Feels like family

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Family-owned CompuCycle says keeping people close and strengthening relationships has helped the business thrive for nearly 25 years.

December 29, 2020

Photos courtesy of Dana Katz
Pictured are CompuCycle’s co-owners, Kelly and Clive Hess.

Since CompuCycle was founded in 1996, the Houston-based electronics refurbisher and recycler has expanded, both physically and in terms of the services it offers. Though it has tripled the size of its operating facility and changed ownership since that time, CompuCycle’s co-owners say the goal always has been the same for the family-owned business: making clients feel like much more than just clients.

Before CompuCycle, there was Complex Metals Inc. Back in 1986, Clive Hess and his father, John, emigrated from South Africa to the United States, settling in Houston. John purchased a share of a local metal alloy distribution company. He had been in the scrap metal recycling business in South Africa, and that company was focused on recycling electronics to recover the precious and nonferrous metals they contained.

After Clive graduated from the University of Houston in 1992, he joined his father’s company, Complex Metals Inc.

The father and son saw a void in the city when it came to electronics recycling services. To fill that void, they formed CompuCycle.

“Together, they built a company focused on recycling scrap electronics into raw materials for feedstock to mills, smelters and refineries and refurbishing reusable electronics to extend their useful life as an alternative to purchasing new product,” says CompuCycle President and CEO Kelly Hess of the work the men did to establish the electronics recycling firm. “John and Clive really created a company that has been an industry leader in Houston as an electronics recycler.”

Kelly says she’s been a part of the business since she married Clive 19 years ago. When their kids started school, she brought her public relations and marketing skills to the company as a full-time employee.

During the last 24 years, CompuCycle grew and moved to a larger facility. In 2013 Kelly stepped into the role of president and CEO. She and Clive also bought the business from John. Kelly purchased 51 percent of CompuCycle, making it a woman-owned enterprise, though she and Clive share ownership responsibilities. They say they believe the change in ownership allowed the business to grow and offer even more to clients.

Focusing on all aspects of information technology asset disposition (ITAD), including data center decommissioning, on-site IT asset inventory/validation services and on-site hard-drive shredding, CompuCycle executives say it’s important to offer clients what they need from a single facility.

Transitioning ownership

After joining CompuCycle full time, Kelly says, “I was able to grow the company and saw a need for us to become a woman-owned business. And it really has been a growth opportunity.”

As she and Clive brought on more corporate clients, Kelly says they often were asked if they were woman-owned. So, about eight years ago, they bought the company from John, and Kelly became the majority owner.

Its woman-owned status doesn’t guarantee CompuCycle new clients, Kelly says, but it does open the door for potential success and opportunity as such companies could benefit from government or private grants, local bank and other loan programs and government contracts.

While the business has always been family-owned, she says the dynamic is different between spouses compared with a father-and-son team.

“You know, a husband-and-wife team I wouldn’t say is always ideal, but we definitely use both of our strengths and are able to make it grow and work to our advantage and have really built quite a phenomenal business,” she says.

“[John] got the business to a certain level and was able to really run an efficient company, but Clive and I saw the ability to grow this company,” Kelly says, adding that female ownership helped to fuel that growth.

Under Kelly’s majority ownership, CompuCycle has worked to help corporate clients with diversity goals meet their objectives, setting itself apart from its competition.

“We are the only company in Texas and [the] only woman-owned company capable of shredding electronics and separating them into raw materials,” Kelly says. She adds that the reasons she is able to succeed in the male-dominated electronics recycling industry are “[l]istening and providing tailored solutions to our clients’ needs,” which include “secure recycling, brand protection, responsible processing, refurbishing product for reuse and elimination of the middleman.”

Everything’s bigger in Texas

CompuCycle doesn’t just service customers locally—the business also serves companies around the world through partnerships with other service providers. Five years ago, it brought on a new client that needed international services. “We have serviced this client and others in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia successfully,” Kelly says.

“There’s nothing that we really can’t handle when it comes to our customers,” Clive says.

When Kelly and Clive took over the business in 2013, they planned to expand but needed more operating space. In 2018, the opportunity became available for CompuCycle to purchase a new building.

“We went from 40,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet,” she says. “That following October, we purchased the building next door, or an additional 40,000 square feet.”

That expansion allowed CompuCycle to add a processing plant with a shredding system.

