Pile of Scrap Ep. 14: The Scrap Life – Brett Ekart, United Metals
The recycling industry is notorious for family-owned businesses and United Metals Recycling is no different. Starting from the time Brett Ekart was watching cartoons in his grandpa’s office all the way to graduating with his MBA, he always knew scrap was in his blood. As the third generation Ekart to own United Metals, based in Boise, Idaho, Brett joins Pile of Scrap to talk about the incredible journey he’s had in becoming CEO and how the generations before him have helped pave the way to the successful business it is today.
Watch this episode of Pile of Scrap here.
John Sacco and Brett Ekart
Intro: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery: Pile of Scrap with your host John Sacco.
John Sacco: Alright. Hello, hello, hello and welcome to a new episode of Pile of Scrap. I'm here with Brett Ekart. United Metals Recycling. Brett, thank you for joining us.
Brett Ekart: Thank you for the opportunity.
John Sacco: Yeah, it's great to be here with you. You know, I'm really impressed with what you're doing up here and we'll get into that, but it's great to have you. You know, last night we got together and did some – we had dinner, we got some talking and you're telling us about you played some college football and I was looking at you and I decided, you know, I played high school football and I was – I was wide receiver, but I decided after you – looking at you and going, ‘Guy’s pretty thick, pretty tough. I don't think I would have been the receiver coming across the middle.’ I would not have liked to have met you on the football field. I think it would have hurt me a lot.
Brett Ekart: I did my best, you know. I've actually cut down a little bit of weight just because. It's – I was – when I played football, I was a little bit thicker than I am today, so…
John Sacco: Were you a middle linebacker?
Brett Ekart: Middle linebacker.
John Sacco: Oh, then you are the meanest dude on the field, right?
Brett Ekart: I don't know. I like to think, I – I would combined, uh, a little bit of meanness with a little bit of brains. Well, see.
John Sacco: I noticed that and I'm glad I didn't meet you on the football field, but I'm glad I've gotten to meet you and getting to know you here in the – in this world that we delve into the recycling. So, football: there's a toughness that goes with that. And people who live in Idaho, because of the winters, there's a toughness that goes with that, I've learned. Where did you learn your toughness? Was it just natural or was it, tell us about that because I think that defines you before anything else. I said, “This guy's tough.”
Brett Ekart: I think the biggest thing with me is I was never the fastest, I was never the strongest, never the best looking, never any of those. I just – so, I was always inherently just had to be a little bit tougher, a little bit more on the grind than some. I wasn't blessed with a crazy amount of athletic ability. I was blessed with enough to get me on the field, but anything I wanted to be over and above just on the field, I had to work my butt off for. So, that, to me, just has transferred over into what I do today.
John Sacco: Okay. So, work. In our conversations, you started working with your father and your grandfather – young age. Tell us the his–tell us a little bit about that history and how it came for you and what you learned from that and how the history of United Metals. Give us a little bit of that history.
Brett Ekart: So, I've grew up in a family scrap business, kind of like a lot of the other guys that you've done the podcast with. So, pretty familiar story, but everybody has their own way of going – of doing it. For me, it was my grandfather started the business in 1972. Um, my dad started as soon as he was able to, uh, get out there and work – 16, started working, um, full-time as soon as he graduated high school at 18. So, I was able to watch my grandfather and my dad. Specifically, more my dad and my mom just put in the hours and the time and develop the work ethic. So, I – we were open on Saturdays, 8:00 to 12:00. So, I went down, every Saturday, with my parents before I could ever work in the yard. I'd watch cartoons in my grandpa's office on the TV. Then, I got a little bit older and I was able to watch channel six and watch college football. And then, by that time, I was old enough that my dad said, ‘All right.’
John Sacco: How old was that? How old were you when dad said, ‘Okay, get out in the yard and let's sort metals, pick up a broom, pick up a little hand–
Brett Ekart: Eight to 10. Somewhere in there. Well, I started in the non-ferrous, so I was able to go in there and help sort brass, but a huge brass table. So, I'd start by sorting the reds and the yellows and, you know, just basic brass sorting. Then, work my way up to helping strip copper wire. ‘Cause at that time, there was no export market for insulated copper wire if you had to either strip it or burn it or whatever you had to do to get it, you know, to get the plastic off. So, for me that was the kind of the next step after sorting brass. And then the next step after that was, in the recycling center, buying aluminum cans on Saturdays and non-ferrous from the peddlers.
