By Emilie Shumway
Through the Young Executives Council, ISRI’s younger generation of recyclers is creating friendships and forging bonds with both personal and practical significance.
When Rocky Mountain Chapter President Chad Olgin, co-president of Olgin Efune Recycling Co. (Phoenix), woke up the morning of March 11, he was in for a surprise. He and dozens of other chapter members were at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Vail, Colo., where the chapter was about to hold its winter meeting, three days of activities that include an election and receptions. But that morning, a letter slipped under the door informed him and other guests that a hotel staff member had just been diagnosed with COVID-19. Olgin had to make a decision.
“At the time, how much COVID-19 had spread was not really understood,” Olgin says. Outside of coronavirus hot spots like New York, most of the country was working as normal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wouldn’t advise the general public to wear face masks for another several weeks. The prevailing feeling was confusion and panic. “It sent a bit of a shockwave throughout the hotel,” Olgin says.
Olgin called ISRI leaders to ask their opinions on whether to proceed with the event. He called others in the industry in whom he’d confided over the years. He even spoke with some doctors from Johns Hopkins University, who were staying at the hotel for a medical conference. Feedback was mixed, but throughout the day, “I was becoming more and more uneasy about hosting my function,” he says. About an hour before the event was to begin, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Olgin swiftly decided to cancel the next few days’ events, calling for a truncated, socially distanced election that evening for those still present. “I didn’t feel like I was able to safely provide an environment where people could eat and drink and sit together and not get infected,” he says.
For the 30-year-old Olgin, the event was a test of leadership—just the kind of test that ISRI’s Young Executives Council is designed to help young recycling leaders face. The council is a forum for individuals age 40 and under to connect and engage with each other through ISRI activities that foster personal and professional growth. Members say the official leadership-development events impart useful knowledge, and the informal networking benefits can be even more invaluable.
The Young Executives Council has been in the works for years, its leaders say. Sean Daoud, co-chair of the council and vice president of PNW Metal Recycling (Clackamas, Ore.), says he has attended happy hours for young executives at ISRI’s conventions for years; Jacqueline Lotzkar, another co-chair and vice president of Pacific Metals Recycling International (Vancouver), remembers attending an ISRI event for young executives as far back as ISRI’s 2015 convention in Vancouver.
The group became an official ISRI council in 2018, when then-ISRI Chair Brian Shine recognized the importance of ISRI having an outlet for the industry’s young leaders to connect and grow. He asked Lotzkar, Daoud, and Sammy Holaschutz, senior trading consultant at the Royce Corp.’s (Miami) El Paso, Texas, office, to serve as co-chairs. “We started to get a bit more traction towards the end of 2018,” Daoud says. “At the  Los Angeles convention, we probably had one of the biggest [event] turnouts we’ve had in four and a half years.” The council also attracted participants from Best Young and Brightest, a networking and leadership development event for recycling professionals age 35 and under that the Northern Ohio Chapter launched in 2017 and shared with the Michigan Chapter in 2019.
“The Young Executives Council and BYAB are both bred out of the same want,” says Rob Wise, account executive for Ferrous Processing & Trading Co. (Detroit) and organizer for BYAB’s 2019 event in Detroit. “It’s the want to have younger professionals together and networking outside of the larger group, to show them how to build long-lasting relationships, which a lot of our predecessors have.” BYAB was the Northern Ohio Chapter’s way of extending the Young Executives Council initiatives, Daoud says. The council also emphasizes networking, but it goes a few steps further. It hopes to prepare young professionals to eventually take over ISRI governance roles and climb higher into leadership positions at their own companies, he says.
In addition to hosting happy hours and other networking events at ISRI’s conventions, the Young Executives Council tries to meet at other national events, including the Commodities Roundtable Forum and quarterly ISRI meetings. Council leaders planned to host a dinner and tour of the Capitol, including a discussion of how lobbying works at the national level, with ISRI Chief Lobbyist Billy Johnson at ISRI’s summer meeting and Fly-In in Washington, D.C. Daoud envisioned the event as a way for young leaders to learn the “tools and tactics” they could use to make their case at the state level. While COVID-19 has disrupted those and other meeting plans, the council’s leaders are retooling and reconsidering some virtual event options.
Overwhelmingly, council members say, the relationships they build through the council are its greatest asset. As exciting as the ISRI convention can be, its sheer size can be overwhelming, says council member Josephita Harry, vice president of nonferrous metal and electronics scrap sales at Pan-American Zinc (Miami). “It’s impossible to meet everyone,” she says. Smaller get-togethers specifically for young executives allow them to make the event more digestible. “It allows a platform to connect with people who’ve had similar experiences and similar challenges, and to grow from it,” she says.
Sam Shine, business development manager at Utility Recyclers International (Lancaster, N.Y.), agrees. “I think there’s something special about the [meeting at] convention—breaking away from the main group and going into a room with other young executives,” he says. With so many young recyclers joining family businesses, they tend to follow around and learn the ropes from older generations. “Sometimes you can feel like an observer,” he says. “But I think when you’re around people your own age, it gives you the opportunity to build those same connections and start paving your own path.”
Brian Shine, Sam’s father, still recalls a young executives event hosted by one of ISRI’s predecessor organizations, the National Association of Recycling Industries, that he attended in the early 1980s. “There were around 50 of us [in attendance], and I can’t remember exactly who presented to us or the takeaways relative to the educational component, but I can tell you many of the people that attended the event,” he says. “[Former ISRI Chair] Mark Lewon and I both attended at age 20 and became career-long confidants and friends. And we both became ISRI chairs. It becomes a shared opportunity to learn and grow.”
