Profiles in Paper: Ron Novas
Q & A Interview with RON NOVAS
Q: When and how did you enter the paper recycling industry?
A: I started working with my grandfather, Roy Kopstein, at his paper plant—Miami Waste Paper—in high school on Saturdays and during summers for some spending money. I did everything along with my two brothers, Robert and David, from sweeping, cleaning newspaper, and loading trucks to eventually driving the semi-trucks to pick up trailerloads of cardboard. I continued to work there during summers when I was in college.
After college, I entered public accounting and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers for five years. My work there exposed me to various industries and companies. I eventually took jobs in the cruise-line industry with Royal Caribbean, then I joined Norwegian Cruise Line as Director of Internal Audit.
In 2004, my grandfather passed away, so I took a leave of absence from NCL to help out with the family business. That three-month leave became a permanent career change, and I joined my brothers in the business.
Q: What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it?
A: After being thrust into a new career, new industry, and new role without any recent hands-on experience, you just roll up your sleeves and get to work. I learned from the vast knowledge base within Miami Waste Paper, as well as from our suppliers and vendors and from studying the market. Miami is primarily an export market, so that’s where most of our material goes.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: I’m passionate about college football and the University of Miami Hurricanes, in particular. I’m certainly the ring leader in setting up and planning the tailgate parties for the home games.
The Miami Dolphins also are very dear to me, but the team has been average for way too long now. And I enjoy playing golf and following the PGA tour.
Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
A: I ran three full marathons in 2001-2002—the Pittsburgh Marathon (with my dad), the New York City Marathon after 9/11 (very emotional), and the Disney marathon. After retiring from marathons, I became a volunteer half-marathon group leader and trained annually with about 20 to 25 people for the Miami Half Marathon. I led that group for about 12 years. I was the loudest one around, so they just followed my lead.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: My wife and I lead a fairly active lifestyle. I probably attend a boot camp or hit the gym five days per week. I try to play golf on a weekly basis during the summer months, taking advantage of the extra daylight.
Q: When and why did your company decide to join ISRI and the PSI Chapter?
A: George Chen [of G&T Trading International Corp.], period, full stop. When I joined Miami Waste Paper in 2004, I didn’t know PSI existed, but I knew I had to reach out to customers and learn about the industry and how it functions. George was a great salesman. He had a great story about how he began in the business and how my grandfather gave him a shot and sold him some OCC. This led to years of continuous sales of recovered fiber to him every month since that first order. “Trust me,” he would say, “I’ll introduce you to the industry leaders.” So my company joined PSI, and I started attending the conferences, learning and networking.
Q: What benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?
A: Although I have not held any volunteer leadership positions in PSI, my involvement in the chapter has been an invaluable way to learn, network, and be exposed to the industry. In addition, being a small operator in a big industry, I felt that PSI had my back and was looking out for my interests as much as it was looking out for the interests of the industry leaders. PSI maintains the industry standards under which we operate, be it domestic or export. PSI champions the industry’s cause and has a voice in the conversations with politicians and international regulators.
Finally, PSI membership says something positive about its members—a gold seal, if you will. It says we operate our business with integrity. We are an honest and reasonable company to work with. Not everyone will like the way we do business or a particular deal, but we are going to be forthright and up front with you.
Q: What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall paper recycling industry today?
A: Miami is an export market, so the obvious challenge for us and the industry relates to trade with China and the ripple effects caused by various efforts to clean up the recycling steam and China’s recent scale-back and planned elimination of imported paper in a few years.
We’ve had to retrain our suppliers about what material is acceptable and the long list of items that are now prohibited. We’ve had to charge back for contaminants in loads, which is never well received, but it’s part of the retraining process. We’ve increased our cleaning efforts, which is very time-consuming and costly.
The reduced movement to China has resulted in an abundance of OCC, which has driven prices down even further. Moving material is key these days, so you often take what you can get. We’re eager for the markets to stabilize.