John Sacco: What did you like more: knowing that you were working hard and getting your hands dirty or making the money that they were paying you? Because – reason why I ask, because for me, I – the thought of getting my hands dirty was just so cool. I wanted to be like the mechanics. I wanted to be like Shorty and Clint. Clint was the first tech, uh, the guy who ran the scrap yard maintenance department and they were dirty head-toe. I wanted to be like that guy because I can never get dirty, as a kid. I'd go out and play in the garden, my mom would get mad at me, but if I was at work, I had an excuse. So, what was it for you: gettin’ dirty or making money?
Brett Ekart: My dad would always say, ‘What did you do? Just go outside and roll around in the dirt?’ Like, what was the – what was it – the hell are you doing? And, I was like, ‘No, no.’ ‘Cause my biggest thing was being, you know, an impressionable 10-year-old, 11-year-old, 12-year-old, whatever it is, you're always – you get to see these older guys. They're in their 20s or 30s or 40s and out there working and busting their butt. So, it's just – the paycheck is nice, getting some money, but just going out there and getting dirty and having fun and getting to do a lot of shit that most people don't get to do as a 10-year-old kid. You don't get to go and throw rocks through car’s windows.
John Sacco: Oh, that was the greatest. We had auto park. Oh man, I just couldn't wait to do it.
Brett Ekart: Yeah, I’d go out and break every window I could out of a car, right? In my spare – whether I was working or not. Like that was just – you don't get to do – you don't get to go to a mall and –
John Sacco: And break things.
Brett Ekart: Throw rocks through windows and watch stuff break.
John Sacco: No.
Brett Ekart: But as a kid in a scrap yard, you get to and so, you get, you get to do stuff that a lot of kids don't get to do.
John Sacco: Okay, so you get all your teenager – high school, you're playing ball. Now, you're going to play college ball. Is in the back of your mind: ‘I'm going to be in the scrap business.’ Is this already set in your head? Not necessarily your father, your grandfather. Your head. Is that set? ‘That's where I'm going?’
Brett Ekart: When I was in high school, I told my dad, I was like, ‘Man, someday I want to work in the office.’ And my dad's like, ‘Oh yeah, we'll let you work in the office after you go to college.’ And I was like, ‘But, dad, dad, mom works in office, you work in the office and you guys didn't go to college. And my dad said, but if you ever want to work in the office, then you're going to go to college. So, basically I knew I enjoyed playing sports. I knew I was playing football at the time. So, my way to be motivated to go to college was A) to someday work in the office and B) go play football in college. So, I kinda got the best of both worlds for me.
John Sacco: So, you went and got your MBA, your master's, right?
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: He told an interesting story. Tell us what your thesis was because I thought it was fascinating. Your thesis about weather and pricing.
Brett Ekart: Basically, I studied the difference of what drives more scrap flow into our scrap yards at the time, which was Boise and Caldwell and Mountain Home. What drives the flow more? Is it price-driven or is it temperature-driven? Because, like you said earlier, you're asking about the weather and it gets nasty cold here for a couple of months a year. We get snow, we get rain, we get all that. We get true four seasons in Idaho and so my – I was trying to understand: is it price-driven, is it weather-driven, is it a combination of both? And what I figured out in our area is, whether doesn't play nearly as much of a factor as price. If the price is $100 or better, you're going to get flow regardless of temperature.
John Sacco: Regardless if it's subzero or 80 degrees
Brett Ekart: It slows down a little bit for us when it gets down – if we get five, eight inches of snow overnight, that just stops everything. But generally speaking, temperature-wise I didn't factor in snow or inches of rain or anything like that. It was more for me to just say, ‘Is it price-driven, is it temperature-driven?’
John Sacco: So, conclusion: price drove…
Brett Ekart: Pasteurize volume.
John Sacco: What'd you get on that paper? Well, I mean, what – was there a grade on that? How does that work?
Brett Ekart: No, no. Because when you do your Master’s, either you pass or you don't. Either…
John Sacco: Oh, what'd your professor say? They have to make a comment, come on.
Brett Ekart: Oh no, no, no. They liked it. It was – nobody had ever done that. Like, you know, people will do all kinds of reports and they'd probably see a lot of similar type reports. You know, cause there's a lot of people in the MBA program, that’re doing certain – certain fields of their choice. But, there's very similar in the scrap business, you don’t see a lot of people trying to decide what's driving the volume of scrap flow into the yards.
John Sacco: Okay. So, you graduated, what year when you got your MBA?
Brett Ekart: Well, I graduated my undergraduate in 2004 and then I got my MBA in 2000… end of 2006. ‘Cause I was working full time. So, I graduated in ’04 – in the summer of ’04. And that was when I was telling you that about my dad. I graduated on Saturday and my dad's excited, my mom's excited. I do the ceremony, do the walk and, uh, my dad comes up and he's just super proud and I'm super proud and he – and I go, ‘All right dad, when do you want me to – when you want me to start?’ Thinking I had a couple of weeks to go screw around and hang out. He goes ‘Monday’ll be fine.’