Council members say they keep in touch throughout the year through texts and phone calls, both as friends and in a professional capacity. The friendships can provide support and advice when a challenge arises, such as the COVID-19 emergency that interrupted the Rocky Mountain Chapter meeting. “We all have our competitive regions,” Daoud says. “If we had an issue going on in our yard and didn’t want one of our competitors to know, we could call up someone [on the council] for advice,” he says. “If we’re looking at equipment to expand our operations, for example, we could reach out to someone outside our competitive region and get a straight answer.”
Lotzkar agrees. “Early in my career, when I was learning metals, for example, I would call up someone who knew stainless better than I did and ask them about nickel alloys,” she says. “From an education perspective, you can lean on your friendships made through the Young Executives Council.”
For Holaschutz, who came into the industry without a family background in recycling, ISRI participation and the community he’s built through the Young Executives Council has “hooked” him into the industry, he says. Young recyclers can face either intense local competition or they can be working in “the only scrapyard in the middle of New Mexico or Oklahoma,” which can be isolating, he says. The national connections built through the Young Executives Council “allow you to feel part of the community,” he says.
Josephita Harry, who also comes to recycling without a family connection, says she’s gained a lot of knowledge by connecting with people from scrap recycling families. “You see how their learning is often a lot more accelerated,” she says. “It’s not easy for everyone to have the same experiences, but it is very easy to share the experience and learn from it much faster.” She says council members have a mix of experiences—those with family scrap backgrounds and those who have “fallen into” recycling. “It’s a very small, close-knit platform,” she says.
Building Engagement and Energy
In addition to providing an outlet to develop friendships and business relationships, the council offers a way for young executives to share new ideas, learn about other roles in the industry, and generally keep their experiences fresh, the co-chairs say. Millennials change jobs at a much more rapid pace than people in previous generations, they point out. “The days of choosing one company and one career and staying for 30 years? That’s over,” Lotzkar says. “I don’t see young executives making those decisions anymore.” The Young Executives Council provides a way for younger recycling employees to “hook into” ISRI, as Holaschutz says. “It’s a major opportunity for companies to keep their employees engaged,” Lotzkar adds.
Hearing from and engaging the younger leaders in the industry also is essential for ISRI to thrive, says ISRI President Robin Wiener. “We need to make sure there’s a pipeline in ISRI for new leadership, new participation, new ideas,” she says. “It’s critical that the council be integrated into the larger ISRI for [its members’] own development as well as for the development of ISRI.” She points to recent leadership appointments by Chair Gary Champlin from within the ISRI YE group: Daoud is chair of the Finance Committee, for example, and Lotzkar is co-chair of the market access working group. The council also is working to establish liaisons at the chapter level that will be able to engage and recruit interested young people at chapter events and speak to the chapter on the council’s behalf.
The integration of young executives into ISRI’s leadership structure brings a needed fresh perspective as culture, technology, and other aspects of work continue to evolve, council members say. The co-chairs also point out that younger generations—millennials and Generation Z, which is emerging into the job market—often report having different work priorities than older generations, such as prioritizing work/life balance over salary or status. “Having young executives in leadership who understand that culture … I believe adds value to our association and our companies,” Lotzkar says. Younger generations are also more likely to prioritize the way their work contributes to the world, according to a number of studies. Brian Shine and Wiener say that priority bodes well for the future of recycling, and the industry should use that knowledge as it works to attract new generations of talent. “We’re seeing a huge shift towards sustainability and different types of environmental ways of thinking,” Lotzkar says. “It’s our generation that’s pushing that, so it’s important that we have a seat at the table.”
The co-chairs emphasize that Young Executives Council members can be as involved as they want—whether they want to bring their ideas to the table or just drop by a happy hour and develop some new industry relationships. The council is open to workers age 40 and under at all levels of the industry and in every role. Josephita Harry says she met a wide range of people at an ISRI YE council event, from those working in logistics to freight forwarders to people working in equipment financing and recycling reporters. “Whether [they join] just to be on calls and develop their career a little further, or whether people want to move into management or executive roles, it doesn’t matter,” Daoud says. “[The council] is for anyone that has a drive to do more for themselves, for their company, or for the association.”
Emilie Shumway is senior editor/reporter for Scrap.
Young Executives Council Launches Award
In 2020, ISRI’s Young Executives Council launched one of its first initiatives: the Young Executive of the Year Award. Its goal is to promote the accomplishments of successful young professionals in the industry by highlighting their contributions and dedication and to elevate the recycling industry as an exciting career option. It is open to recycling industry professionals age 40 and under who work for an ISRI member company and have at least one year of industry experience.
Applications for the 2020 award closed at the end of February. A panel of six ISRI members selected a winner from among 13 applicants by considering each applicant’s leadership experience and achievements, as well as his or her response to an essay question on the difference between management and leadership. The winner receives a plaque and free registration to all ISRI national events for one year.
ISRI will honor the 2020 winner, Brandi Harleaux of South Post Oak Recycling Center (Houston), along with the winners of ISRI’s other awards, at a virtual event in October. (Read more about Harleaux’s win in the awards story on p. 91.) The council plans to begin accepting applications for the 2021 award early next year and to announce the second winner at ISRI2021. Visit isri.org/about-isri/awards/young-executive-of-the-year-award.
Interested in Joining the Young Executives Council?
The ISRI Young Executives Council is open to any employee of an ISRI member company age 40 or under. Those interested in joining can visit the ISRI Young Executives Council website at isri.org/about-isri/committees-task-forces/isri-young-executive-council to fill out the participation form or contact Lacey Capps, ISRI’s director of chapter relations, at 202/662-8538 or email@example.com, Rachel Bookman, ISRI’s communications outreach manager, at 202/662-8518 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or one of the co-chairs directly.