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One on One: Colin Kelly Schnitzer Northeast (Everett, Mass.)

One on One: Colin Kelly Schnitzer Northeast (Everett, Mass.)

November/December 2017

Colin-Kelly-One-on-OneHow did you enter the recycling business? I served on the city council in Everett in the 1990s, when Prolerized New England was getting a permit for a new shredder, and I was intrigued by the business model and watched the plan develop over several years. In 2007, I was working for the Everett Chamber of Commerce when a senior manager for Schnitzer invited me to lunch to discuss a new government affairs position in the Northeast region. Months later, I was working for the company. I joined the Schnitzer family because I liked the direction they were taking the company. They wanted to be involved in the communities in which they operate. They also wanted to be ahead of the political avalanche of regulations and took corporate responsibility as a core value.

Did you ever plan to pursue a different career? I worked in the restaurant business for a while. When I decided to retire from that career, I considered retiring early for good, but the thought of not working was scary. I also felt I had a great deal to share with another industry and company. My next move was really uncertain. I was always a big supporter of the Everett Chamber of Commerce, and I was honored when the group’s leaders asked me to serve as executive director, which I thought would be a job for the rest of my life. I loved it, but the Schnitzer opportunity was so interesting that I had to take it on. 

What do you like most about the recycling industry? The entire process fascinates me. Anytime you can make a positive impact on the environment, you really need to take it and continue to improve each step of the way. When new technology is available, the scrap industry is already thinking about the next possibility. We look at new equipment and technology to always increase recycling and improve the recycling process. And then there are the people. Our company has some of the most talented people I’ve ever met, people who have the ability to think outside the box and make an impact.

What do you like least about the industry? I dislike the negative image many people have about our industry—mainly because they don’t understand it. That’s why I love meeting people and educating them about our industry and its significant contributions.

What is the biggest challenge facing your company? The regulatory issues—from local zoning matters to metal theft laws to railroad charge-back issues—and the numerous government agencies and nongovernmental groups that affect our business. There’s also the challenge of attracting the next generation of employees to work in our companies. Our industry is reaching out to build the next generation of recycling workers through programs such as the JASON Project and ISRI’s annual youth recycling poster and video contest. Kids are the future of our business, so we need to get in front of them.

How would you sum up your business philosophy? Treat people honestly and with respect, and build your business relationships based on that platform.

What lessons have you learned about business in your career? You only get one opportunity to meet a person the first time, so always put your best foot forward.

How do you personally gauge success? I like to think of success in terms of football—always move the ball forward to have the best chance of scoring, and always have a strong defense.

Tell me about a weird or funny experience in your career. In my younger years, I was in charge of catering a dinner in Boston for the advance team of the Clinton–Gore campaign. When I got paid, I decided to frame the check and hang it at one of the catering company’s locations. Days later, someone stole the check, and I assume they cashed it. I’ll never understand why I didn’t make a color copy of the check, cash the original, and frame the copy.

What are some of your greatest personal achievements? During my 11 years in city government, I voted for and supported some great initiatives—from the first curbside recycling program in our area to building the highest cash reserve in Everett’s history. The most memorable moment was when I cast the tie-breaking vote on the controversial issue of building a new high school for the children of Everett. Today, I get a great sense of accomplishment whenever I drive by that school.

Which of your traits do you like the most? I appreciate my ability to listen and share my thoughts.

Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? My weight! When I hit my heaviest weight on Jan. 3, 2015, I realized the situation was not the best for my health, so I started counting calories that day and I’ve been living that way ever since. My goal is to eat no more than 1,500 to 1,700 calories a day and take daily walks—and it works! While my target weight is 225, I still have work to do.

Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people. I enjoy stand-up comedy. I love to watch a good comedy show, and I’ve even tried performing a few times—and, no, I was not that good.

You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ISRI over the years. Why do you think that’s important? Trade associations are so important to businesses of all types. When an issue comes up, for instance, the information a trade association can provide is invaluable. Also, a good association is always checking with its members about which of its programs and services are helpful and how it can develop other benefits that the members want and need. One perfect example of that is the ISRI-sponsored recycling industry job study, which has allowed us to show our industry’s extensive economic benefits. That information has helped open people’s eyes that our industry is not about junkyards; it’s about recycling companies making positive contributions. Also, when you have a trade association as effective as ISRI, it makes it easy to get involved.

What’s your favorite movie? Ted. In general, I’m a big comedy fan.

Favorite drink? Bacardi and Diet Coke with a lime.

Favorite food? Italian.

Favorite TV shows? Currently, my favorite is House of Cards. In the past, I watched Law & Order and The Sopranos.

Favorite musical artist? Paul Anka

What are your hobbies? Travel. I’ll take any Caribbean cruise, and I also love Aruba and Las Vegas. My bucket list is to spend two weeks somewhere with no phone and no computer.

What’s your passion? My family. I’m not sure what I did to deserve my wife, Robin, who is the foundation for our whole life. And we’re blessed with two of the best kids any parents could have: Ryan, 25, a high school math teacher and coach of three sports, and Taylor, 23, an office manager for a dairy in the Boston area.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Food, especially a good Italian dinner or steak.

What makes you mad? Disappointing people.

If you had three wishes, what would you ask for (besides additional wishes)? First, that my family is the happiest and healthiest they can be; second, that scrap is great again; and third, that the New England Patriots win another Super Bowl.

Is there anything you still want to accomplish in your career, or have you achieved your goals? I don’t think I’ll ever feel I’ve accomplished everything in my career. I never look at what has happened; I like to look at what’s next, which I plan to do for many more years to come.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? Never be afraid to discuss our industry; continue to learn from your predecessors and industry veterans; and develop as many contacts as possible. You’ll learn something new every day.

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