John Sacco: I was given two weeks. Wow. That's tough.
Brett Ekart: Open the gates.
John Sacco: That's – that's fantastic. Okay, so interesting event happened prior to that night. Uh, late nineties, I believe. Your dad sold 50% of the business to Schnitzer Steel, correct?
Brett Ekart: Correct.
John Sacco: Okay. Two questions about that. Why did they do that? How did that make you feel? Like, ‘Wow, am I going to have this opportunity to go into the business?’ So the first question is why did, why did that happen?
Brett Ekart: So, in 1997, my grandfather was, uh, ready to retire. Um, my dad was ready to kind of put his twist on the business. Um, my dad had been working, doing it since he'd been a teenager and he was ready to take the ball and run with it. And so, at that time, the market was decent and scrap price was decent in ‘97. And a guy Terry Moore and Jim Goodrich and they were doing business, my dad was selling scrap to Schnitzer Steel at the time and they, uh, they approached my dad about, you know, buying 50% of United Metals and basically using us as an Idaho affiliate to feed the shredder in Portland. Um, knowing that my dad and my grandpa needed to retire, my dad was able to make a deal with Schnitzer at the time. Basically, it was what got us our first Sierra piece of equipment. We bought a 700-series shear and enabled us to, um, retire my grandpa.
John Sacco: This liquidating event that helped…
Brett Ekart: Helped…
John Sacco: Get grandpa to where he needed to go for retirement. Okay. But, as you're looking at that, now you're in high school and you’re in college or you know, look, you're not – you’re a smart guy. Are you saying, ‘My piece of the pie is small now – smaller?’ Because Schnitzer owns 50 and your family owns the other 50%. Did you look at that as a possible negative or did you embrace it and say, ‘You know what, this still gives us the best opportunity for growth’ and what have you?
Brett Ekart: The honest answer is, in 1997, I was a sophomore in high school, so that was strictly a Rod and Debbie Ekart, my mom and dad, decision. They needed to do what was best for the company and my grandfather at the time, and I didn't think positive or negative about it. I just knew that was the – that was what had to be done. You know, that was – so, for me, I didn't look at it in – I always knew what I was going to do. I always knew I was going to be in the scrap business. I mean, I always knew one form or another. Like, that was my calling. Like I, I liked it, I enjoyed it. I liked everything about it. I liked that I can wear jeans and a tee shirt to work every day and a baseball hat and, like, that's my jam.
John Sacco: That's your jam. That's cool. So, okay, so 2007. So, that's 12 years ago. You guys, 2016. The family now, you've been in the business now for awhile. You bought back your 50%.
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: That's pretty cool.
Brett Ekart: That's really cool. Well, I mean, it's cool for our family. Yeah.
John Sacco: And now – kind of got ahead of it because I'm going to backtrack now. Now, you're back. Now, you come into the business, you know, you're going to – you and your dad – you have to figure out who's what, what does the new buck get to do? You've grown the business and your dad is – so, how did that work? Give us a little bit about that and how you grew because you're, you're up to eight yards now, okay? So, this just didn't happen in the last three years. You helped grow this company to where it is today. So, how did you and your dad finally figured out the formula that lets Brett Ekart help grow the company while your dad, Rod Ekhart, and your mom also help mold that growth?
Brett Ekart: I think the biggest thing is my dad spent a lot of years, um, pushing against my grandpa and wanting to get things done his way. He, my grandpa, was able to take the company from A to B and my dad could see B to F and he said this is where this needs to go. So, part of the retirement of retiring him in ’97, partnering with Schnitzer, Schnitzer was able to open us up to some other opportunities, servicing commercial accounts. You know, we bought a couple of used roll-off trucks, so my dad knew where the business needed to grow to and he knew the family dynamics of what it takes to have a father-son relationship when one wants to really grow. So, I – my opinion if – of it, maybe ask my dad, it might be different, is my dad knew how tough it could be if you didn't give them some…
John Sacco: Ranks. Responsibility ranks.
Brett Ekart: Responsibility, you know? And early. Give it to them early and give them a crack at, you know, their way. They're gonna mistakes and I've made – I've made my fair share of mistakes. I'd like to think that I've – I've done pretty decent, but I also know I've made some mistakes along the way, but he was able to recognize the battles he fought with his dad and he was able to give me a little bit more responsibility earlier than maybe he got and I think that that's helped both of us.
John Sacco: Okay. So, your dad just retired, correct?
Brett Ekart: Correct, yeah.
