Past President Interview: Johnny Gold
Q & A PSI Retrospective: Johnny Gold
Q: Are you still actively involved in the paper recycling/brokerage business?
A: Most of the time I’m consulting, helping fix companies’ problems and issues, advocating for the industry, or doing national speaking engagements. From time to time I also broker recovered paper, and I serve on the advisory board of two companies. One of those companies—Smart Planet Technologies—produces a 100% recyclable, repulpable coating called EarthCoating that replaces poly coating. It can be used by all types of paper mills and reacts just like uncoated.
Q: What keeps you interested and engaged in the paper recycling/brokerage industry?
A: I love the industry. It’s in my blood as I’m a third-generation paper recycler. My grandfather started North Shore Waste Paper Co. in Salem, Mass., and my dad expanded the company. In the mid-1960s, we were only the second U.S. company to own and operate an automatic horizontal baler from American Baler. My dad passed away when I was 18, just two years after he sold the company to The Newark Group. When I was 21, after graduating from the University of New Hampshire, I ran into Ed Mullen, founder and CEO of The Newark Group, at the airport in Boston. He invited me to join the company, but he said I’d have to work for two years on the 6 a.m. shift at the company’s paperboard mill in Haverhill, Mass. I worked in every department and received a great education on papermaking.
Q: Describe your typical workday activities. I speak daily to many friends and companies that are my consulting clients. If a good brokerage deal comes in, I may jump on it. In the spring, from mid-March to mid-June, I usually coach high school fast-pitch varsity softball, but this was the first time in 20 years that I wasn’t on the field even one day due to COVID-19.
Q: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the business over your career?
A: We used to have a landline phone glued to our ears 12 hours a day. Then came faxes, emails, texts—and all of a sudden no one was talking, just reading. We then had major mergers, acquisitions, and rationalization among paper mills. Our exporting partners changed. In the beginning, the main players were France, Spain, and Italy in Europe and Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in Asia. Those countries gradually recovered more paper internally and were no longer the big customers. Beginning in the mid-1990s, China became the key consumer and stayed that way for the next 20 years. Unfortunately, by 2021, we may not be exporting any scrap paper to China.
Q: What do you like and dislike about the business today?
A: The industry has changed greatly. Quality was drilled into our heads, and it was all about producing high-quality material. Then along came the MRFs, and it became very difficult to unscramble a scrambled egg. Single stream completely sank the industry and put us in the mess we find ourselves in today.
Q: What are the defining memories from your term as PSI Chapter President?
A: It was very short-lived—about 48 hours. Right after taking office, ISRI asked if I’d take over its division that covered paper—then called the Nonmetallics Division—and I said I would if it would help the association. I then passed my PSI presidency to Wayne DiCastri of Pioneer Fibers in Minneapolis.
Q: What issues were most important to you during your ISRI and PSI service?
A: Building membership and uniting the industry. We worked to make sure ISRI was seen as the voice of the recycling industry and preached quality over quantity. Our efforts required us to work with elected leaders in Congress, and I even spoke at congressional hearings on two occasions.
Q: What were the challenges and rewards of serving in ISRI and PSI?
A: It was rewarding meeting so many new people, expanding friendships, and having a great time along the way. We were a young group back then, and we had so much fun together, though our philosophy was to work first and then play. I made lifelong friends who are like family to me—people like the late Phil Alpert of National Fiber Supply, Bobby Kilburg Jr. of The Paper Tigers, Dave Goodman of Northstar Pulp & Paper, Stuart Lurie of Wilmington Paper Corp., Jan Lambert of First Fiber Corp., Nini Krever of Traders International Corp., Shawn Lavin of Pioneer Industries International, and Ed Tucciarone of Graphic Packaging International, just to name a few. Years later, I also built a great friendship with Myles Cohen of Pratt Industries.
Q: What advice would you give the new generation entering the paper recycling industry and ISRI/PSI?
A: Listen, learn, spend time at the paper mills, start at the bottom, and work your way up spending plenty of time in the scrap paper plants. Work your tail off and be flexible because things in our industry can change in two seconds