Two candidates are running for ISRI secretary/treasurer for the 2022–24 term. Before the voting at ISRI2022, Scrap News asked them to share their thoughts on ISRI’s priorities, their top recycling industry concerns, and their qualifications for leadership.
For Neil Byce, co-owner of CW Metals and Nordic Metals, the hardest yet most rewarding decision he’s ever made was choosing to work for himself. Joined by his business partner Grant VanWyngeeren, he took a leap of faith. They grew the business from a handful of employees to more than 200 and now run nine businesses related to recycling. He owes much of that success to a skill he’s spent years cultivating and continues to work on—being a good listener. “It’s an important trait and one I continuously try to improve on,” he says. “Without listening you can’t improve the situation, find other answers, or work together and execute a solution.”
He’s had plenty of opportunities to listen at his business and through his leadership positions at ISRI. After serving in leadership roles at the chapter level, he’s currently set sights on ISRI national and is running for the position of Secretary/Treasurer position. He recently sat down with Scrap News to discuss how he’s served ISRI as a leader, where he sees the association moving forward, and the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing U.S. recycling companies?
I see three important challenges facing the industry, but I think they vary based on your specific business and other experiences. For me, the three big challenges are legislative pressures, rapidly growing business expenses during an extend inflationary period, and labor shortages. On the legislative front, we’re getting pressure in the form of new laws, regulations, and environmental justice initiatives. Growing business expenses during an inflationary period will affect our operating expenses, like the cost of paper or computers, freight costs to move our commodities locally and globally, and labor costs. And on the labor front, we’ve got to develop new strategies for how we recruit and retain employees. How should we change our business model to ensure we bring in and keep good employees? We’re all facing turnover and it’s become more difficult to find and retain qualified employees.
What are ISRI’s greatest benefits to members?
ISRI provides many benefits to members including networking, advocacy, information, and safety. When COVID-19 hit, ISRI staff and leadership recognized the value of keeping us updated on all things pandemic; hosting town halls to discuss the implications of the virus within our walls, best practices for hygiene, and more broadly how to continue operating in that environment. Because the situation was so fluid, ISRI became a resource for many of us as the tip of the spear for information.
There have been growing efforts to regulate our industry over the last 18 months; and it appears this will continue and perhaps increase over time. All the commodities we represent feel this pressure. ISRI continues to be an effective voice in Washington, D.C. and on main street. ISRI also fought to make our businesses and industry essential during the early days of the pandemic. This was critical in a highly uncertain time.
I believe networking is the primary reason many of our members get involved with ISRI. Historically, we have a great in-person convention, many regional events, and a very active chapter network that hosts events throughout the year. Even up against the challenge of the pandemic, when it’s been possible and safe to do so, ISRI has provided chapter and regional meetings to provide face-to-face contact. They also set up networking events over Zoom, which have largely replaced in-person meeting opportunities over the last couple of years. ISRI created value in those Zoom sessions, which is no small feat.
Safety is one of the areas where ISRI truly shines. What I love about the ISRI Circle of Safety and ISEC programs is everyone is welcome, and it levels the playing field for large and small companies. I have been part of a small business with few employees that could not afford the financial cost of an EHS (Environmental Health and Safety) professional on staff. It was a challenging environment. ISRI’s safety programs help members through shared knowledge from staff and other member companies, providing support and guidance to smaller members to help make their businesses, and our industry, a safer place to work.
What are your strengths as a leader?
Listening, collaborating, and executing. To own your own business, I think you must be a good listener. It’s an important trait and one I continuously try to improve on. Without listening you can’t improve the situation, find other answers, or work together and execute a solution. I think the most critical piece is executing. Everyone has good ideas; the real skill lies in translating them into realistic action.
Over the last four years, I have served as Vice Chair of ISRI’s Finance Committee and as the Investment Subcommittee Chair. During that time, I developed a new investment policy by listening to the committee and past ISRI stakeholders discuss ISRI’s future needs. Good ideas muster, they don’t happen on their own. And they take a good team to execute. As a team, the committee transformed the ISRI budget into a revenue focused model. We developed metrics and goals collaboratively with staff. These changes have helped us better understand our operating cycle to effectively manage our members’ dollars. Having this accountability lets us celebrate our victories and pivot faster in the face of challenges. I am extremely proud of the work we accomplished over the last handful of years.
Serving as co-chair of membership, vice chair of finance, and as a chapter president gave me opportunities to work with a great team and continue to hone those strengths of listening, collaborating, and executing.
What has been your greatest professional achievement and why?
I have worked for many inspirational and intelligent people over the course of my career. My biggest achievement has been taking the leap to work for myself. It was by far the hardest choice I have made to this date; I was terrified. There’s tremendous risk in working for yourself—especially in our commodity-based business that goes through such wild swings. I proverbially pushed all the chips into the center of the table and took a huge leap of faith. I would have never done so without the support and encouragement of my business partner Grant VanWyngeeren and my family. We have grown from a handful of employees to 270+ and nine businesses related to recycling.
In your opinion, what should ISRI focus on in the next two years?
We need to continue working on communication. It’s about showing people outside of the industry why and how recycling is a critical component of the manufacturing supply chain. People may not think about the value we provide beyond their blue bins or recognize how recycled paper, plastics, electronics, tire and rubber, and metals are the commodities that make up the products we use every day. We are the original environmentalists.
We also need to continue communicating to those inside our industry, explaining the importance of having a single united voice, and why being a part of ISRI is so essential.
And finally, we need to keep working on programs to develop diversity and tomorrow’s talent within the industry and within the trade association.
If elected ISRI secretary/treasurer, what would you like to help the association accomplish?
I want to focus on the challenges I mentioned earlier—advocacy, inflation and costs, and labor—to build and enhance the membership experience and provide value for our members. Ensuring that ISRI continues to offer the products and services we all need to run our businesses, while also helping guide us through challenging times in a fiscally responsible manner.