Pile of Scrap Ep. 47: The Walk & Talk with Neil Byce - ISRI’s Hidden Victories
As the Co-Chair of ISRI’s Membership Committee and the Chair of the Investment Subcommittee, it’s clear that Neil Byce has a passion for this trade association. John and Neil meet up for a walk-and-talk episode in Washington, DC, to discuss how ISRI has supported their companies to grow into their success by providing education, networking, and advocacy. The two also touch on how recyclers' motivation and endless opportunities benefit from being a for-profit industry.
Watch this episode on YouTube here.
Neil Byce and John Sacco
John Sacco: Well, welcome to another episode of Pile of Scrap – the Walk and Talk. I'm here in Washington, DC with my friend Neil Byce. Where are we? The Smithsonian Gardens?
Neil Byce: I think so. Right on the backside of the Museum of Art, I think.
John: Well, it's a beautiful place. And, so we're here. Neil, thanks for joining me. Neil, you, uh, you are a big – we're here in D.C. for the ISRI Board of Directors meeting and you are a big volunteer, you have a big passion, but tell us a little bit about your business and how you became so passionate about being involved with ISRI.
Neil: Well, it all started – I was – I worked for a small scrap yard that was one of these small dealers that was involved in ISRI and we would go to the ISRI chapter meetings and get to meet much larger fish. And, they literally taught us how to fish. And, as I grew into that, our business grew and we continued being passionate about it because it gave so much to us. It allowed us to grow. We've, we've grown substantially since then from a mom-and-pop yard to having an auto shredder and seven other yards around the State of Minnesota.
John: Your operation has grown quite a bit. And so, you know, you’re involved with ISRI. You are the Co-Chair of the Membership Committee. You are the Chair of the…
Neil: Investment Committee.
John: Investment Committee. Let's talk about the Membership Committee and the drive for membership and tell us about your vision, and where we're going, and why you find it a very important need for ISRI.
Neil: Well, first, it's an honor to serve. I love everything about ISRI. I like being involved. It's an honor to be the Co-Chair of membership. And, one of the initiatives we've taken under during this two-year term is a goal towards getting 1,600 members back in the trade association.
John: You know, when I saw the goal for 1,600, I thought somebody wants to go to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – the White House.
Neil: There were – there were several double entendres that went with that, yes. They were all brought to our attention.
John: So, how are we doing with our membership at ISRI? What's the challenges? What's our success stories right now?
Neil: Yeah, the, you know, membership… We're growing. Brianna and her team have been fantastic in adding members. I think at this point, the goal for 2021 was 300 new members. We're well on our way to over half of that at this point. We're about halfway through the year.
Neil: And, then there's quite a few in the pipeline. As you know, as sales… There's – there’s always leads that you're developing and trying to get closed.
John: What do you find the hardest thing to convince people to join? What is that message you'd like – You know, you're not talking to all these people, but you have a message. Why do people – I know why. I'm a former Chair, but what is your message to these people? And, this is a chance for you to give them this message why you should join ISRI.
Neil: Well… So, first of all, fortunately, I don't have to go sell the membership of ISRI. We have staff that do that because, principally, that's their responsibility. I can tell you why it's great for me as a scrap member. And, that does transition over to them. It, from a staff level, that's what they're selling, but at the same time, that – you know, for the biggest benefit for ISRI for us, is the networking opportunities. And, of course that translates right over into what our staff are out there selling. Networking, yes, advocacy, for sure.
John: Well, you know, that’s, you know, the adv–okay. The networking is undeniable. You know, my involvement as becoming a Chair that – quite frankly, the friendships and the business that I have been able to do with people by being involved is… It's undeniable. But, I think the advocacy part… You know, I think that's the hardest thing to explain to people… How ISRI fights for the member.
Neil: Yeah, truly. And, you know, in the, in the history of scrap, we've been sort of blessed in the past that we haven't had that many huge issues that have arisen that we've had to fight. And, those that we have not been as dramatic as maybe what we might be facing in the future.
John: Well, I think now – Well, look what we're facing now… The environmental justice.
John: I mean, if you don't get on board with ISRI and help ISRI get out in front of this, this is going to consume businesses and it's not a business friendly movement.
