Sam Shine, co-chair of ISRI’s Young Executives Council (YEC) has attended the annual Best Young and Brightest (BYAB) event since it launched in 2017. The event brings together ISRI members aged 40 and under for two days of education, networking, and teambuilding. When Shine walked through the doors his first year, he didn’t have business relationships with anyone in the room—nor was he serving on ISRI committees.
Fast forward to 2022. Shine joined 49 young leaders in the recycling industry for BYAB in Tacoma, Wash. The event was hosted and organized by ISRI’s Pacific Northwest Chapter.
“Now I come in and there’s at least a handful of people I do business with and with whom I serve in a leadership capacity for YEC,” Shine says. “BYAB has been an anchor for me over the years, especially through COVID-19, as a way to keep me connected to the industry.”
Being that anchor is one of BYAB’s goals. The event provides a space for young leaders to form connections with peers, discuss issues, and bring back skills to improve their businesses and leadership.
At BYAB, Scott DeShazo, vice-president of ISRI’s Pacific Northwest Chapter, chatted with a young member who told DeShazo the event was empowering. “This member told me that people don’t always take him seriously at events,” DeShazo recalls. “They’d just see him as a kid. But BYAB was the opposite experience. He felt that he could make lasting connections and was excited about the relationships he’d established.”
Connections are key at BYAB. Because BYAB brings together a small group of participants, it’s easy to form meaningful relationships in a close-knit setting. “One of the main things people take away [from BYAB] is the community,” says Jacqueline Lotzkar, President of the Pacific Northwest Chapter. “And community is one of the things that makes the recycling industry so unique.”
This year, Lotzkar, DeShazo, and the other PNW chapter leaders organized activities that built on those core values, including a workshop on emotional intelligence and professional development led by Judy Ferraro, of Judy Ferraro & Associates, Inc.; group activities with business consultancy CultureShoc; a tour of WestRock’s Tacoma paper mill port facility, and other networking opportunities to get engaged in the industry.
“It was a great event,” Lotzkar says. “We had over 50% first timers this year. Judy’s session was impactful, we had a lot of people follow up with her afterwards.”
PNW chapter leadership organized BYAB around a theme of inclusion. “Part of making ourselves stronger as recyclers is exposure to the larger world,” says Sean Daoud, co-chair of YEC. “We’re often metals-centric as an industry. Jacqueline and Scott were intentional in choosing a tour of WestRock’s paper facility and visiting Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. These experiences helped broaden people’s minds about the scope of recycling and the industry.”
Having a rich understanding of the industry not only benefits members growing in their careers but also in how they engage with the public. As the ones with the deepest knowledge of their industry, recyclers are poised to advocate with regulators and legislators who may know little about recycling.
“As young leaders of ISRI we need to understand all the commodities, how they’re recycled, where they’re recycled, etc.,” Daoud says. “BYAB is a space where we can do that, and it’s something we’re pushing for on YEC.”
PNW chapter leaders also made a point of ensuring the event was inclusive and welcoming for all attendees. “We want to invite people from all backgrounds and ensure the event is comfortable for everyone,” Lotzkar says. “Representation matters. Having people from different backgrounds at these events makes it more likely that we’ll see greater representation moving forward.”
At its heart, BYAB is about young executives getting a chance to develop their leadership skills. “There was a real energy in the room of wanting to grow as people and as leaders,” Lotzkar says. “That’s what this event is about, improving ourselves and how we show up as leaders in our business. There’s real growth happening at these events.”
BYAB has held sessions on various aspects of leadership including how to build sales networks, understanding individual leadership traits, and methods to develop the next generation of industry leaders. “BYAB is an opportunity for us as young leaders to better ourselves and become more well-rounded,” Daoud says. “We’re developing networks where people can bounce off ideas and connect with each other beyond transactions.”
Leadership is already brainstorming new training topics for next year’s BYAB in Boston. Shine believes a session on advocacy may be a good route. “After attending the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in Denver, it got me thinking about incorporating [policymaking] into BYAB,” he says. “Maybe we could organize a training about how to advocate with local legislators; that’s a key part of our business.”
With a strong lineup of activities each year, it’s no wonder BYAB has garnered such a positive reputation among members. This year BYAB sold out seats in seven hours, Lotzkar says. She’s found that first-time attendees are learning about the event through their supervisors.
“It’s often the senior members or company owners empowering the young execs in their companies by offering them the opportunity to attend BYAB,” she says.
Daoud believes that senior leaders have noticed how BYAB has impacted young executives. “They’ve seen the young executives attend BYAB and then go on to achieve success within their companies and take on leadership positions at ISRI,” he says. “Senior leaders see that this event helps their employees, ISRI, and the industry move forward.”
It’s important to recognize that such a positive reputation didn’t happen overnight. It’s due to the hard work of chapter leaders like Lotzkar and DeShazo, along with the chapter leaders who organized and hosted BYABs of years past.
“Those chapter leaders were instrumental in building the structure of BYAB,” Daoud adds. “They’ve created an event that should continue to see success and impact ISRI as a whole.”
Shine adds that BYAB wouldn’t be as successful without the support of its sponsors. “We have sponsors for the event every year,” he says. “We certainly couldn’t do it without them.” This year’s sponsors included Benlee, Genesis, Recycling Today, SciAps, and Sierra.
As a first-time attendee, DeShazo is starting to make the deep connections that have helped anchor Shine to the industry.
“I feel like everyone I met at BYAB, if I had the chance to see them at another event, I’d make a beeline straight for them,” DeShazo says. “You find out so much about people over a short, 36-hour window, not just on a business level, but on a personal level. I feel like I’ve made friends and care about people who I didn’t even know 36 hours earlier, and that is huge for me.”
Photo Credit: Sam Arnold, Pacific Recycling in Eugene, Ore.