John Sacco: That's fascinating. He's not very old.
Brett Ekart: No, but he'd been doing it a long time and I think we partnered with Schnitzer in ‘97. They were a private company. They were not very – they weren't –
John Sacco: They were public.
Brett Ekart: They were a publicly traded company.
John Sacco: Yeah, Dr. Leonard, Bob Phillips.
Brett Ekart: Monica Leonard, I mean, Bob Phillips. Those guys were, you know, those guys helped mold the deal with, um, my dad. And, so, when two couple of years later, they became such a – became a publicly traded company. So, the different dynamics of a publicly traded company and a privately held company, they run things a little bit differently, right? You know, publicly traded: it's very investor, you know, quarterly, you know, driven. Um, as a private – as a privately-run company, you – your focuses are different. Your focuses longevity, you know, minimizing your tax implications.
John Sacco: Sure.
Brett Ekart: Some of those, you know…
John Sacco: And there’s profit. You go, ‘Hey, profit means taxes.’
Brett Ekart: Depreciation. And, there's a lot of things that, you know, that change the dynamic of our relationship over the years. And, I would like to think that, you know, we were partners for almost 20 years and we still have a great relationship with Schnitzer. I mean, I can't talk highly enough about, um, Mike Henderson. I can't talk highly enough about Mike Kirschenmann and their ability to give us the opportunity to be a family-owned business again. They could see that we were struggling, um, trying to get two different corporate cultures to really go together. We had two different ways at seeing it, but they knew that if both of us could exit on friendly terms that that relationship is going to go on for a long time. Whether you're joined at the hip or not with your books or you're just doing business every day.
John Sacco: So, you're in charge now, okay. Your dad's retired, grandpa, and all this. So, now it’s the Brett Ekart show. You were telling the story about how you found your managers and the challenge of finding the people. Tell us about that because I love this story. I think your – your past is what's creating the success you're having now. Tell us a little bit about picking your managers and how and why that – your philosophy. Tell us your philosophy behind it.
Brett Ekart: My thing is, is this the reason that we're here today, the reason we have the facilities we have is not be because of me. It's because I was able to identify guys along the way that believed in me, that were hard workers that I could convince, Hey, like I have your best interest in mind. Like I want you to be successful. I mean, I want to be successful, but along the way, I want us all to be successful. So, over the years I've, you know, I've – there's a couple of guys that I'd known from college I was able to recruit. Um, just some guys that, uh, I've met over the years. Um, our CFO, I met him at a bar and he's now not just the CFO, he's probably one of my best friends and he's – my mom taught him and he's now probably the brains of the operation. You know, him and I shared office every day. We spent a lot – we'd coach my son's basketball team together. But what I've, – I feel lucky is that I was able to find a bunch of great guys that believed in me and now my responsibility, honestly, is to take care of them, is to basically let them do what they do and make them successful.
John Sacco: You said something last night that I had not – I haven't heard is: you said making money is easy, but making it to where the people in your company make money. That's the challenge and that's what drives you.
Brett Ekart: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is making money isn't easy in this scrap market.
John Sacco: Well, that's true. But…
Brett Ekart: But, but the me is like if you – if you have hustle and you're a grinder and you want to go to work every day and you can make money, like you can make money for yourself and you'll – you'll put – you'll make it – you'll make a decent paycheck or if you invest wisely, you'll make money. But, the measure of success for me, personally, is I'm not a money guy. Doesn't take a lot to appease me. I'm more – I'm more gauge my success if I can make my top guys that I was able to convince 10, 12 years ago: if I – if I got them, uh, you know, got them into a position where they've – we've built this business together –all of us. Then, to me, like, that's success. Not how many yards you have, how much money you have in your bank account, what kind of pickup truck you drive. Not, to me, that's not the measure of success. It's how many guys were you able to, you know, help build out their career and give them the opportunity. They gave you the opportunity to grow your business, invest back in.
John Sacco: They're thriving under that leadership and that program. And I think that – I love hearing that because that's something I'm going to take back to my business to make sure that my key people, the people that I need to grow for success are succeeding too. You know, and I think that's fantastic.
Brett Ekart: Thank you.
John Sacco: You know, you're in this area. You've got a lot of yards, a lot of distancing, you have a lot of weather. Talk about these challenges of weather and the distance between your yards and how were you able to manage that? What – what is it? Is it your managers or what philosophy are you taking with that that helps you do that?
Brett Ekart: You know, I probably give trust more easily than most. I'm a – I'm a give rope guy. Like, I'll give you all the rope in the world and what you, either you hang yourself with it or you build an awesome bridge out of it, you know? And, to me, I mean, anytime you're dealing with scrap and you're dealing with cash in a cash box…
John Sacco: Sure.
