Past President Interview: Kevin Duncombe
Q & A PSI Retrospective: Kevin Duncombe
Q: How did you enter the paper recycling/brokerage business?
A: I got into this business a bit unexpectedly. I was finishing up my master’s degree in business, and I took a job as an accountant at a box company. It was at a time when technology was just starting to take hold in offices, and I took a manual accounting system and put it online, basically cutting my job down to a few days a week. The owner asked if I wanted to try buying and selling used boxes. I said yes and ended up enjoying that job more than the accounting position. That led to a relationship with a scrap company that eventually hired me to do the same accounting system upgrade and trade paper as well. It seems like yesterday, but I am still doing it, now approaching my 30th year as president of Western Pacific.
Q: What keeps you interested and engaged in the paper recycling/brokerage industry?
A: Though I am responsible for the overall organization, I still do much of the buying and selling, which interests me the most. The daily changes and challenges keep my job interesting. However, I would not mind if we have an extended, less-interesting period ahead with fewer challenges and changes!
Q: Describe your typical workday activities.
A: Typically during the day I try to talk to my key people, walk the plant to make sure we have tons flowing, and then tackle my to-do list, which seems to roll over more than I want it to from day to day. I try to talk to as many people as possible to make sure I am up on the market and get as much information as I can to help us plan our next month.
Q: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the business over your career?
A: When I started, China was not a force in the market, so we had to travel more and work harder to find the customers for whatever grades we generated. Once China came into the picture, that all changed, and the selling part became easier, so we focused on the buying side of our business and building long-term supplier partnerships. The last couple of years have brought about the most change we have seen in decades, with China pushing back and many scrap grades becoming difficult to move. Other significant changes have occurred in the transportation and legislative arenas, particularly here in California. Those changes have made it much more difficult to manage our business.
Q: What do you like and dislike about the business today?
A: I enjoy the people I work with, talk to, and trade with the most. No matter how our business has changed, I feel it is still one of relationships, and that feature remains the most enjoyable part of the business. What I dislike is having so many factors out of our control that we have to deal with these days, from changes at the ports to government and political issues that affect our business.
Q: What are the defining memories from your term as PSI Chapter President? What were the challenges and rewards of serving in that position?
A: I enjoyed my term as PSI president, which happened at a time when some of the challenges mentioned above were starting, which affected PSI’s ability to get members involved, among other obstacles. It was a time when we pulled together, established relationships with other organizations to continue moving PSI forward, and adjusting to the changing environment of our industry. Making those connections and getting everyone on the same page was the most rewarding.
Q: What advice would you offer to the new generation entering the paper recycling/brokerage industry and ISRI/PSI?
A: My advice would be to get involved early and listen to those with experience. I started attending local association meetings and ISRI/PSI events when I didn’t know what was going on, and I learned a lot and made many lifelong relationships. There are so many smart people at ISRI/PSI, and I have always felt they are eager to teach and help others. There is no such thing as a dumb question, so don’t be afraid to ask!