Pile of Scrap Ep. 30: The Man Behind the Sierra Legacy
Sierra founder, Ben Sacco, had a vision for his company: to improve the recycling process with better equipment and share that throughout the World. With John and Philip Sacco at the helm, they have been able fulfill this vision. However, this success wasn’t handed over on a silver platter. Between leading an organized and clean recycling facility to Ben’s philosophy to always “telling the customer the truth,” there’s no surprise that Sierra is a recognized leader in the recycling industry. John and Philip sit down to tell us all about Sierra’s roots and the man behind the legacy.
Watch this episode of Pile of Scrap here.
Philip, Ben, and John Sacco - Sierra Recycling & Demolition 1980's
Introduction: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery; Pile of Scrap with your host, John Sacco.
John Sacco: Hello, and welcome to a new episode of Pile of Scrap. Today, we're going to have a very unique podcast where we're going to finish up this conversation with a video we created for our 60th Anniversary of Sierra Recycling and Demolition. Sierra has been in this industry over 60 years now and we have been selling equipment now for over 35 years. So, Sierra has been deeply involved in the recycling industry and this video that we created in this audio at the end of our podcast, it's talking about our legacy of my father. Many of us in this industry are generational. I'm second generation, my brother Philip and I are partners, and we're second generations from my father, Ben Sacco. My father came to Italy – uh, came from Italy in 1935 as an immigrant and as many of the people in this industry came from Jew–Jewish families came from Eastern Europe, fleeing persecution. My father left Southern Italy because of the lack of economic opportunity. Many of those people added Germany and Italy and France and Spain, they came to America for new opportunity and a lot of them found their ways into the recycling industry and it's interesting to me because I have so many friends throughout America that I've podcasted with who are third, fourth, fifth generation business. And, you know what? This is Sierra story as well. And, this podcast is unique because we want to celebrate the legacy of my father because without that, my brother, Phillip, and I would have no, you know, no background, no backbone to move forward on because my father gave us everything we knew – or know, shall I say, and we've grown it for them. It's, it's now 11 years since my father passed away. And, uh, he worked every day until he got too sick, uh, and, uh, and he passed, but my father's legacy is still strong. We talk about him every day here in the office. And, he had a lot of Italian sayings that, uh, we always share back and forth in the office. What would my father say? What would dad say? What would, Walio, you know, that was his nickname, Walio. It's an Italian nickname. So, we have a lot of great stories that we share always every day. And, the audio at the end of this, uh, film – uh, podcast with me is that celebration of my father's legacy. You know, my father… Story is when he, uh, came to America in 1935, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and for a year or so, he was a drill instructor and, uh, that drill instructor, you know, keeping your barracks neat and your bump, you know, made properly, came over into this business world because he was very organized and he was always keeping his yard clean. You know, the first piece of equipment I operated was a broom. And, that's because my father always… Cleanliness. And as a kid, I tell a story. I love this story because I told my son this and he didn't believe it, but he gets a kick out of the stories. As a kid, I was about six years old. My dad – we would call, he was doing the room inspections at our house. And so, um, we all went to our rooms to clean up. So, I made my bed as nice as I could and had some toys and junk around on the floor. So, I picked it all up, put it in the closet, close the closet door. And I went, I got this. So, my dad came in and he looked around, looked around. Then he opened up the closet door and let out a roar, “What do you mean your room is clean? Get in here and clean this up.” And, um, so you know, you couldn't pull the wool over his eyes. He was too crafty. You know, my dad was an innovator. He had vision. He knew where this industry was going. And he pushed me to be involved with ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which I became Chairman of. And, when I got nominated to be Secretary Treasurer, I went to him and says, “Well, what do you think, Dad? It’s going to take time away from the business.” And he says, “You're crazy because you have to be involved. You have to be in the know and being involved with ISRI, you will know about the environmental issues and the safety issues coming up. And, he was a hundred percent correct. And those are the things, the blessings I've had as a son to have him be my mentor and not