Brett Ekart: You know, that everybody in this industry knows that I can go sideways on you faster than, you know, you can shake a stick and it's happened to us. It's happened to, I bet anybody that’s owned a scrap yard for any length of time it's happened to. So, but if you just let that stop you from trusting people, you'll never grow your business. Because if you, – if you give trust more easily than you take it away, then you have the opportunity to grow. You have you – you're giving people the opportunity to better themselves. What they do with it is up to them. But to me, it's more: if we ever want to grow, you have to trust people. So, you almost error on the side of maybe sometimes trusting too much.
John Sacco: Right.
Brett Ekart: But, I feel, in the long run, it will benefit you because I think more people want to do the right thing. I think more people will do the right thing than won't. You're going to have some, you know, some issues along the way and it's – and it's – you put – everybody puts, uh, these stop gaps in place to try and minimize those issues. You know, whether it's the computer system for the purchasing or your managers to keep an eye on what's going on. Um, but I air probably on the side of trusting more and that's what's helped me.
John Sacco: You said something. You said something: ‘Doing the right thing.’ Can you – know what I've noticed about your yards? You're doing the right thing environmentally.
Brett Ekart: Thank you.
John Sacco: You – you are clean. You're – you have your storm water in place. You know, our yard in California. Trust me, the regulators are all over. So, we – we’re on it. Okay. But, I've noticed you're ahead of that curve, doing the right thing. Is that part of your just your f–: ‘Do the right thing. Let's get ahead of this environmental curve here’ because your yards are doggone nice, Brett.
Brett Ekart: Thank you.
John Sacco: Look, I walk – I've been in hundreds of yards, but you are paved yards, you have your drainage for your storm water. You know what you're doing. You're doing it – that's part of you doing the right thing. But, where did you get that? You got ahead of the game there.
Brett Ekart: My dad – my dad is – my dad was: ‘You get one chance to do it right when you put a new yard in.’ So, we have some of our older yards that we still have some yards that are dirt and we still have some yards that – but, every new yard we've put in… if we've greenfielded a yard. We do it right out the gate. That way we don't have to come back in and try and fix it. Um, but that's my dad. I mean my dad taught me.
John Sacco: Do you think that has something to do with the Schnitzer group because…
Brett Ekart: Yeah, it has a lot – I think – I think that’s a good point as well. I mean, I think they helped my dad. I mean, they helped mold that into us. I mean, like I s–like I was saying earlier, there's – there's a lot of stuff with Schnitzer and us that we took away that's, like, huge positives for our business. I mean, it made – it matured us. It made us think – be more accountable. Um, I mean, to me, I mean there's a lot of good stuff that came with that and that's a good point. I didn't really think about that, is Schnitzer, I think helped mold us into that and in doing the right thing, you know.
John Sacco: You said something. And, it's evident. Okay, look. Not just – anybody who comes to your yard is going to know after they hear this podcast and somebody comes in here, they're gonna know I'm not blowing smoke anywhere. The truth is you come to this Boise yard, your Caldwell, the yard… These things are nice and you can tell, you know, they're clean. The housekeeping's there, the storm – you're doing it right. You said something today. You're about making friends even though you're competitive dude. Okay. You know. You're very competitive, but you're about making friends co-opt petition and your friendship still lasts today with the Schnitzer company.
Brett Ekart: Correct.
John Sacco: It didn't end on a sour note.
Brett Ekart: No. We made sure that it didn't end. They made sure. We all made sure it didn't end on a sour note.
John Sacco: Is this Brett Ekart’s philosophy or is this something you learned from grandpa, your dad?
Brett Ekart: My dad… That’s another – uh, my dad taught me early. He's like, ‘There's enough scrap for everybody. You don't have to kill yourself over it, you know.’ There's – if you buy every pound, your price is too high. That's the reality. If nobody's buying anything, your price is too high. So, there's a happy medium of being able to run your business. ‘Cause you have to make enough money to invest back into your business to have a clean facility. But, also I believe that, from our standpoint, you know, we're not the biggest recycling company in the United States. We can't go around and try and step on people's necks. Our job – our whole goal is to do business with as many other recycling companies as we can. Because there's, you know, there's just, it's a competitive environment already.
John Sacco: Why make it worse?
Brett Ekart: So, you're going to compete every day and we do compete every day and that’s part of the deal.
John Sacco: You know, it’s kinda like at practice at football. Office first – you guys got to compete.
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: You're on the same team, but you still got to compete to make the other guy better.
Brett Ekart: Yup.
