions in the industry today, it’s a great source of pride to hold on to our ownership as a family. I don’t know what the future holds but it’s going to be recycling related. Whatever it is, I’m excited for it.
What are you looking forward to most about ISRI2021?
As much as I wanted it to be in San Diego and in person, I’m still excited it’s taking place. I’m very curious to see how the exhibit hall will take shape. We’ve got some great speakers lined up that I’m excited for.
ISRI knows how to put on a convention. Anyone with doubts or reservations needs to have faith because ISRI is behind it. They’re going to put on a great show.
Garvin will be presented his award during ISRI2021, ISRI’s virtual convention, during the Diversity in the Recycling Industry: Successes, Lessons Learned and Ways to Improve session on Tuesday, April 27, from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EDT. Register for ISRI2021 here.