"Starting from Scrap"

Features - Equipment & Products

In his new book, Stephen Greer explains how he grew Hartwell Pacific.

Not that many books have been written about the scrap recycling industry. This new title, Starting from Scrap, authored by a Pennsylvania native who built an international scrap processing and trading company, is one that many in the industry likely will enjoy.

The book chronicles the inception, growth and eventual asset sale of Hartwell Pacific. The story illustrates the entrepreneurial nature of the scrap industry and the tremendous opportunity present in rapidly growing Southeast Asia.

Stephen Greer’s story, however, is not limited to Southeast Asia. As Hartwell Pacific grew, its operations extended into Mexico and the United States. As well, the breadth of commodities the company handled grew from stainless steel and alloys to a range of nonferrous metals.

The story begins with the author leaving a stable job for something more exhilarating. After some soul searching he decides to move to Hong Kong where, through distant connections, he’s arranged for a couch to sleep on until he finds a job.

As is common in scrap company origin stories, an unlikely sequence of events leads to Greer procuring his first load of scrap. From there his company begins to take shape. He tells the tale of many difficult situations that built the foundation of his business.

As his tale develops, Greer winds up rolling his company into a much larger multi-national scrap company. While this eventually proves unworkable, it’s an important stepping stone for Hartwell Pacific, as Greer gains pivotal experience and industry knowledge.

While that knowledge proves valuable, it certainly does not insulate Hartwell Pacific from many difficult lessons and experiences, some of which prove nearly fatal for the company. In the end Greer does sell his company, and learning about that process is interesting and insightful.

The book includes stories of board-room intrigue associated with the firm’s involvement with a large multi-national company. Because Hartwell Pacific began as an entrepreneurial startup, the book also portrays running a business on a shoestring and the challenges of limited financial and human resources.

Many of the stories chronicled by the author are reminiscent of stories I have heard from recyclers all over the world. From a straight business perspective, the lessons Greer learned about systems, organizations, communication and people are issues that anyone who has run an organization of any size has faced.

In the interest of full disclosure, I met Greer at a scrap industry meeting in Shanghai several years ago. We got to know each other a bit then. When I heard about his book, I already knew the “Cliffs Notes” version of his story and was interested in learning the rest.

It’s a book that many in the industry will enjoy and it’s not material specific. Hartwell Pacific could have been procuring ferrous scrap, OCC, high-grade paper or nearly any other recyclable material and the same lessons apply.

If you’re in the recycling business, give it a read. You’ll likely enjoy it. The author is publisher of Recycling Today and can be reached at jkeefe@gie.net