John: You know, and I think, you know – So, you're – So, when you're out there, so… You got your soldiers out there. Are you communicating – Who's helping you in the membership? Is it the Chair–chapter presidents? Who's helping you?
Neil: Yes, absolutely. It starts at the grassroots on up. You know, it's a chapter-level legislative issue, it’s a regional issue, it's a local issue, it is all the way up to a national stage. As this continues to flesh itself out, I think it's going to be a bigger issue and especially on a national level.
John: Well, I don't disagree. And so, I'm hoping people that hear this, watch this podcast of this Walk-and-Talk… That they understand that this is the most critical time, if ever, to be part of this trade association. So we – So, as a larger voice – And, what are we? What's our membership now, Neil?
Neil: So, currently we're at about 1,300 members.
John: And, our goal is 1,600?
John: But, even you would say our voice gets louder with the number. 1,600’s a nice number, but wouldn’t 3,000 be much louder?
Neil: Well, sure. Of course.
John: So, how do we get there?
Neil: One bite at a time.
John: How to eat an elephant, right?
Neil: That's exactly right.
John: One bite at a time.
Neil: It's a great analogy. It's – it works for this too, you know?
John: So, with the growth in membership and the success that we've had, you're also now – you're Chairman of the Investment Subcommittee. Tell us a little bit about how we are… ISRI, financially, and some of the things that you're monitoring all the time is as Chair.
Neil: So, one of the focuses of the Investment Committee is always trying to balance how aggressive you want to be versus how conservative you want to be. When you are considering retiring…
Neil: Anybody in this world, right? As you grow older, you mature, you have more things, more assets, your investment strategy tends to change towards the conservative. So, the Investment Subcommittee’s job is to always keep monitoring the temperature of the trade association as to where it is on its pendulum, or growth path.
John: Where are we now? Where are we currently?
Neil: Currently, we are still somewhere in our forties, I guess I would say.
John: Okay, so we’re somewhat aggressive.
Neil: We have a relatively aggressive strategy with a mix of equities versus bonds.
Neil: We are always touching base again back with the Board to try and take the temperature as to where we should be at. But, our strategy has worked for us over time. Some have argued that we should have been less conservative and we would have even more money, some would argue the opposite. But, over time, the strategy has proven itself out to be pretty successful. We've taken what was a meager amount of money and then, through the efforts of yourself and other past leaders of ISRI, you were able to sock away a significant amount of money and then that has grown substantially over time.
John: Well, I think that's why it puts us in the bill–Listen, these fights with environmental justice… These aren't going to be cheap.
Neil: Absolutely not.
John: These are multi-million dollar battles and we need a strong portfolio to have these battles because without it, we're not going to be able to fight it. And, so people understand, “Well, where do you got this money in reserve?” Because we'll, quite frankly – I know this as being a Chair… When we fought the definition of solid waste, we had to spend three quarters of a million dollars and we won that with the EPA. Won it in the respect that they understood our position and they changed it. But, environmental justice is a little bit more militant and it's going to take… I don't know what you think it's going to take, but I think it's going to take millions of dollars.
Neil: It's a substantial amount of money, no argument.
John: So, well, you know what? Good. Your stewardship… and we're strong in that right now. You got an interesting story. You were chapter president twice of your chapter.
Neil: Currently. I am a chapter president again, yes.
Neil: Currently, right.
John: So, you've been recycled again?
Neil: For sure.
John: Nice commitment. Why are you doing that again?
Neil: Well, it's – I – it’s my commitment to the trade association and not only that but just our industry in general. I think it's – I think it's important work that we do at ISRI. Not just on a local chapter basis but we're also very impactful at a national level.
John: Well, do you think, you know, the growth of ISRI membership… Do you believe that, in your chapter alone, because of this movement to grow our membership, we're going to find more leaders so that you don't have to come back to be a chapter president again or are we getting enough leaders in the chapters?
Neil: The hope is obviously that growth fixes a lot of problems that we have. One of those could be leadership. But, every chapter is different, and geographically, every chapter has its own set of challenges. You know, a lot of chapters have faced a lot of mergers and acquisitions and consolidations.
John: Right. Right.
