PSI Past President Interview: Ben Harvey
Q & A PSI Retrospective: Ben Harvey
Q: Are you still actively involved in the paper recycling business?
A: Yes. I graduated from college in 1971 and have worked in my family’s company ever since, currently serving as president. Our company had three employees when I joined, and it now has 350 employees. How did that happen? I can’t complain because this business has been very good to me and my family.
Q: What is your current company?
A: E.L. Harvey & Sons Inc. (Westborough, Mass.)
Q: What keeps you interested in the industry?
A: The relationships are my favorite aspect of this industry, knowing that at any time and for any reason I can call an industry colleague for help, information, or advice. This definitely is a relationship-based business, and I enjoy the connections I’ve established over the years. I also enjoy that this business presents different challenges every day. It’s not like Groundhog Day. You don’t know what adventures are going to come at you. And I like the challenge of thinking about the big picture, figuring out where the industry is heading and what’s going to be the next big development.
Q: How did your career develop over your almost five decades in the business?
A: I’ve worked in virtually every position in our family business, so you could say my career has taken many job paths even though I’ve worked for the same company. I’ve appreciated and learned from them all. When I worked in operations, the goal was to figure out how to streamline each activity and implement the best technology so we could operate as efficiently and successfully in down markets as in up markets. As president, I look at the bigger picture, but the focus still is on what will improve our operations and overall company to make sure they are well-run and profitable. I might not look at every detail now, but it’s the same task of working every day to keep this snowball growing and rolling along.
Q: Describe your typical workday activities.
A: I’m not in the office at the crack of dawn anymore, but I’ll still be here at 5:30 p.m., when necessary. I think it’s extremely important to let our team know that we—the Harvey family members in the business—are here putting in the time. We’re working to make decisions that will benefit them and their families. Day to day, I deal with a lot of the brokers who buy our recyclables. I sit in on management meetings to offer advice or guidance, as needed. I work with the government regulators in our region and state. I also get called on to be a spokesman for our company and our industry, which I enjoy. And I sit on the boards of several recycling and environmental associations. So my days are a combination of everything.
Q: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the business in your career?
A: When I was growing up in the business, it was common to deal with multiple mills and end-users that were local or regional. Then, as those smaller buyers shut down, we had to keep going farther and farther to sell our paper to larger, more consolidated, more international consumers. But the technological advances—both in our equipment and in our way of communicating—probably have been the most significant changes. In just one example, we’ve gone from two-way radios in our trucks to tablets that communicate back to the home computer at all times.
Q: What do you dislike about the business today?
A: I think regulators could listen to our industry a lot more. I’ve tried to preach that we’re partners, we need to work together, and if they hammer our industry, they’re not doing anybody any good. If they impose rules that don’t increase collection and reduce contamination in the recycling stream, that’s not helping any of us. I know they’re trying to do their jobs, but they don’t always see the whole picture. We’re not trying to fight them, we’re trying to make recycling happen, but we need to be allowed to do it in the best way so we have a marketable product at the end of the day.
Q: What was most rewarding aspect from your term as PSI Chapter President?
A: I enjoyed getting to know other ISRI volunteer leaders from different parts of the country, even if they weren’t in the paper recycling business. As a chapter president, I sat on the national ISRI board of directors, and I found it extremely interesting and valuable to learn about the issues that other recyclers experienced. As much as we handle different commodities, we deal with many similar problems, and I enjoyed learning from the others and working together to solve the problems we all faced.
Q: What other highlights do you recall from your PSI or ISRI leadership service?
A: One of my fondest memories goes back to my nomination to run for the national ISRI office of secretary/treasurer in 2008. It was an honor that my ISRI peers in all recycling sectors felt strong enough about my abilities that they nominated me, even if I ultimately didn’t win. Just being nominated was a pretty special feeling.
Q: What advice would you offer the new generation entering the paper recycling and ISRI/PSI?
A:First, I’d tell them that the key to success is being able to adapt to changes in the marketplace. I’d also stress the importance of staying abreast of what’s happening in the business and not to think that somebody else will fight their battles or solve their issues for them. I’d note that there’s no right way or wrong way to do any of this stuff, so they need to pick the best way for them. Part of that is to participate in the industry, its associations, and its events. That’s how you learn, how you establish relationships, and what will make you a success at the end of the day.