Past President Interview: Sandy Rosen
Q & A PSI Retrospective: Sandy Rosen
Q: How did you enter the paper recycling business?
A: My family owned a paper recycling company named Great Lakes Paper Stock Corp. as well as a metal recycling business named Rosen & Sons. I always worked in the family business after school and during summers. When I dropped out of pre-med at Wayne State University, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, so I decided to work in our metal recycling business. I thought it would be a temporary job, but I never left.
I joined the family business full time in January 1985. I was hired as a painter because there were some areas of the plant that needed painting. It turned out to be too cold to paint at the time, so I started working in the plant, and that paint job is still waiting to be done to this day. Later, I went back to college and earned an undergrad degree in computer science and an MBA from Michigan State University.
Q: Are you still actively involved in the business?
A: I’m not essential to the business anymore. We have three businesses now—scrap metal and cars, electronic scrap, and nonmetallic brokerage. I’m a consultant to the metal business and basically a director in the other two businesses. I meet with the operating partner of the e-scrap business to monitor how things are going, and I do some special projects in the trading business. I try to get into the office every day, and I work an average of 20 to 25 hours a week.
Q: How do you fill your other hours?
A: I’ve been planning travel, and I’ve been doing some commercial real estate work.
Q: What keeps you interested and engaged in the recycling industry? I still enjoy doing it, and the team likes tapping into my experience. I don’t see myself walking away completely. I think I’ll always be involved to some degree, but I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m indispensable. I now have a very long leash. I enjoy having stuff to do, but if I wanted to go away for six months, the business would be fine.
Q: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the business over your career?
A: The customers have become more educated about the recycling business. Sometimes the customers seem to know more about the business than the people in the business.
I also saw the evolution of single-stream recycling programs—we were the pioneer of single stream in Michigan—and unfortunately I also saw the quality of the recovered material declining during the time I was in that business. Trying to make a good-quality recyclable product out of what was coming in the door became more and more difficult.
Q: What do you like and dislike about the business today?
A: I love that it’s a business where you can go home, look in the mirror, and say, “I changed the world.” Everything you recycle, no matter how small, is a positive for the environment. So I love that you can do something that’s positive and—hopefully—make a profit at it.
I dislike that there are unscrupulous people in this business who make the whole industry look bad. I also dislike the reliance on cash transactions, especially in the metal recycling business. That’s a big headache, and I wish no one did it. And I dislike when we recyclers try too hard to do good to the point where we end up doing bad—as in boosting the quantity of collected material in single-stream programs but reducing the quality of the material in the process. In an effort to stretch the amount of material you’re recycling by a few percent, you wind up spoiling the whole load.
Q: What are the defining memories from your term as PSI Chapter President?
A: I felt I played a role in reviving the standalone PSI Chapter events. PSI hadn’t held a standalone event for a few years when I became president, and I encouraged the chapter to hold its own Specifications Summit, first in Dallas, then in New Orleans. I felt PSI needed to have its own event in addition to participating with other conferences.
Q: What were the challenges and rewards of serving as PSI Chapter President?
A: Getting members to agree on specification changes was one of the biggest challenges. Everybody agrees the specifications aren’t accurate and need to change, but almost no one can agree on what they should be amended to say.
My two-year term as PSI President was more of a demand on my time than I expected, but I also was blessed with a strong team at my company, so I could dedicate the time needed. I think of my PSI term fondly and still feel incredibly grateful for the other PSI board members and ISRI staff. I can’t thank them enough for their support.
Q: What advice would you offer to the new generation entering the recycling industry and ISRI/PSI?
A: I’d tell them not to be afraid of the time commitment. People say they don’t have time, but I’d say if you just make a little time here and there, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish in 20 minutes a day. Also, the camaraderie and the potential to accomplish great things is there if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves. If everybody just chips in a little, it’s amazing what you can accomplish