Final Thoughts

Final thoughts

Written by Michael Cowden


I’m writing these Final thoughts from the 2024 ISRI Convention and Exposition in Las Vegas. I wasn’t the only one with the good idea to attend.

Approximately 6,625 others did – a new record for the event. So, a big congratulations to ISRI.

The opening general session on Tuesday was big enough to encompass everything from lifetime achievement awards to the latest developments in AI. The latter introduced by no less than Mike Werner, head of sustainability programs and innovation at Google.

I’m going to focus on the lifetime achievement awards in this column. Both because I’m impressed by what those who were honored – Mel Wright and Joel Denbo – have accomplished. And how both noted, with emotion, how intertwined for them scrap, life, and family were.

Wright grew up in Beaumont, Texas, joined his family’s scrap business – Wright’s Scrap Metals Inc. – and not only became its president but also expanded it. What were some of the keys to his success? Personal relationships, mentors, and advocating for the recycling industry.

“People want to do business with people they like, they trust, and who deliver,” Wright said. “This has been a constant part of my experience.”

Another key point: “When you go to Washington, DC, or your state capital, you’re participating in the greatest freedom we have as individuals – the right to be heard … and to represent your business and your industry.”

I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive. A lawmaker might not have a good understanding of the scrap business. Until they hear about it from someone in it who they can relate to.

Maybe all of us, especially working together with group associations like ISRI, have a little more power to influence policy than we realize.

Also honored with a lifetime achievement award was Joel Denbo, president of Denbo Iron & Metal Co. Inc. in Decatur, Ala., and managing member of Denbo Metal Recovery LLC in Pulaski, Tenn.

Denbo, who will be retiring at the end of the month, also stressed the importance of personal relationships, advocacy (especially for safety), and hard work – and also remembering what all that hard work is for.

“I began working in my family’s businesses – working Saturdays, holidays, summers – to make the extra money that a young person wants to have in order to do fun things. Man, did we do some fun things,” he said. (Denbo did not disclose what some of those things were.)

Denbo noted that his retirement would mark the first time in 120 years that there was not someone with his last name in recycling. But the work has been hard and gratifying in equal measures. And retirement doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be leaving scrap entirely.

 “It was once said … that you could leave your home, without your wallet, and travel across the country from scrap yard to scrap yard on the generosity of your scrap friends,” Denbo said. He said he planned to see whether that old saying still held true.

Denbo capped off his acceptance with this: “Please provide a safe workplace for your employees. And I wish you good markets.”

I don’t think I can top that. So I wish all of you – whether you’re in steel, scrap, or tech – good friends, safety, and good markets. And thanks for your continued support of SMU.

Editor’s note: SMU, our sister publication, Recycled Metals Update (RMU), and our parent company, CRU, are at ISRI. Stop by booth 2260 if you’re in Vegas and say hello.

Michael Cowden

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