Bruce Blue has experienced the good and the bad during his time in the recycling industry. In this edition of Faces of ISRI, the long-time ISRI member discusses his career, the ups and downs he’s experienced, and the lessons he hopes people take from his Lessons from ISRI Legends and Luminaries: An Interview with Bruce Blue webinar on Sept. 29. Register to attend the webinar here.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got into the recycling industry?
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1968, I went to work for my family business, Louisville Scrap Material Co., Inc. I worked there for more than a decade before starting my own business, Freedom Metals Inc., a Louisville-based metal-scrapping business, in 1983. I sold it in 2017 and worked for Columbus Recycling until they sold Freedom Metals, which occurred this week.
What have you found most enjoyable about the recycling industry during your career?
I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. The recycling business is based on relationships. I tell people all the time that I’ve routinely done handshake deals without contracts. People outside the industry don’t understand it, but those of us in the industry do.
I’ve also enjoyed the people I’ve worked with over the years. I learned more from my employees than they learned from me. I always asked for their perspectives on how to handle certain things in the facilities or out in the yards, and they always had unique insights. I think that made them feel valued. A paycheck is important, especially today, but employees want to know that they’re appreciated. You can’t run a business without employees. You have to have people who want to work. I tried to treat them fairly, and I think for the most part I did.
One of the webinar topics is about getting through tough times. What’s the toughest thing you’ve experienced in your career?
We experienced great growth over the years at Freedom Metals. Five or six years ago, we had more than 200 employees and were grossing more than $200 million in sales. We had a great operation, good people, good moral, but I was spending more money than I could keep up with. I was buying too much scrap and I didn’t have the cash reserve, which caused me to lose the business. It wasn’t the operation or the people, I just made mistakes. And I take full responsibility for how things played out.
What do you miss most about your business?
I miss the employees and coming into work every morning. The employees always came into work no matter what they were going through. They showed up every day and were great at their jobs. They cared about the company, and I cared about them. I always had an open-door policy. They could come in and talk to me whenever they needed to and ask me for anything. They were like my family.
You’ve been an ISRI member since its inception, so what drew you to the association from the very beginning?
I’ve been an ISRI member for more than 50 years, back when it was known as the Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel (ISIS). I was young and the family business was a member of the association. I joined the National Association of Recycling Industries (NARI). When ISIS and NARI merged into ISRI, I began joining various committees. I served as the chair of the audit and convention committees. I’ve always had a lot of fun. It’s always felt more fun than work.
What are some of your fondest memories from your time with ISRI?
I’ve loved helping put together the conventions. I learned a lot about people, and how to handle different situations. I’ve also learned a lot from Robin [Wiener, ISRI president]. She’s helped me through good and bad times. She’s been very kind to me over the years. And a lot of ISRI members have also been kind and helped me when I needed it.
What do you hope people take away from your webinar?
I want people to learn from my mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with growing, but you have to grow in stages. I grew too fast. I’ve learned that big isn’t always better. You’ve got to grow where you can afford it. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
Photo courtesy of ISRI.