only a father, but a mentor in business. And that's how we grew Sierra my brother and I over the years is his mentorship. And, um, I think this is a unique podcast in that respect. I look forward to, uh, the coming months when things open up in this country, uh, do more travel. I really enjoy the podcast with having live guests and filming because I think that brings out the best, um, in the podcast of Pile of Scrap, I really enjoy doing this. And, I want to thank everybody who sends me notes and, uh, from text messages to emails and to phone calls telling me that they love a particular episode, or thank you for doing this. And, you know, I – it does encourage me to keep going, cause I re–but I really do enjoy doing this. This is a lot of fun for me. Um, maybe I should have been somewhere else and not in the scrap business, but this is where I'm at. But if you know, we're blessed to have a, a great business and, you know, recycling is an essential industry. And during this COVID shut down, we've been blessed to be open and continue to work to provide raw materials for critical manufacturing in this country and to making paper products for packaging and, uh, supplying copper, aluminum, and steel for the making of products, for medical products, defense products… you know. Our industry is a very powerful industry. It's kind of the quiet, if you will, industry, but it's a – it – without us, things don't get made in this country. Things don't get made in this world without the recycling industry and that's just bottom line. And so, it's a great industry. I look forward to the summer getting out there and hopefully we find a cure for COVID-19 real soon because I really miss the travel. I really miss the interaction with the great people that we've done podcasts with, and we're going to continue to do more. I was able to do a few, uh, film and record a few last week in Idaho and, uh, we're, you know, pushing forward to go out and do more. And, uh, you know, that's, that's what I enjoy. I really do enjoy this. And, uh, this piece that, um, we put together as legacy on my father, my brother Philip, and I… we – we've – we talked about it, you know, that we feel that we've done some justice to the power of who my father was. You know, Ben Sacco is, uh, is a man who is very well known in this industry. And, I have so many people at the ISRI conventions come up to me and tell me about how great it was to know my father and around the world. You know, when I travel for my business, my father left a footprint in a lot of countries and a lot of people really enjoyed, uh, working with my father, doing business, or just being my father's friend. Uh, he was just a unique individual and, uh, and I want to celebrate that, you know, it's 11 years since he's passed and, uh, he lives on every day. Every day, we talk about him. Every day… There's a good saying that we like to repeat here in the office, but, uh, this is what we're made of. This is so many of us in this industry were made of people who came before us. And, that's a fantastic, um, you know, the fantastic opportunities that we have and the learnings that we've been able to have. So, I'm blessed. I'm blessed to be able to sit here and have this podcast. My family is blessed and so many of us in this industry are blessed to have had fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers and great-great-great-grandfathers ahead of them who helped pave the way for where we are today. So, enjoy this episode. This is unique and we're, uh, excited to put it out. And, I thank you for watching and commenting and being part of Pile of Scrap. So, that's it for now. That's another episode of Pile of Scrap and listen to the audio to follow. Thank you.
Ben Sacco: People have to be openminded to see what's available in the marketplace. If they could find a better machine, God bless them, but there isn't. But, now I'm talking as a scrap dealer, not as a machinery salesman. Look, if there was a better piece of equipment, I would use it, but that's not the case. We give them all the assistance in the world. It's just like a big family, really. We – we service our people and we don't overcharge them.
John Sacco: So, the legacy is 60 years of Sierra Recycling Demolition.
Philip Sacco: Growing up into the business, I started working in 1969, uh, the summer of ‘69 at the age of, uh, 10 years old. Worked for Sierra Bag Company. You know, you see the – the painting up there. That's what I did from 1979, full-time to 1988.
John Sacco: I always say, when I talk to people in the scrap industry, the first piece of equipment I ever operated was a broom, but that broom was in the bag company and then once in a while, my dad would let me come in over to the metal room and sweep up.
Philip Sacco: I became a sweeper and then I graduated into a metal grader. Uh, in the early seventies after school, I would come down to work. He picked me up from school. I've worked every summer since 1969 until I became a full-time employee in 1979, February 9th.