John Sacco: You know, in Bakersfield, okay, our scrap yard – half a mile down the street: SA has a 6,000 horsepower shredder. We trade iron every month. We trade metals every month. And, you know, making friends as you go. I buy into that and I'm – and it's great to hear it from you because – but it's interesting. All the things we're taught, you know, I like to take credit for something, you know. It's our fathers that taught us so much. But your dad, now, let's talk about teaching a lesson. I heard something today that I just loved. Your dad had to teach you a lesson about a car because of when you were a younger knucklehead, you did some things and your – you thought your dad wasn't serious about it. Tell us this story. This is a funny story.
Brett Ekart: So, when I was in, uh, before I got my driver's license – In Idaho, you can drive when you turn 15, you can drive it in the daylight, you can't drive at night. Um, now I think they changed the rules to where you have to drive with somebody for a few months. But in Idaho, you – when I was growing up, you could drive at 15, um, without an adult as long as you had your permit. So, when I was 14, I had picked out this a Pontiac Firebird that came in as scrap, but it was a little bit nicer than scrap. It was something that was – could be a daily driver if it just – if you put a little bit of love into it. So, we set it aside and over time, over the year, I'd find parts and speaker boxes and anything I could to get this thing fixed up to make it my car when I turned 15, I could drive it. And it wasn't a nice car. It was an old – it was an older car, but it was going to be cool for me.
John Sacco: But it, still, it was your car.
Brett Ekart: It was my car, right? I bought it from – bought it from the scrap yard and set it aside. And, uh, I got – I was kind of a squirrely kid at times. I got into it, like got into a little bit of trouble. My dad basically said, ‘Here's the deal, if you're getting in trouble again, then we're going to crush the car.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ And, you know, and you're 14 going on 15, you pretty much think you know everything and nobody's going to tell you, at least I was bullheaded enough to think that nobody's going to tell me what I could do, what I couldn't do. And I messed up again and my dad said, ‘All right, time to crush the car.’ And we crushed the car.
John Sacco: What was that like? Come on man. Tell us, Brett. You were at the handles in the car.
Brett Ekart: Yeah, I was – I was so looking forward to driving that crappy Firebird, but it was my –going to be my Firebird and my dad – I mean, one thing I learned from that is if my dad says it, it's going to happen. Is it going to happen on your timeline? Maybe not. But, if he says it's going to happen, he's going to stick to it.
John Sacco: C’mon now. I wanna – I wanna – I want to hear it. What was it like? You're pulling the levers of the car flattener. What was that like?
Brett Ekart: We had the old school car crusher where you had levers, not like the remote controls like the easy crushers we have now. So, you have to pull the levers and crush your own car. That's pretty disheartening. It's a pretty tough – but I love – I feel like I got – I got something out of it. I feel like I, uh, I learned the lesson, you know? I learned A) I probably shouldn't be doing that and B) if my dad said it, it's going to happen.
John Sacco: Are you going to impose that on your two boys?
Brett Ekart: I hope to. I mean, I hope – I mean…
John Sacco: That’s a great one, man. I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, I got my son a new truck,’ and I'm thinking to myself, ‘I got it because – I got my kid the truck…’ My – both my kids’ cars have collision avoidance.
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: Because kids don't pay attention like adults, all right? It's a new truck. New Ford F-150. I'm like, man, I don't know if I can do that. ‘Son, I’m gonna flatten your car.’
Brett Ekart: Just put a personnel sign on it and, uh, say we'll sell it. At least get some money back out of it.
John Sacco: All right, well let's talk about something that you and I both, you know, we're both fathers. You know, my daughter's 20, student at USC. My son is 17, a junior in high school. But, I coached my kids. I love coaching. And, you being the former athlete, um, you're coaching your boys.
Brett Ekart: Yeah. It's a great honor. It's awesome. I mean, I wouldn't trade it for – I wouldn't trade it for anything. That's kind of my sweet spot as far as, like, with my kids. I mean, that's my kid time. I carve that time out no matter what I'm doing. My phone’s in the truck. Like, that's my time with the kids.
John Sacco: That, for me – look, I – when it comes to coaching, I – that's what I want. If I could quit my day job and make as much money in coaching, I'd be coaching. I love coaching. Now, with all that's going in football with the head stuff and what have you. You're gonna let your boys play football?
Brett Ekart: I’m going to wait. I'm going to let him play when they get older. So, in – over here, in Idaho, we could play at fifth grade – tackle football. So, my boy’s in fourth grade right now. I have a fourth grader and I have a kindergartener. So, they both play flag football. Which they didn't – I didn't have that option growing up. It was soccer until – through fourth grade. Tackle football at fifth grade. So, your first year of playing organized football was tackle football.
