How did you enter the recycling business? I grew up in it. I started at around age 10 accompanying my father, Howard Lincoln, to the facility on Saturdays. He would give me a sledgehammer and let me break cast aluminum grills to densify the weight in the Gaylord box. As a teenager, I spent summers running the truck scale, buying nonferrous from peddlers, and—once I got my driver’s license—pulling a huge, enclosed trailer to pick up aluminum cans from the local bars.
After college, I worked for a Fortune 100 company in Boston and obtained my MBA from Babson College, which is known for its entrepreneurism focus. In 2006, my father approached me about returning to the company. I honestly had no plans of returning, but the idea of being closer to my family, working alongside my father and brother, and growing the business excited me. I quickly got my “scrap MBA” by learning to torch and to run material handlers, and I earned my [commercial driver’s license].
In 2008, I had the opportunity to open my own facility in Ashtabula, Ohio—our company’s third location—and grow it from the ground up. We have since expanded our recycling services to include [old corrugated cardboard], electronics, plastics, lighting, and demolition. Today I oversee all the ferrous trading and manage the day-to-day activities of our facility in Meadville.
Did you ever consider doing anything else for a career? Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. One of my summer jobs was lifeguarding on Lake Erie, where I received EMT training and would respond to emergencies in the state park. I went to the University of New Hampshire focused on that path, but after my first course in economics, I was hooked. By my sophomore year, I transferred into the business school and never looked back.
What do you like most about the recycling industry? I love that every day is different. There are always new challenges to overcome. I also enjoy the interaction with accounts: learning how they manufacture their goods and helping them to recycle in the most efficient way. And I like taking
on challenging projects.
What do you like least about the industry? The negative stereotype I hear sometimes, that we are all thieves. We are a medium-sized yard, so we deal with a lot of other recyclers, especially when doing jobs outside our area. I have built some great relationships with members in my chapter as well as nationally, and I have been treated fairly along the way. The relationships I have formed [through ISRI] have helped me stay clear of the bad actors.
What’s the biggest business challenge facing your company? Operating during this pandemic has been very challenging. I have learned to be more empathetic towards my employees’ needs, and to overcommunicate, as we are constantly shipping to different [locations] to keep product moving. Also, some of our key managers are near retirement age, so finding the right personnel to replacement them is a priority.
How would you sum up your business philosophy? Don’t overpromise and underdeliver, as it will only frustrate your customers and employees. Keep your word. And get back to people as quickly as possible.
What are the keys to success in the recycling industry? Stay in your lane [doing] what you are good at and avoid the rest, as it will spread you too thin and slow your organization down. I’ve learned this lesson especially in recycling plastic!
What lessons have you learned about business in your career? I’ve learned to become patient and ask a lot of questions when putting deals together to understand what each party’s obligations are. In the beginning, it was all about “get the metal in and we’ll figure it out later,” which resulted in mistakes, and sometimes a loss. Being thorough helps me calculate the risks. Is the profit margin where I want it to be? If not, it’s OK to say no.
How do you personally gauge success? Over the years, I have set small goals for myself, and once they are achieved, I add to them. These goals are how I want to manage the company and grow it. My goals now are to grow and develop our management team so there is less micromanaging and they can be as efficient as possible. And I feel each day is a success when all my employees go home to loved ones unscathed.
What are some of your greatest personal achievements? First, my family. My wife, Amanda, and I have three amazing kids—Avery, 8; Elise, 6; and Chase, 2—and I feel truly lucky to be their dad. Second, about three years ago, I completed my first half-Ironman triathlon: a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13-mile run. It took many early mornings, waking up before dawn, to train—and a very understanding wife, who allowed me to do some of my longer training sessions on the weekends. I ended up finishing in the top of my age group, which I was very proud of.
Which of your traits do you like the most? My grit and determination, which help me get through the downturns.
Is there anything about yourself you’d like to improve? I’d like to be more efficient with my time, be a better listener, and remember people’s names.
You’ve been a great supporter of and participant in ISRI over the years. Why do you think that’s important? Where else does a small company from western Pennsylvania get to influence and shape its industry for the better? I have found being involved on the national board very rewarding, as it has helped me grow personally and professionally. There are truly some amazing board members who are passionate about recycling, and the association and I learn a lot from them.
What are your favorite TV shows? The Walking Dead, The Shield, Game of Thrones, and ESPN’s 30 for 30.
Favorite movie? The Big Lebowski.
Favorite places in the world? Before we had kids, my wife and I took a trip to Turkey, which was amazing. We traveled to the Cappadocia region and stayed in a cave hotel, we rode in a hot air balloon, and we finished the trip in Istanbul, which is a beautiful city with a rich history. I also try to do an annual ski trip. Some of my favorite ski areas are Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Squaw Valley, Calif.; and Nelson, British Columbia.
Favorite foods? Barbecue and tacos.
Favorite drinks? I like [India pale ales], so whenever I travel I usually try to visit a popular local craft brewery.
Favorite musical artists? The Lumineers, The National, and Greensky Bluegrass.
What are your hobbies? Skiing, biking, running, and CrossFit—I like to stay very active. And golf, when time allows it.
What’s your passion? Today it’s seeing my kids grow and experience the world around them. I’m always encouraging them to try new things and to get the words I can’t out of their vocabulary.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Drinking a Manhattan and enjoying an occasional cigar.
What makes you mad? Employees that cut corners, especially if it jeopardizes their safety and the safety of their co-workers.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the next scrap generation? First, with the popularity of social media, you can easily become distracted by what others around you in the industry are doing. Stay focused on what you can improve daily to help move your company forward, and success will find you. Second, celebrate small achievements with your employees. They will thank you for it and feel like they are part of a team. Third, my father taught me to “buy it right.” To me, that means don’t speculate. Find a reasonable profit you can make, and if that isn’t attainable, it’s OK to pass on the deal.