Nilesh Limbasia and his company, Kaizen Enterprise, were recently awarded the President’s “E” Award for exports by the Biden administration. This was a huge achievement for Kaizen as it is a very young company, founded only six years ago in 2017. For Limbasia, this success is amplified by the fact that he was originally working in finance and only recently made the switch to the recycled materials industry. ISRI News had the opportunity to chat with Limbasia about jumping from Wall Street to recycled materials, being awarded with the President’s “E” Award and what the future holds for his company.
Could you give me a bit of background into how you got into the recycled materials industry and what led to the creation of Kaizen Enterprise?
I worked for 20 years in risk management on Wall Street. At the end of those 20 years, I was at Barclays Investment Bank. I was in oil and national gas liquid (NGL) commodity trading. In 2017, Barclays closed the energy trading business.
My family has a foundry business, and they employ about 700 people in India. We melt the recycled metal and we manufacture auto parts that go into big engines like Cummins or Caterpillars. We also export to more than 50 countries around the world. My family was always telling me to join. In 2017, I basically left the corporate world and joined the family business.
Initially, I was selling our products, but I was also vertically integrating; I started buying raw materials for my own foundry. I started buying rotary drums and unprepared cast irons from all over the place and selling our finished product as well. With my trading and risk management background, working in the recycled materials industry kind of fit well and I started liking it.
The first year, we set up all the logistics and the backbone of Kaizen — creating the systems, getting all the documentation, finance, banking, things like that. Many people approached us especially small foundries who are not big enough to import but would like to have that access. I started selling, procuring more than what we need and selling recycled metal to other foundries. In the process, I met a lot of yards and I realized that for a small to medium-sized yard to compete with the bigger ones, they also need direct access to the factories and foundries.
We started with ferrous and went to non-ferrous in 2021. In 2022, we got into batteries, like lead-acid batteries and started exporting. We also started doing a little bit of paper.
Having the people in place who can sell recycled materials directly to the paper mill or foundries, and building relationships with the yard is key. Ultimately, it’s a relationship and service business.
We’re still a relatively small company compared to a lot of giants but that’s what I like about it. I used to buy from big companies too, but now I predominantly buy from small and medium-sized recycled materials facilities and sell to small and medium-sized end users. That’s our niche.
Is there a significance behind the name Kaizen?
That term is a Japanese word for continuous improvement. I’ve always thought that improvement never has an end; you can always do something marginally better. It always touched my heart in terms of not only business, but humanity. That jives with my value system.
What have you found most fascinating about recycled materials and the industry as a whole?
I was trading commodities for a long time. I traded energy products, but all commodities are commodities, right? When I started in recycling, which was metal predominantly, I had some experience from Barclays — I had visited the London Metal Exchange (LME) — so, I understood how metal pricing and metal market works. But what was fascinating when I got into the recycled materials industry was that it’s not just the LME contract. It’s the physical thing, whether it’s a brake drum or rotor, it’s physical.
It’s not just understanding the whole economics of it but the whole process. Let’s say your HVAC, your air condition goes down. I always understood the paper trading and the behavior of commodities on the market. Now I understand how it goes to the yard, how they remove the motor separately, separate the iron and how they sell it. I relate to that. I’m an engineer by degree; I like the touch and feel of things.
There is also the human component that’s kind of missing when you’re doing commodity trading on Wall Street; when you do millions of dollars trading for big banks. It’s very different in the recycled materials industry. Here you talk to a yard, and you just say, “hey, thanks, man.” It’s just kind of a done deal. There’s no fancy lawyer contract or anything. You just send a text, and they send you a text back and everybody honors their word and text message. If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that’s how the industry works. In Wall Street, in order to do a deal, we had to have a lawyer at our desk. The recycled materials industry is not like that. It’s a very tight-knit industry.
Congratulations to you and your company. You were presented the Presidential E-Award. Could you tell me a little bit about that experience?
That was a very humbling experience. I was almost in tears. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve achieved. Recognition by the U.S. Commerce Secretary meant a lot to me and our company. While giving the award she mentioned our company and recycling as a whole saying how important it is; what otherwise could have gone into waste, it goes into new products, which is what we all want especially in terms of the environment.
When you have the right intention and the right strategy — in terms of helping out small-to-mid-sized yards and helping our environment — profit always follows.
What’s the next big goal for you and Kaizen? What does the future look like?
Hopefully we receive another E-Star award in another three years as we continue our exports. I’m looking forward to that and trying to expand business. We are already looking to hire a buyer here in the U.S. market.
I plan to continue to build relationships and continue to sell to those small to mid-sized yards in the U.S. There are so many undersold yards here. People know all the big companies, but there are so many small family-owned recycling units, which practically don’t have access to the world market. I hope to change that.