Howard Griff Martin, Jr., Martin Metals, Inc., Los Angeles, California. Interviewed March 1998. Courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Transcription by Speechpad.
Howard: Basically, it started with my father because he lived in Burbank, and my grandfather had a farm, which is now Warner Bros. Studio. And he sold that property to Warners in 1926. On that farm, he raised hogs. He had an alfalfa ranch and a hog farm. In order to raise the hogs, they decided that they would collect the garbage in the city of Burbank. Along with the garbage, they had to collect the rubbish, which was the papers, the bottles, the bones and all the other garbage that came along with it. So they fed the garbage to the hogs, raised them, sent them to the market in LA, and took the refuge and built a plant on San Jose Street in Burbank and separated the other refuge, which broke down into basically tires and metals, iron, everything else that was left out there.
And they had that contract for quite a few years. And when the depression came along, kind of, the markets dried up. It no longer paid for them to collect this. Then my father still stayed in business and kept buying, off the street, the metals that were brought in by the people in order to make some kind of living at. And it started from that meager beginnings. And that started in 1922. I was born in 1927. And I was brought up in the industry and my father thought that I would be a good successor. So he started taking me to the plant to learn how to segregate and clean metals. And the first job I ever had was cleaning and sorting brasses and coppers and aluminums and what have you. And we dealt in newspapers, rags, and an odd thing he did deal in also was bones. And I guess he sold that to the rendering companies.
So by the time I was about 10 or 11, I had a good feel of how to sort metals, but I decided that at that point that this was not something I wanted to be in. I really wanted to be in a professional job. And unfortunately, the war came along and during that time I was going to school. After I got out of high school in 1945, I joined the Merchant Marine, and I stayed in the Merchant Marine until about 1948 or ’49. The maritime industry would frequently go on strike and that meant I did not have a job. So between jobs in the maritime service, I would work from my father in the scrap metal industry.
The complexion of the industry changed with the advent of World War II. There was a lot more material on the market that had to be processed or different grades of materials. The aluminums came out in different grades. The brasses were different grades. And I, kind of, became fascinated with the classifications of all the different kinds of metals. A big item that was out on the market that my father was handling was called irony aluminum, crash aluminum that came from wrecked aircraft. And that material had to be processed and reduced down to what was called remelt bars. I mean, I had to be put into a sweat furnace and the aluminum melted away and the residue, which was iron and brass and what have you, would be pulled out and separated from the re-melt ingot. I figured that the difference between what we were getting for the aluminum as it was and the price of we could get for the re-melt ingot was so great that it would pay us to build a furnace.
So, in 1949, I built a sweat furnace on my father’s crowns, there where he was processing scrap metal, and we started melting aluminum. And that aluminum was sold to various dealers in Los Angeles. The biggest person we sold it to was Matt Kotler, who was just here a few minutes ago, my mentor, and the remelt, the alloy ingot makers, which were making alloy aluminum ingot. So that’s how we got into it.
From there, we went into making alloyed ingot for consumption in the die cast industry. We stepped up from making re-melt ingot to specification ingot and with a certified analysis on the material. And we sold that to consumers like the piston alloys manufacturers and the die casting industry. And we became a secondary aluminum smelter.
Interviewer: [inaudible 00:05:44] the name of the firm?
Howard: The name of the firm was Martin Metals, is plain Martin Metals.
And, at that point, the Korean War came along and we needed a lot more aluminum, which was available from the stockpile that the Air Force had. And it was necessary for us to get some of that because it was allocated. That triggered an incident that brought me into what was known as ISIS. In order for our firm to get it, I had to go to Washington to get an allocation. And I talked to an attorney in Los Angeles who was close to ISIS by the name of Billy Keene. He said, “I know someone who can do you some good in Washington.” We got on a plane and I came back and I was introduced to Ed Berenger. That was in the early part of the 1950s. At that time, the office of ISIS was on G or H Street in Washington. He introduced me to the right people in order for us to get an allocation re-melt ingot. And at that time, I figured that we should become a member of ISIS in appreciation of what he had done for me or for our firm.
I was deferred. I was still in my 20s. I was deferred from going into the Korean War as a soldier being drafted. But the day the war was over in 1955 or ’54, I lost my draft status and I was drafted into the Army and I spent the next two years there. And in the next two years, the State of California came along and bought the property, but we still kept the operation going. As an offshoot of that operation, we were doing a lot of melting of heavy aluminum aircraft engines. And the aircraft engines contained silverline bearings, platinum spark plugs and magneto points. And in the process of dismantling those aircraft engines, we would pull all of those precious metals out and we started accumulating them not knowing what to do with them. No one was really in the processing of precious metals at that time in the ’50s.
And we stockpiled them and we found a consumer, but we weren’t too happy with the results that came back from the processing of the material. And we started to put in some small processing equipment, which led to getting deeper into the processing business of precious metals. We also did processing of the skirts from the missiles, which contained nickel tubing and a lot of silver solder. We were doing that kind of processing. And one thing led to another. As you get into this type of operation, you see, well, let’s take it one more step and one more step and one more step until it got to a point…
Man: [inaudible 00:09:18].
