Barbara Kaufman is not what you'd call a lifer in the world of plastics recycling. In fact, her current job is her first in the industry.
But the CEO of Global Holdings and Development LLC, a supplier of food-grade recycled PET flake, said a long career building other businesses prepared her for a jump into the recycling market in 2008.
"I am a serial entrepreneur," the 74-year-old Kaufman said. "I came from a family of entrepreneurs. My father had a chain of men's clothing stores in Pittsburgh."
Today, the Pompano Beach, Fla.-based company distributes recycled PET from Mexico, where it's invested equipment and training in a network of existing companies. It supplies 80 million pounds a year of extrusion-grade material to food packaging firms in the United States and Canada.
Kaufman, who started GHD with her husband Mark Parsons, an engineer, said they saw PET recycling as a chance to both build a business and try to have an impact.
"We're somewhat of idealists, thinking we wanted to make a contribution in our lifetimes," she said.
Her previous business background had nothing to do with PET or recycling.
Kaufman has built various companies since the 1970s, leasing capital equipment to doctors and hospitals, opening an art gallery to manage fine artists and providing strategic planning consulting.
As well, getting a master's degree in psychology led her to open a private practice in Southern California and start a foundation that worked with nonprofits to provide low-cost counseling.
"I wanted to help families in particular, so I focused my work on counseling abused women and dysfunctional families," Kaufman said.
She credits that background in psychology — she's currently working on a doctoral dissertation in industrial and organizational psychology — with helping in business.
"I came from a management consulting background and worked with many different industries, companies and CEOs of companies," Kaufman said. "My psychology background gives me the impetus to hear a full story so that I can add value."
It was the collapse of the art business in the steep recession of 2008 that led her to plastics.
As she and her husband were looking for the next step, a professional contact with a background in polymers turned her attention to the industry. She said her husband, with his engineering background, chose PET as the starting point.
The couple did a lot of research and tried an abortive attempt at sourcing recycled PET bottles in Texas but found the mixed curbside stream was too dirty.
Ultimately, they focused on Mexico because they found access to cleaner materials streams and spent time building their network of suppliers. They hope the business model helps people in Mexico trying to create an income from collecting plastic waste.
"On the supply side, our mission is partly humanitarian, to provide as many opportunities as possible to earn income from recycling," she said.
Today, she said the intense public concern over plastics in the environment makes it a very different market from when GHD started. Kaufman sees opportunities in that.
"We're looking at new technology and talking to brand owners because there's strong legislation in the direction of recycled content in bottles and food packaging," she said. "We'd like to see that happening."
Q: Describe your company, what it does and its culture:
Kaufman: Global Holdings and Development is a sustainability and distribution company working specifically with recycled PET. Production is in Mexico. Sales are in the U.S. and Canada. Customers are small-to-conglomerate manufacturers of food and utility packaging. On the supply side, our mission is partly humanitarian, to provide as many opportunities as possible to earn income from recycling.
Q: What's the most interesting or unusual job you've ever had?
Kaufman: Industrial psychology was the most interesting. I worked with CEOs and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries helping them to develop teams, drive reorganization, create strategic planning and position themselves to raise capital. I helped them find the purpose behind their efforts and discover innovative routes to achieve their objectives.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting at your company tomorrow?
Kaufman: We are [a] family business, we are a team, we are a learning organization, we are a think tank. We want to work on big problems. Be open-minded and clear in your delivery.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be as CEO?
Kaufman: Build a strong and innovative company; educate societies about the philosophy behind a circular economy; develop new technologies and processes; design innovative products; employ many; and show the world that the impossible can be done — create a sustainable future for plastics.