Above: United Scrap Metal founder Marsha Serlin is shown in her scrap yard
in Cicero, Illinois, in a photo from the 1980s.
Marsha Serlin, founder and CEO of Cicero, Illinois-based United Scrap Metal, is giving $200 to each of the company’s 500 employees to recognize the 40th anniversary of the company’s founding.
The first gifts were scheduled to be presented Oct. 15 in St. Louis, followed by presentations in Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago and Richmond, Virginia.
A news release issued by United Scrap Metal describes Serlin 40 years ago as newly divorced, saddled with debt from her former husband’s failed business and a single mom with two young children. Her home was in foreclosure and her car was repossessed. “Let’s say I was highly motivated,” she says now of her effort to succeed in the scrap metal sector in 1978.
She took that motivation and the $200 she had in her bank account and rented a truck. With that she began picking up metal from alleys and businesses and selling it to a local recycling center for cash. “I worked from early morning to late at night while a friend watched my children,” says Serlin. “Eventually, I was able to purchase an 8,000 square foot industrial property and opened my own recycling center. Gradually, I purchased adjacent properties and today we own one of the largest scrap metal processing facilities in the Midwest and have expanded to six states.”
In 1978 the scrap business was almost strictly a man’s world, according to Serlin. There were 400 scrap yards in the Chicago area and none was owned by a woman. “When my competitors saw me they laughed and said I'd be done in six months,” says Serlin. “Today, there are only 20 metal recycling centers in the Chicago area and most of those competitors who laughed long ago are out of business.”
Continues Serlin, “I had to learn this business from the ground up. Today, every one of my employees knows that I’ve done what they are doing. I didn’t have another woman as a role model or a mentor because there were no women in the business,” Serlin comments. “Today, the environment is much different. Several senior executives in our company are women, as are many of the field personnel. I want women and minorities to have opportunities. I want everyone to have the opportunity to live up to their full potential in whatever role they are in.”
United Scrap Metal has been recognized with more than 50 awards, including an Illinois Recycling Association Lifetime Achievement Award, several best places to work awards and others. The company gives back in communities it serves through charitable donations and sponsoring events such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities annual Recycling Day. United Scrap Metals says it supports more than 30 different non-profit and charitable organizations.
“There is nothing you can’t do if you are motivated and ask for help,” states Serlin. “People will offer advice and help because they genuinely want to help. What you do with that advice and help is up to you.”