WINDSOR, ONATARIO — Jeremy Berger isn’t your typical CEO.
He gladly takes wardrobe direction from his assistant.
He regularly calls his competitors for advice.
He and his two co-owners cap their weekly Friday lunch with a visit to a candy store.
Despite his easy-going manner, Berger has Green Processing Co. Inc. working as an aggressive player in the plastics recycling world. Launched in 2008, Green Processing’s sales will reach C$25 million ($18.9 million) this year, a dramatic 50 percent increase from 2014. Berger predicts C$30 million ($22.6 million) in sales in 2016 for the Windsor-based recycler and reusable container company.
The secret? The culture.
“We have a fun group of people. We like working well together. We try to bring people on board that fit in our group. So I don’t know that it’s something that we necessarily think about, but we do think about it,” said Berger, 34, who created a recycling company on paper for his MBA program at Wayne State University and then worked for nine years in purchasing and sales at Pazner Environmental Ltd. in Ontario.
“Every time we look for someone we end up talking about their personality and whether or not we see them benefiting us from an enjoyment standpoint as much as from a productivity standpoint,” he said.
That’s fitting for a guy who envisioned himself running a small regional company with one facility, one grinder and 10 employees.
Instead, Berger and his partners employ 100 and operate in Canada, Mexico and in the Midwest, South and Eastern United States. Not bad for a group of high school friends from Windsor. They share equally in the company’s ownership even though Berger wears the CEO hat. He handles purchasing and sales, while partner Mohit Nayar serves as controller and Sam Farhat directs operations as vice president.
The friends have a simple way to make major decisions.
“Majority rules and don’t be sour with the decision,” said Berger, who admits to being on the losing end of votes at times in the three-person ownership group.
The trio is about to open its sixth location, a 25,000-square-foot facility in Birmingham, Ala., to serve the automotive market in the South. They settled on Birmingham after considering Chattanooga, Tenn., and Atlanta. Berger said any new location must have direct flights from Detroit.
“If we don’t mind going there, that’s part of it,” he laughed, pointing out one reason Birmingham won the vote.
Berger credits Nayar and Farhat with the company’s success.
“They are awesome guys. My favorite thing about what I do is working with them. I truly mean that. We were friends when we started. We’ve been friends every day that the business has grown together. I think we see a lot of satisfaction in growing a business together. I don’t think I’d feel the same about this company if I weren’t sharing it with them. I think that’s what really propels us.”
Case in point: Berger says the company shuts down for 10 days each December. Inevitably, the trio finds themselves at the office hanging out, playing cards.
Berger says the company does the simple things well — makes quick payments, provides easy-to-read billing statements and turns around a load of scrap or reusable containers within 24 hours.
“It’s being a large company, a large presence, but also small and nimble at the same time. I think we’ve done that successfully,” he said.
The business is split almost equally between recycling and refurbished container handling.
On the recycling side, Berger said structural foam high density polyethylene makes up 65 percent of the total material volume. In addition, it handles polypropylene, high molecular weight PE, nylon, thermoplastic polyolefins and ABS, among other grades. All told, Green Processing recycles 40 million pounds of plastics per year.
On the container side, Green Processing has a large inventory of refurbished plastic containers (34,000 large bins and 20,000 small totes in stock) handling mostly automotive parts, Berger said.
The company is hiring and looking to expand beyond its automotive niche (e.g. packaging, food service). To do so, Berger’s team will need more players to fit into its unique culture.
“I always say, I want everyone to come in here and enjoy it. On a Sunday night, if you dread what you’re about to do the next morning, it’s probably not what you should be doing. If I’m away for a long weekend, more than just Saturday or Sunday, I miss work,” he said.
Does such a content owner have those middle-of-the-night concerns? Indeed.
“It’s responsibility to my customers. I often refer to my customers as my bosses. I have friends and family who say, ‘It must be nice not having a boss.’ And I my answer is I have hundreds of bosses. Every customer of mine is my boss. And I feel I have to report to them and that our company owes them a certain product, a service level and that’s what I feel responsible about.
“To be honest, what keeps me up is employing people. We take great pride — not just me, the whole management team — in employing people and continuing to grow our business and continuing to employ more people. It’s a responsibility that we don’t take for granted.”