Neil: So, the leadership vacuum continues to grow. And, that is just a reality. Part of that, in essence, is – could be solved through some of the chapter realignments that have been discussed in the latest couple of years.
John: In the chapter realignment… I know this is kind of maybe getting off-topic for people who don't know anything about ISRI, but the chapters or the different regions around the United States that, you know, try to advocate in their local communities, but chapter realignment is making lot bigger chapters like the Gulf Coast Chapter. Super chapters, if you will, and you're going to have my advocate of it. What's your thoughts of it?
Neil: Well, for sure I’m an advocate of it. It’s – as long – the focus is to centralize leadership. It is to create a larger pool of people to provide leadership, to provide agates advocacy at a local level. Even if that means it's regionally, there's still advocacy to be done.
John: One hundred percent.
Neil: Through state associations, you'll be able to create more advocacy opportunities that are specific and targeted in each one of the states inside of those regions. So, the regionalization model makes sense to me and we're, you know – everybody is trying to move towards it.
John: Well, I agree with you. And, I think that's important because not only do – national advocacy, the local advocacy… You know, people always want to, “Why, I don't need to be part of ISRI.” And, they ride our coattails. There's a lot of hard work and a lot of victories being done that a lot of people just know nothing about.
John: You know, do you have an example of a good victory that we've had here of recent that you would want to share? Only because it lets people understand what we're doing.
Neil: Largely, it goes unnoticed, but it probably affects everybody in our industry. And, that's our work that we've done with the STB… Trying to become a recognized pillow –
John: What’s the acronym? STB stands for…
Neil: The Service Transportation Bureau.
John: And, what was the thing we did there?
Neil: Or, is it the Surface Transportation Board? One of those two.
John: Well… Okay. I don't know all the acronyms, but what did we – what did we do there that was a success?
Neil: Well, we have been advocating for our industry to become basically a named commodity so that we can get some exemption status and then it requires them to have some accountability when it comes to demurrage and moving our product back and forth.
John: Well, the demurrage is the costs that us recyclers have to pay for rail cars that are waiting to be unloaded…
Neil: That’s correct, yeah. At no fault of your own.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Neil: Or, even –
John: And/or the unreasonable…
John: …timeframe in which they drop off for rail cars to say, “You have to have them loaded in and out within a 24-area–
John: And, they drop it off at 12 o'clock at night. So, when you show up at work at 6:00 AM, you've already blown six hours out of the 24 hours that –
John: Well, that's great work. And, see? And, this is what people need. It goes, “Well, how does it affect–“ It affects so many people who ship by rail and containers.
Neil: Even if you don't ship by rail. Most dealers are shipping to someone who is consolidating and shipping by rail –
John: Right. Good point.
Neil: Or, processing, or shredding, or whatever the process is. So, that's why I said it affects everyone. Even at the granular level, it's affecting every scrap yard.
John: Well, I agree with that and, I think that's important. Yeah. These are like – I know one… Like, I said this earlier, but when we fought the EPA, it took such an effort by the membership, together collectively – And, if we didn't win that, we would have – the waste haulers would have ended up owning all of our business because we were deemed “waste.” You know, “recyclables are waste.” Recyclables are not waste. Recyclables are a commodity. They have value. Waste is what has no further value.
John: And, so we won that. So, these are victories. That changed – That was 2012. That was a game changer for a decade so far. Here it is, almost… We're nine years later, we're not a waste industry. We are a commodities industry. So, now… Now I'm going to caution you about something. You’re Chapter President twice, Co-Chair of Membership, Investment Subcommittee… You know, they're going to want you to be an officer if you keep raising your hand to volunteer because they found a sucker who's going to work.
Neil: Hey. I know you don't look at it that way.
John: Of course, I was the Chairman. How am I gonna look at it that way? I always got – I always – I was told that, “John, you obviously raised your hand. I told you not to raise your hand,” but…
John: But, you’re not – you –
Neil: Look, I'm generally the first one with my hand up. So, if I was called upon to serve, of course, I would be honored. It would be an honor to serve the trade association at some other level.
