Exclusive Q&A: Stuart Lurie, Wilmington Paper Corp.

Exclusive Q&A: Stuart Lurie, Wilmington Paper Corp.

Recycling Today Media Group Associate Editor Megan Workman sits down with the CEO of the May 2017 cover story for an exclusive Q&A.

May 8, 2017
Megan Workman
Paper

Pictured above, from left: Stuart Lurie, CEO of Wilmington Paper Corp.,
with his sons Brett and Josh Lurie. Photo by George Kamper

In 2017, Wilmington Paper Corp. (WPC), profiled in the May 2017 issue of Recycling Today, celebrates 40 years of setting up its Recycling Management Program at folding carton and converting plants throughout the country and across the globe. The Pine Brook, New Jersey-based company also performs waste audits, works with businesses on landfill diversion and zero-waste goals and offers secure document destruction, logistics and all-around recycling services.

Harvey Lurie started WPC in 1977, with his son Stuart joining the business six months after its inception. At first the company mainly served the New York metropolitan tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In the following Q&A, Stuart shares his perspective on the paper industry and explains how WPC has remained in business for four decades. By setting itself apart from its competition, WPC takes what its clients once considered byproducts and creates new revenue streams for them.

Recycling Today (RT): What lessons have you learned about the industry that have helped you over the last 40 years?

Stuart Lurie (SL): No. 1, we have to figure out how to create value for our suppliers and our customers every day. We can’t just be close with them; we have to create value for them. The industry changes so frequently with consolidations that if you’re not creating significant value—bottom-line value—then you probably won’t be there anymore.

The other thing that I would mention is I think it’s very important for the next generation [to understand the importance of creating value] because me and my father were really the first generation together. We started at the same time, only about six months apart, and the next generation coming up has to figure its way to create value, not just sharing the value or the story of what already exists.

To me those are the two most important things.

RT: How have you seen paper recycling change over the years?

SL: I think that when we started back in 1977/78 the concept at an industrial packaging facility was get the scrap out of here. Just get it out. They couldn’t care [less]. Landfill costs were insignificant, value received for the fiber was very, very low; so, they said just get it out. Through the years this has become a business, a profit center for packaging companies that have waste paper as a byproduct of their operations. And they’re treating it as such. When you look at the major paper companies today, this is a business. And one they give an enormous amount of time and attention to.

RT: Tell me about Wilmington’s brokerage side of the business and why that has been a source of growth for the company.

SL: When we started our business, we focused on setting up our Recycling Management Program at industrial packaging facilities. That’s what I did. My father used to always ask me, “Stuart, how come you’re not trading? You know all these people, and you’re not trading.” And I’d say, “Because I’m not a trader, it’s not what I do.”

What I do is I will go into facilities and I try to create value through procedures, through our program at the facilities. Brett and Philip and the trading department at Wilmington Paper are incredible traders. That is what they do naturally. They see the opportunities. They’re very quick to understand the markets. We pay very quickly to our suppliers, we sell exactly what we have and represent it properly so we have credibility in the marketplace, and this is what I think it takes to be a good trader.

Everybody in our company is long term. My right-hand man James Rokuson has been with us for over 35 years. …

Everything is the program. … That’s what we do. We create procedures and structures to handle secondary fiber in a folding carton or converting facility. …

It can hurt us if the company doing the buying is someone we don’t work with and isn’t interested in that value. That happens.

It can only be beneficial if what we’re doing is creating value every day. The most important thing I ever heard at a conference is someone say, ‘You must differentiate, not be different. You don’t need to wear purple; what you need to do is differentiate yourself and your company from what other companies can do, and our program allows us to differentiate, to provide something no one else can do. They can say they do it, but they don’t do. This is what we do do.

RT: Where do you see opportunities and challenges in paper recycling?

SL: The challenge is certainly the consolidation in the industry. As the industry shrinks, we want to make sure we’re creating more value than anyone else so we can be standing, so to speak. The opportunity is to be that person. If, at any time, we get lazy and don’t stay on the forefront of technology, don’t stay on the forefront of marketplace, of how to pay people faster, how to transmit information to them more quickly, how to handle their landfill reduction, how to do zero landfill—if we don’t know how to do all of these things, then we will have lost our opportunity to differentiate and be special.