John Sacco: But, for the most part, as a kid growing up, it was always the bag company. And until, um, ‘til I got out of college. And then when I got out of college in 1984, uh, the scrap company had become probably the more profitable part of the business.
Philip Sacco: We were taking something that was a discarded by an industry and turned it into a usable product. And so, people who had household metals, industrial metals from their processes, uh, needed a place. And, we were one of the only places in Bakersfield that they could go to. Otherwise, they had to go to a landfill and that was wasteful. And, my father had – was a visionary where he says, “Well, that's not good for the environment. That’s – doesn't make sense, bring it here.” We have the ability to recycle it and turn it back into new metal. So, it was unnatural for my father.
John Sacco: So, my dad would get me and drive around in our scrap yard. And, we had auto parts dismantling and start teaching me and showing me more. And, I always felt at a disadvantage because I didn't really know much about metals. I didn't know much about copper, and aluminum, and the different grades. But, uh, my dad always said, “Don't worry about that. You just got to understand how to manage the place. You got to understand that you gotta be organized.” And, my dad developed the nickname “Mr. Clean” and “Mr. Clean” was because my dad was super organized and he was the guy whose scrap yard back in the days, in the sixties and seventies, was always most organized. Well, as things developed over the years, we started paving our scrap yard. We were one of the first companies in the United States to pave the scrap yard. Look, I've traveled all over the U.S. selling shears, and balers, and two-ram balers. There's still a lot of dirt yards out there. And, all these years later, I mean, we are the state-of-the-art scrap yard with stormwater recovery, we don't have any dirt. You know, back to his nickname of “Mr. Clean.” It clearly shows I have many customers who come to Sierra, uh, throughout the year and you always kind of get the same thing, “Wow. This is one of the cleanest scrap yards I've ever been in.” I go, “Well, that's my dad's legacy.”
Philip Sacco: To continue what my father's vision was, is always to be efficient. He couldn't stand someone picking up a piece of metal and putting it in a piece of equipment that took long time and was ineffective to process. So he was always looking for a better mousetrap to process scrap. So, again, Sierra Recycling was blessed to have Sierra International and using Sierra International technology to develop our processes, to be a more efficient, more profitable company… And, more safe. So my father's vision was always to improve the process with equipment and that was it.
John Sacco: But, probably the most… One of the funny stories about my dad is here's a guy who fought for this country in World War II. An immigrant. Came to this country in 1935, built this company from scratch with his own hands and hard work. And my dad liked to smoke cigarettes. He smoked cigarettes all his life, but in California, there was a law passed where you couldn't smoke in the office. And, that absolutely drove my dad crazy that this was his company he built. And, some government official was telling my dad, you can't smoke in your own office. So, that drove my dad to go outside to smoke. And, so we got him a golf cart and for a whole bunch of years from the eighties, late eighties, nineties until, uh, you know, two months prior to his death where he was here every day, he would be in his golf cart, he'd smoke the cigarettes, he'd drive around and get on the employees who are doing this wrong and make sure they're doing this and doing that. But my dad was always hands-on, always in this yard.
Philip Sacco: Dad was a world traveler. He introduced us to traveling the world and living abroad in Italy as well as traveling throughout the world, which opened up opportunities, uh, to create markets for Sierra Recycling and now Sierra International, which are a worldwide company. So, this is an old snapshot of 1971 of the countries that we were doing business in. But, today in 2019, the whole world has got our blueprint on it now. Um, and that was my father's vision to be worldwide, just not regional and not just in one country in Europe or one country in Africa or Asia. Um, he wanted this to be in every country.
John: Here at Sierra, basically based on my father's visions. You know, we're second generation, there's many scrapyards who are third, fourth, and even fifth generations who are out there today and they understand this – what it is to be a generational business. And you take the best of what you learned from, uh, the people before you, and you apply it and you do the best you can. And, I think that's the success this year. We have a great team and that's all based on my father's, you know, his vision, always wanting to develop better equipment, have the most efficient equipment, but that's the vision of my father, of how he wanted us to be the most efficient, clean, organized yard. And, that's really what creates the success we have here at Sierra today.