Profiles in Paper: Morris Friedman
Q & A Interview with MORRIS FRIEDMAN
Q: When and how did you enter the paper recycling industry?
A: I grew up in the scrap business. My father Abe and his brother Marty started a scrap business—City Iron and Wastepaper—in Lorain, Ohio, in the mid-to-late-1950s in the back yard of their house. They became one of the largest dealers in the region until they sold the business in 1974. My family moved to Phoenix that year in hopes that the clean desert air would help my father’s asthma. In 1977 my father started Friedman Recycling as a small neighborhood buyback center for ONP and OCC. My brother David and I spent our summers growing up at the plant, helping our dad. After graduating college in 1989, I planned to enter the corporate world to gain experience I could bring back to my dad’s small entrepreneurial recycling company. But shortly after my graduation, my dad suffered a severe heart attack and had to undergo bypass surgery. Not knowing what the future would bring, I decided to join the family company right away, and I’m still here 30 years later.
Q: What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it?
A: There are certain memories from my childhood that had a profound impact on my life. My parents would always tell us—my brother, three sisters, and me—that “life is not easy,” “no one owes you a living,” and “nothing in life is free.” While those statements are all true, I had no idea they were foreshadowing my life as a recycling professional. I’ve built a career in this industry because I love it, because it is not a “normal” business, and because every day is different. This business forces me to be creative and push the envelope, from processing in the plants to marketing commodities worldwide.
Q: What have been your most rewarding professional achievements? Personal achievements?
A: My biggest personal achievement is marrying my wife and building our family with our four children. Their unconditional love and support allow me to pursue my professional achievements. My most rewarding professional achievement has been the ability to grow our company. My brother and I have taken the company from a local operator to a regional player, with five operations in three states and over 280 team members.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: I have always been passionate about life and having fun, but my newer passion has highlighted the importance of the former. Four years ago my son Yehuda was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I’m now a member of the board of JDRF [formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation], a nonprofit organization that supports and funds research to find a cure. So my primary passion now is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Given the state of the industry in the past few years, free time is a rare commodity. I most enjoy spending time with my family. I have two boys who play hockey, so I enjoy going to their games. I have a daughter who dances, so I enjoy watching her perform. And I have another daughter who sings and plays guitar, so I enjoy her music.
Q: When and why did your company decide to join the PSI Chapter?
A: Friedman Recycling has been a member of PSI ever since I can remember. I recall attending PSI meetings and conventions with my parents as a teenager. I also have vivid memories of my parents hosting cocktail parties in our home whenever PSI held meetings in Phoenix. My brother and I carry on the friendships and the business relationships our father forged at those events in the past.
Q: Have you held any volunteer leadership positions within PSI? If so, what benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?
A: I have been—and continue to be—a member of the PSI Chapter board. I also am an active PSI member because the chapter is vital to the integrity and stability of the paper recycling industry. The chapter’s relevance has never been more evident than in recent years. PSI and ISRI took the lead in the wake of the “China crisis” to update, redefine, and emerge as the global leader in grade specifications. Their work has been the driving force behind finding solutions to the many challenges facing the recycling industry today.
Q: What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall paper recycling industry today?
A: One major challenge is that forces outside our industry are influencing commodity prices and our access to sustainable markets—influences such as government intervention, which can dramatically affect the cost of doing business. Given the uncertainty in today’s global economy and the heavy impact of government intrusion, both foreign and domestic, the cost to process a ton of paper today is not the same as it was last week or what it will be tomorrow. Over the past two years, price erosion, rationed allocations, idealistic quality demands, and access to markets have all been artificially manipulated by influences not directly related to the recycling markets. Still, the recycling industry is strong. There is high demand for many types of recyclable commodities worldwide. The new challenge in filling this demand is how to adjust to the ever-moving targets of price, quality, and quantity.