Alton Schaubhut has been in the recycling industry his entire adult life. After landing a summer job at a scrapyard in New Orleans his uncle managed, Schaubhut spent a few years working for a privately-owned company in the city. Since 1995, he’s been at Commercial Metals Company, a publicly-traded steel company, and currently serves as the marketing manager, working from the company’s Dallas, Texas office.

Scrap News spoke with Schaubhut about how his company has adjusted in the age of COVID-19, future opportunities in the recycling industry, and the delicious dishes he made at the first-ever Great ISRI Cookoff during ISRI’s winter meeting.

How has Commercial Metals adjusted to all the changes brought on by COVID-19?

We were very blessed that our business has been essential from end to end. We immediately spread out our offices and made sure people weren’t on top of each other. Staff at our corporate offices work from home, as do many of our buying staff. We’ve limited the amount of people in the yard. Obviously, when you’re in the facility, you’re wearing a mask. Everyone’s learned how to do everything from six feet apart. I think, in the end, we’ve become a better group of buyers because we’ve worked hard at customer engagement.

We’re used to seeing people, we’re used to going out and shaking their hands, but now you have to communicate in different ways. We’ve been reaching out to customers a lot more and having phone conversations. We all miss social interactions, so those conversations are usually about much more than just service and price.

On a personal note, Schaubhut says he’s learned to better connect with a younger generation that’s accustomed to different types of communication than his generation.

Until COVID-19, communicating with the younger generation was more challenging for me, because most of them wanted to send an email or text message to consummate a deal. I was born and raised in New Orleans, so I’m a very social person. Since COVID-19, I found those in the younger generation welcomed the phone calls, Zoom calls, and facial expressions. They were more open to talk about things because suddenly everyone was thrown into the same problem.

I think once we all got put in that same boat, we sought out the same thing—personal contact. It’s for your soul. Your mind is always going to be busy, but your soul needs to be warmed, and those conversations are what warm your soul.

You have a “Scrap Can Be Beautiful” contest and exhibit. Can you tell me about it, and why it’s important?

We work with a local fine arts high school here in Dallas, and they do phenomenal work. They come to the yards, pick up the material, and put their sculptures together. They present the sculptures at our annual board meeting and auction them off. We let them keep the proceeds.

It’s important for us to keep our name in the community and work with the community, especially on educational projects.

What opportunities do you see on the horizon for the scrap recycling industry?

I think the biggest opportunity is to make sure people know who we are and what we do. This is nothing new, especially with the advent of electric-arc furnaces. From a steel side of things, you can use a lot less resources in generating steel. We need to show people that we are, and always have been, an extremely important part of this green future.

Schaubhut also notes Commercial is opening a new steel mill in Arizona that’ll have a solar aspect.

We’ll power part of the plant from solar and wind, so it’s going to be really green. We’re evolving; this technology doesn’t stay the same. That can also be said for scrap collection. We’re constantly evolving in siltation, preparation, and the way we do business. But it’s still the same business because it all comes down to the personal aspect and the personal service.

What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?

They need to really understand the material by getting out in the field. Even if they plan to be CEO one day, they need to understand where the material comes from, what it is, and how we make it valuable.

They also need to know their customers’ respective stories: know why prices are up, read current events, and understand what’s happening around the world. That’s where ISRI plays a big role in providing that background story and information, along with our trade and government relations groups and different divisions, telling us about the forces in the market.

For a person to be successful and really jump into the industry, they need to allow it into their veins and seek out more than what’s here because they need to always be seeking out the why. And therefore, they add value to their customer.

During ISRI’s winter meeting, you participated in the first-ever Great ISRI Cookoff, competing against ISRI Chief Lobbyist Billy Johnson. What did you make, and how do you think the Cookoff went?

I cook to sustain this beautiful body of mine, so it’s going to have a lot of butter and fats. I’m a New Orleans guy, and that’s the way I cook. I believe when people cook for you, they tell you something about themselves. They cook from their souls and they want to let you know what they like. I came up with a stuffed pork tenderloin, but I used a New Orleans sandwich—a muffuletta sandwich—to inspire it.

I also made barbeque shrimp, but it’s not like the Aussies do on the barbie. The Sicilians in New Orleans have this dish called barbeque shrimp because it looks like it’s barbecued. It’s a real hands-on dish; you cook it with the shrimp shells on, you peel the shrimp, you take your French bread, and you dip it in the sauce because it’s that good.

I think the cookoff went better than most of us expected. When you do a happy hour with a cookoff over Zoom that you’ve never done before, you don’t know how it’ll work. I think we had over 50 people engaged at any one time. People who listened and watched told me they really enjoyed it.

We had a little back-and-forth banter, but I think ISRI as a whole can say we all won because we all got a little normalcy and that was really important for us.

What’s your favorite thing about the recycling industry, and what’s your favorite thing about being an ISRI member?

My favorite thing about the recycling industry is that it’s constantly changing. Nothing’s stayed the same since I’ve been in it. I also enjoy the people—your colleagues, your competition, your peers, and your customer base. Everyone has a different need, and forming your business to aid those people is rewarding at all levels.

ISRI’s networking opportunities are phenomenal. But I think the advocacy is the most important thing. It’s extremely important for scrapyards of every size and every level. We’re fortunate because we’re a corporation so we have many resources to help us. But we always learn something from the advocacy side from the smaller, more connected yards in our areas that we operate. Everyone pulling resources and ideas in ISRI to better the industry will serve us well going forward, especially with environmental justice being a big concern. And ensuring we all tell our story in the right way.

We have a great story to tell. We’ve always had a great story, and I think ISRI is the perfect way to put that story together, get it out there, and really make a difference.