John Sacco: But, you're going to wait. What year were you like – See, I didn't let my son play tackle football until he was eighth grade.
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: And he was good. It's like, it didn't matter because he was an athlete. Did not matter. He was a hell of a basketball player. Heck of a baseball player. Didn't matter. And a friend of mine who played in the NFL, but, who retired because he had six concussions, said that he's waiting until eighth grade because at 14, 13, 14 that, which is eighth grade, that the brain doesn't wobble in your skull. There’s – ‘Cause it's still growing us. And so, that's why he told me this and he's in the medical industry and he's a Stanford grad. The guy's smart at hell. Way smarter than me. So, I kind of went, ‘Well that made sense.’ So, I didn't let Giancarlo play until eighth grade. What about you?
Brett Ekart: I think that's eight–eighth, ninth grade. I mean I'll kind of play it by year, but I think that's probably a good age. Over here, you can play flag football all the way through ninth grade. And, I think flag football teaches you the game. My son is a big – is a big kid. My oldest – both of my boys are big kids. Me and my wife is five-foot 10”.
John Sacco: Oh, boy.
Brett Ekart: My father-in-law played football in coll–he played at Utah State. So, it's with – football is in our blood.
John Sacco: DNA.
Brett Ekart: And we like it. But, so they – and they're very driven kids, but I think the longer you can pull the reins back… And football is kind of a unique sport, in my opinion, because you can be – if you're a good athlete, you – we can teach you how to tackle and teach you like the – if you're aggressive, even by the time you get to ninth grade, I think you'll be fine. But, I still think that there's really no need to bang your body up at from fifth grade on. I mean, I think you can and I think that if there's probably as much, um, research out there that says they’ll be just fine. Just like anything, there's just, there's research out there says it's hurting them. There's research out there says it’s just fine. I think it's personal preference. I mean, and if your kids saying, ‘I got to do it, I got to do it.’ And that's their – that's what they want to do, I mean, as a parent, I guess it's – it's a case by case situation.
John Sacco: I agree. It’s just – I had to bring it up because, you know, that's… So, is your dream, for your kids. I'm gonna try – I'm gonna go back there. Your grandpa had a dream for your dad. Your dad had a dream for you. Is your dream for your kids different, any different than what they had for or… See, my dream for my kids is just one thing. I just want them to be happy. If my dad's dream was the have me and the business. Okay?
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: But that, that was set forth when I was a young kid. Okay? But, my dream now for my kids is different. I just want them happy.
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: Just be happy, man. That's all I want. How's your dream for your kids different than your father's dream for you?
Brett Ekart: You know, I have a funny story. So, my grandpa, um, he – the guy – the man who started the United Metals in 1972, he died when my oldest – the same year my oldest boy was born. So, I'm the last Ekart. There's no other, uh, nobody else in my family. You know, I was the last male that could have a kid and make an Ekart. Um, I had a cousin Justin who, uh, had a daughter and he didn't have any boys, so it was really, it was, I was the last one and my grandpa knew that. My grandpa and I had a close relationship, you know, ‘cause I spent so much time at the scrap yard and around – I was always around him. So, he knew if I didn't have a boy then there no more Ekarts. Right? He was a pretty proud man and very family-centric, family-driven. Um, but – so, when my wife and I got married a year later, we found out she's pregnant and then, you know, I was like three, four, five months, whatever that timeline is when you can figure out if it's going to be a boy or girl. And, so when we found out, I mean I'm sitting there with my wife and I've got – I've had this pressure on me since I've been 15, 15 years old. I've known that I'm the last Ekart. I'm the last one. Unless I make a boy, right? And at this, at this point, you just want the kid to be healthy. Just give me a healthy kid – boy, girl, it doesn't really matter. And, so I'm sitting there and I'm super nervous the day. I'm, like, okay, we're going in and my wife and I and we're sitting there, she's laying there and they're doing the ultrasound. They’re like, ‘Do you guys want to know?’ And I'm, like, ‘Yes.’ I go, ‘I've been wanting to know since I’ve been 15,’ you know? So, they go, ‘All right, it's going to be a boy.’ And, I was like this: and I just go like… My wife's like, ‘I have never heard you give such a big sigh of relief ever since I've known you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you don't understand the pressure I’ve been under for so many years.’ So when my – so when my grandpa, you know, he's on these – he was in rough shape and we have this last family picture when my son's one – he's not even one yet. He's a month old. My grandpa, my dad, me – four generations in the hauling building in the – where the arch is at and that's a big, that's a big deal. It was a big deal for him. It was a big deal for my dad. I mean, it was a big deal for me. And that's one of those, like, pictures that you just, and he – I think that helped him, like, you know. When he died it was like, ‘All right, there's another one coming.'
