Profiles in Paper: Jim Keefe
Q & A Interview with JIM KEEFE
Q: When and how did you start working with the paper recycling industry?
A: I began at GIE Media in September 1991. The first project I worked on was the possible launch of a magazine to be called Paper Recycling Markets. GIE’s founder, Richard Foster, believed there was an opportunity to produce a publication to serve Fortune 1000 environmental managers who were dealing with the development of recycling and the early stages of corporate sustainability.
After three months of research I wrote a report saying the idea would not work and was not financially viable. I knew nothing about the recycling industry and nothing about publishing. Amazingly, he didn’t fire me, and we didn’t launch the magazine.
Following that I started selling advertising for GIE’s Fibre Market News and Paper Recycling Markets Directory (formerly the Paper Stock Directory). I also had a very small Recycling Today sales territory. I primarily called on paper stock dealers in the New York and New Jersey markets, with some national accounts. That’s where I learned the business.
Within three years I was running GIE’s recycling business. Richard threw me into the deep end of the pool. I had no idea what I was doing. I was fortunate to have his guiding hand as well as many industry mentors, including icons like Stan Litman, Nini Krever, Ben Sacco, Floyd Tuominen, and Pieter van Dijk, among others.
Q: What was it about the recycling industry that prompted you to devote part of your publishing career to it?
A: It gets in your blood. I’ve always found the recycling industry fascinating. The alchemy of it—the turning one person’s waste into another’s treasure—as well as its science, economic, and global trade aspects. It’s an interesting business if you’re willing to learn. Of course, I also value the people. Relationships matter in this industry, which isn’t true in all industries. Your word, your commitment to a deal still count in this business.
Q: What have been your most rewarding professional achievements?
A: One professional highlight has been building the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference, which celebrated its 20th year in 2019. We’ve offered a similar event in Europe since 2005, and more recently we’ve held the same type of conferences in China, India and the Middle East. I’ve also found it rewarding to work with our great team at GIE. Our team has been together a long time, and I feel fortunate to work with such talented colleagues.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: My family—my wife and my boys.
Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
A: I’m not really a people person. In my job I have to be, but I’m happiest and most comfortable at home with my family and our dogs.
Q: If you could improve anything about yourself, what would it be?
A: I wish I were a better conversationalist. I’ve also always wished I learned to play an instrument.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I love learning. Two favorite areas for me are wine and history–when I’m not still learning about the recycling industry, of course. I also love spending time with my family.
Q: When and why did your company decide to join ISRI and the PSI Chapter as an Associate member?
A: For as long as I’ve worked at GIE, the company has been a member of ISRI and PSI. Those memberships have created countless opportunities to learn about the industry and meet industry managers, executives and owners. It’s been a great experience.
Q: In which volunteer leadership positions have you served within PSI?
A: I’m currently serving as a PSI board member and have worked over the years to assist with the chapter’s communications efforts and event planning.
Q: What benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?
A: Too many to count, but the networking and the learning are the primary benefits.
Q: In your view, what are the major challenges facing recycling companies—and the paper recycling sector, in particular—today?
A: A major challenge is the increasing complexity of the industry, including changes in material science and packaging as well as the evolving business model. This industry isn’t as simple as it used to be, and that trend will continue. The equipment in this industry also has become much more involved and complex. A sorting system used to be a conveyor. Now it’s robots, optical sorters and artificial intelligence. The markets in general also are more complex. It’s no longer just the paper mill across town; it may be one across the globe.