John: Well… You obviously are the, you know, part of the new group of, at my age – Look, I'm past – I've been past Chair. I've been on beyond that and it's people like you with the enthusiasm that want to volunteer and that have companies behind you that literally support your effort because they realize there's a win for your company if you have –
John: My dad told me this interesting story. Back in 2000… Oh, gosh. In 2001, when I was asked to run for Secretary of Treasurer, I asked my dad, I go, “I don't know, Dad, if I have the time,” and he says, “What are you? Crazy?” He says, “If you become an officer, you become with the people who are in the know. And, that's power – that knowledge is power.” And, I can say he was right. I was blessed to become a Secretary of Treasurer and then moved up to Chair. But, what I learned about stormwater, what I learned about the environmental impacts that we could do at Sierra to make our operation cleaner, safer has saved our company a tolls amount of money in a lot of different ways. So, you know, if you get that chance, I hope you take that opportunity, Neil, because you will be a better business. And, the trade association obviously is going to be better with a guy like you. You're involved. You like this stuff. And, I don't have a problem with that.
John: Well, good. Well, I think that's great. So, what do you want to – So, somebody… Here we are. We're coming – we've been talking for awhile, but what is – what do you – what do people need to know about Neil Byce and your involvement? What – tell somebody – tell us something about you that people wouldn't know when it comes to this industry?
Neil: Something that they wouldn't know? Boy, that’s a tough question.
John: But no, seriously. Somebody's got to get to know you. What do they need to know about Neil Byce?
Neil: You caught me off-guard, John. I'm trying to – I'm trying to really –
John: Well, that’s not my job to catch you off–
Neil: I'm not – I'm not usually soft-spoken. I'm generally an outspoken person, but… Sorry for the awkward pause.
John: No, there's no awkward – you know, I think that's humility.
John: And, I think that that's a big attribute to the fact that you're humble enough to not say, “Oh, gee,” you know? You're not self-centered to say, “Oh, I–” you know, “this about me.” You’re just doing this because this is a passion of yours.
Neil: It’s important.
Neil: And, if it's not important to me, who is it important to? I have to make sure that, you know, my industry is protected, my livelihood is protected, my family is fed…
Neil: And I take care of everybody that I can take care of. Families that are, you know, count on me for a living.
John: Well, think about the amount of employees… How many employees do you have in your company?
Neil: Too many now. And, I say that with a bit of a grain of salt. I mean, it is – Growth is tough. Growth is tough.
John: Well, we have it – Sierra, we have over 150 employees. Well, I always feel – my brother and I feel that our responsibility is to those families.
Neil: First and foremost.
John: And, with our knowledge that we gained from being involved with ISRI, our employees have kept their jobs during COVID.
John: We survived the pandemic because we are essential. So, you know, I think that's important.
John: And, you serve a lot of employees.
Neil: You asked for a victory and there's another great victory that you just mentioned. The fact that ISRI worked so diligently to become – to be determined essential. One of our –– that our industry has – was determined to be essential during COVID.
John: Well, essential because our products supply the consumers to make new packaging…
John: New steel, aluminum, copper… I mean, for all the medical devices out there. Without recycled metals, you wouldn't it.
Neil: Thousands of consumer products. Not only that, but medical products…
John: The packaging for food. I mean, it's incredible. People don't really realize that the recycling industry outside of the blue bin…
John: …supplies the raw materials for consumers for the steel mills, paper mills…
Neil: It's integral.
John: Yeah. And, without us, truly, the – you know, we're a for-profit industry, you know? We are a profit-motivated… But, that profit creates innovation and that profit creates more opportunities. And, it's really delivered, in my opinion, a better, safer world to live in because of what we do.
John: And so, you know, that's it. Well, Neil, listen, thank you for joining me on this Walk and Talk on this beautiful day here in D.C. It's a little on the warmer side.
Neil: It’s a little hot.
John: Not as hot as –
Neil: I'm starting to perspire. Not because you're making me nervous, just
John: I think I made you nervous.
Neil: It's probably a 100 degrees-feeling right now in the Sun.
John: Well, Neil, my friend.
Neil: Thank you, John.
John: Thank you so much, brother. God bless you, man.
Neil: You, too.
John: And, keep up the good work and let's have some fun in D.C. this week.
Neil: Thank you.
Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.