John Sacco: Dream of continuing the Ekart name. So, your dream for your kids.
Brett Ekart: I want them to be happy. I want them to, uh, I want them to earn what they get. I want them, everything they get, I want them to earn. I don't want anything given other than the opportunity to be successful. What – I'm going to give you the opportunity, but you have to then take that opportunity and do something with it. If I think if you just give it to them, then they don't ever earn it. And if – if you – if you give them the opportunity and make them earn it, they appreciate it. And, I think that's what my mom and dad have done for me is given me the opportunity and so every day I wake up driven to earn it, right?
John Sacco: Right.
Brett Ekart: So then when I get it, I appreciate it because I know what we've done to get to get it.
John Sacco: That's – I can definitely relate to that. All right. I'm going to circle back to one last thing. We're going to wrap this up.
Brett Ekart: Okay.
John Sacco: You're – you've been out there on social media. You're out there on LinkedIn and you're out there on Instagram. And, you know, you posted something that I – to me, it's like the post of the year. You had a truck, got in a wreck and you posted that telling everybody, putting it out there, ‘Hey everybody. Weather’s bad. This stuff happens. We've got to watch ourselves.’ I think that's, to me, it was the post of the year. You put yourself out there. Tell us about making that decision because I think that's one of the most fascinating posts. Now, all this social media that we're doing, like this podcast is part of our social media program and people hear this, but you put yourself out there, Brett.
Brett Ekart: You know, I feel like my generation, generations younger, everybody wants to show you all the good things that happen in their life and their family and their business. And LinkedIn, to me, is more business-driven then that's why I like it. I don't do Facebook, I don't do anything else. I just do LinkedIn because all day, every day I'm – all I'm thinking about is what we're doing, you know, at work, when I'm not with my family. So, I think it's important for people to know that we all have shitty days, man, and things happen to us and they happen to our business and it's not necessarily anything that we did wrong or anything like that. It's something that happens and you have to know how to deal with it or learn how to deal with it. So, maybe a follow up post for me coming down the line will be how we sorted stuff out with our insurance or how we sort of stuff out with our safe – you know, our driver's safety me or something along those lines. But, I wanted people to know that you're not, when something happens to one of your trucks, something happens, one of your excavators, to your sheers. It happens to all of us. And if you just only post the good things, then I think you're kind of creating this like fake façade of your business. And I want people to know, like we're human, like we're a real company. Like we – we’re fighting real challenges every day. You know, we're – we're fighting hard to find labor. It's hard to find CDL truck drivers and things are happening every day that aren't just all roses and gold coins. It's – it's real business every day.
John Sacco: Like I tell you, posted of the year.
Brett Ekart: Thank you.
John Sacco: It is needs to be said. You know, look, I was Chairman of ISRI and when I was Chairman of ISRI, the recycling industry was the fourth deadliest industry in America. Today, we're number five. Do I like to think that I had a little bit to do with making safety consciousness on a higher level? A team at ISRI helped do this. Your post is going to help people have that safety meeting. Your post is going to help companies go, ‘Hey, inclement weather's coming. Winter is here.’
Brett Ekart: Yeah.
John Sacco: Okay. I just came out of Indiana. It was below, you know, 15 degrees. Roads were slick. There was ice. And, I think somebody gonna do something and it's going to save somebody's life and I commend you for that. I commend you for being brave, to have the courage to put it out there, Brett. This is going to happen to everybody. Let’s watch it.
Brett Ekart: I appreciate that and hopefully, I mean, if you – if it helps you said it helps save one life or helps create the conversation – I take, I read AMM or I read articles about what's going in the scrap industry and an accident happens – somebody cut into a tank or somebody – something happens, right? And I – those are – those are immediate safety meetings for us. So, I push those to our managers and I say, ‘Hey guys, like, this happens, like accidents happen. Nobody intended for this to happen, but they happen. So, how do we get in front of it and you know, use this as a opportunity to learn?’ So, this was our opportunity – or my opportunity to put it out there and say, ‘These things happen,’ you know? You – you don't – you don't fold your business up and, you know, call it quits. You figure out how to get through it and it sucks every – you know, every piece of it sucks. But, if you, I mean, if I want people to know that we're a real company, we fight the same challenges that you do every day and we're, you know, we're just trying to get through like everybody else. Crappy market, it's good market, whatever it is. Like we're on the grind every day.
John Sacco: Thank you. Thank you for sharing with us a great story. Just thank you for being you and let telling it like it is.
Brett Ekart: Thank you, sir.
John Sacco: Thanks for –
Brett Ekart: Good to meet you.
Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.