Past President Interview: Crawford Carpenter
Q & A PSI Retrospective: Crawford Carpenter
Q: Are you still actively involved in the paper recycling business?
A: I retired two years ago at 73. Now, I get up pretty early—I don’t like sleeping in—and I do some fitness activities first, usually cycling or tennis. I normally practice or play tennis three to four days a week. I’m even on a traveling competitive tennis team. Aside from fitness, I read a lot, and I enjoy a fair amount of family time. Most important, I follow my wife’s orders, and I now drive her to an ungodly number of places! What is so neat about retirement is that I have no deadlines, and I can literally do whatever I want to do when I want to do it.
Q: What were the most significant changes in the paper recycling business over your career?
A: I’d say social media and electronic commerce—including online bids—were the biggest ones. I think those technologies caused a movement away from the personal touch and building relationships with customers and suppliers. It appears that everyone today just wants you to send them an e-mail or a text, as if talking could be dangerous!
Other big changes came with the increased mergers and acquisitions in the business, and private equity involvement in our industry. I experienced this trend firsthand when a private equity firm bought The Newark Group, my employer at the time, and then sold it to Caraustar, which itself was just acquired by Greif.
The growth of single-stream collection was another big change, one that raised a lot of new concerns about the quality of recovered fiber. When many communities shifted to single stream, they had real difficulties meeting mills’ quality standards.
And then there was the emergence of China as a tremendous export market and, eventually, the major player in the global paper recycling market. China’s influence had a lot to do with forming and framing the domestic market, although that may have changed a bit in recent years.
Q: What are the defining memories from your term as PSI Chapter President?
A: I recall that we had a tremendous surge in PSI membership and a consistent growth pattern, which was good. I also think the chapter made great strides in gaining a meaningful voice and a higher profile within ISRI. And during my term I really tried to encourage women to get involved in the chapter. Some of the ones I encouraged are still involved now.
After my PSI presidency, I led the ISRI Recycling Research Foundation and headed up the PSI Scholarship Committee, which I found incredibly meaningful and rewarding because our work could have such a positive impact on students’ lives. The most gratifying experience was when I was able to call the scholarship winners personally at their homes. To hear the excitement in the students’ voices on the other end of the line—there’s nothing better than that
Q: What were the challenges and rewards of serving as PSI Chapter President?
A: The position was very time consuming, we were always under pressure to grow our membership base, and we had to work hard to ensure that PSI had an enhanced voice within ISRI. I believe we accomplished those goals. Those were some of the challenges, but the rewards included being able to interact with so many people within our industry from across the country and the world. I also enjoyed meeting and learning about the vendors who exhibited at PSI’s annual meeting, which the chapter used to hold in the fall. What a way to connect with those who provided ancillary service to our industry.
Q: What advice would you offer the new generation entering the paper recycling and ISRI/PSI?
A:Put down your electronic devices and talk with your customers and colleagues. I know we’re in the electronic and social media world, and I know you have to understand and use modern technologies, but you’d better do more talking than tweeting and texting. I firmly believe when you talk with somebody, you can process an issue a little better and get to the meat of a particular topic.
I’d also advise them to get involved in the industry associations. I absolutely loved my participation in the PSI Chapter and ISRI. If I hadn’t been involved in PSI and ISRI, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful people not only in paper, but also in metals, tires, and electronics. And not only will you meet amazing people, you’ll make great business and personal contacts along the way. Finally, there were “characters” you will never forget!