“We have a processing plant next door that’s [a] state-of-the-art, fully automated electronic shredding system,” Clive says. “If materials can’t be recycled and reused, it’s going through that processor, and it is going to its bare components,” he adds.

Kelly says it was important for CompuCycle to have everything it needed in one facility so no middleman was needed, adding that “it comes to us [and] ends with us.

“Our variety of services include responsible recycling, data center decommissioning, on-site IT asset validation/inventory, on-site hard-drive shredding, IT asset relocation and deployment and IT lease return management,” she continues.

Set apart by service

Clive says CompuCycle focuses on the level of service and security it offers clients. Using propriety software for hard-drive sanitization, he says drives are linked to the device that once contained them to enable thorough reporting to clients.

“When we provide the reports for their hard drives, not only can we give them the make, model and serial number of the drive, but we also can link them—the serial number and the machine that drive belongs to,” Clive says. “From a compliance standpoint, or if these companies are ever audited, our information that we provided to them is extremely detailed.”

The company also provides secure shredding services to some of its competitors using two shredders manufactured by SSI Shredding Systems of Wilsonville, Oregon.

“We work with a lot of other electronics recyclers,” Clive adds. “We have essentially competitors that are shipping their scrap to us because of our processing plants.”

Kelly says she believes that having equipment on-site is a big advantage, making clients feel safe that whatever materials they turn over will be safely destroyed on-site.

It’s also about making clients feel like more than just clients.

“Clive and I, being the owners of the company, when we get new customers, they become part of our CompuCycle family and team,” Kelly says.

She adds that while each customer has an account manager, she and Clive give clients their cellphone numbers, so they know they are always a priority.

“There is no cookie-cutter approach. Every customer is different, and we want to tailor a solution to make them able to save time and, of course, to be a cost savings and to give them value back from material that we can remarket and reuse.” – Kelly Hess, president and CEO, CompuCycle

“There is no cookie-cutter approach. Every customer is different, and we want to tailor a solution to make them able to save time and, of course, to be a cost savings and to give them value back from material that we can remarket and reuse,” Kelly says.

Clive and Kelly say they pride themselves on their no-nonsense approach, doing what it takes to ensure clients are happy.

“As all small companies, it is very difficult to compete with the likes of Dell, HP, Lenovo and others in selling electronics recycling services to Fortune 1000 companies,” Kelly says. “In 2010 we committed to becoming R2 (Responsible Recycling) certified, and in January 2011 became Houston’s first certified electronics recycling company,” she adds.

As a result, Kelly says CompuCycle has been able to educate clients and prospective clients on certification as well as to improve its processes and procedures.

What’s next

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to make predictions on growth and change, but the Hesses say they believe CompuCycle will get through this challenging time.

“Most of our clients’ offices are closed or either have restricted access right now, so to be able to go in and get equipment is not happening at this time,” Kelly says.

CompuCycle had a drop-off program for residents, but that also has been put on hold during the pandemic.

Kelly says CompuCycle has received calls about companies going bankrupt and needing to liquidate their IT assets. While that means CompuCycle will gain a customer, she says it means someone else is losing a business.

“The stability of what we had is definitely being challenged,” she says of the pandemic’s effect on the firm.

During the pandemic, she says CompuCycle’s management has taken “significant salary reductions,” and their hours have been reduced to 32 per week. Additionally, the company’s refurbishing plant remains at 50 to 60 percent capacity, and its recycling plant is at 60 percent capacity.

Kelly adds, “With news of the COVID-19 vaccinations, we are optimistic about 2021 and getting our working hours back to 40 hours per week ASAP.”

Once business levels out and returns to prepandemic levels, Clive says he hopes the future of electronics recycling will be brighter.

“We do support a no-landfill policy for electronics; however, Texas does allow electronics to be landfilled,” Clive says. “We would support a bill to end landfilling electronics because we don’t think that’s a good thing.”

When it comes to being a better business, Clive says it’s not just about recovering materials and helping the environment—it’s also about helping people, from its employees to its clients. Continuous improvement factors into CompuCycle’s philosophy.

Kelly says most clients know the business and that it’s never been anything but family-owned and operated.

For CompuCycle and its co-owners, whether it’s communicating to clients about industry standards or sharing information that can benefit them, it all comes back to one goal: making them feel like family.

The author is the digital editor for the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at kcunningham@gie.net.