Interviewer: It’s in your pocket.
Man: What pocket?
Interviewer: That pocket.
Man: [inaudible 00:09:24].
Interviewer: That pocket, upfront. Front row pocket.
Interviewer: I’m a magician.
Man: Anyone could be one [inaudible 00:09:43].
Interviewer: Sorry. I should have told you that’s where it was. [inaudible 00:09:49]. Don’t steal that. [inaudible 00:10:00].
Man: [inaudible 00:10:07].
Interviewer: Griff, I’m sorry. You were saying that when you were in the business, you started to take to the next step, the next step…
Howard: [crosstalk 00:10:15] Yeah, in about 1956, the State of California decided that they wanted to put the freeway through the property and it was necessary to move. And at that point, my father and my brother-in-law and I dismantled the operation and I went into business on my own and I moved the precious metal processing operation to where I’m presently at 1321 Wilson Street in Los Angeles on a pretty small scale. And then from there we started to expand going in to more processing of material. And there was some people that I have to give acknowledgement to that put me in the business that were my mentors and one of them is Matt Cutler, who came to me with some of the aircraft engine deals when he had California Byproducts and had me process some material for him. And I have to acknowledge that this man helped me a lot. He did a lot for me.
And there were other people in the industry too. Since my father was well known from 1922 and doing business in Los Angeles, the people that he did business with helped me. And it was a one of these things that it pays to know people and be well connected and I really appreciate all the help. And from that point, we got more involved in the in the trade association activities. I became a member of…at that time it was NASME, and precious metals were not heard of in those days in NASME. And Si Wakesberg [SP] decided that we should have a precious metals committee. And I was one of the persons that helped him put together a precious metals committee. I was still staying active in ISIS at that time, but not as much as I was in what was going on with NASME. And it grew.
You know, I would say that the one thing that happened, instead of all the refiners and processors in the industry fighting each other and staying away from each other and keeping secrets, what we did in NASME or Nary [SP] as it is known in those days, we sat down at a table and became a group that developed an educational program. At the Nary seminars that were done in Lansing, Michigan, we took two or three hours to identify and recognize where you would find various precious metals. We managed to put precious metals in the specifications. They never had it in there before. And people started talking and sharing information and that was the greatest thing that ever came out of it that we all got to know each other and we found out that we really had a lot of problems in common. And we sat down and we resolved those problems. And we taught and educated the dealers and identification shops how they could find and where to find precious metals and recognize them, and gave them some ideas of value.
So that is, you know, really one of the things that I really feel good about that’s come about from this organization. And we still have a precious metal community today that’s important. And whenever anything comes up regarding precious metals, we’re gonna make sure that it gets out to the members of this organization so it’ll help them.
Interviewer: [inaudible 00:14:04] started your own company. You weren’t just handling precious metals at that time. You were still doing a little bit of it?
Howard: No, we got out of the aluminum business when we moved from the processing plant in Burbank and I moved to Los Angeles. We got out of it completely.
Interviewer: So what materials were you handling to get precious metals at that point?
Howard: I was handling a lot of aircraft engines, silverline bearings. I was handing a lot of gold plated radar material, contact materially, pins that had gold on them, magneto points, spark plugs, desalting kits, a lot of material that was being generated by the government after the war that had precious metals in it. And there was quite a bit of it.
Interviewer: Now I suppose you have no formal training in metallurgy or anything, do you?
Howard: No, I didn’t. But it was necessary for me to learn the chemistry and what to do and how to do that. And I was fortunate that I was able to bring people into the organization that were able to share with me their knowledge and how to ability… I’ve always acted in the management capacity more so than the technical capacity. In fact, I really didn’t start my formal education and getting my MBA until I was 39 years old when I went to Pepperdine. And that’s a long ways down the road. But sometimes it’s good to go out there and get the experience and know what you need, then you can concentrate on that in order to enhance your advancement in whatever you’re gonna do.
Interviewer: Now, Griff, when you started your own company, how was precious metal scrap processed and the metal recovered versus how it’s done now and how sophisticated was the technology then versus now?
Howard: Well, I would say we’ve gone a long ways since then. Basically, it was a lot of cyanide stripping and a lot of sweating of the silver off of the iron bearings and things like that. But we were handling a lot of crude material in order to like…a lot of irony aluminum, I mean, irony silver, which was from the bearings and we did a lot of heavy, gold plated brass, silver, silver contacts. I would say that the basic technology of the processing industry is still the same. I mean, it has not changed much from the days that they started refining gold back in Egypt. I mean, it’s basically the same thing that the gold is dissolved up in a aqua regia solution and it’s precipitated out.
There’s some basic ways that you do things and silver is still refined electrolytically today. The most advanced ways that I see on the market today of refining that go on are the platinum group metals and that’s done by ion exchange units and eluding the platinum, palladium, rhodium, Iridium from the material that it’s being chelated to. That’s about it.
Interviewer: When you began, what metals, precious metals were you handling [inaudible 00:17:32] When did you start handling [inaudible 00:17:34]?
Howard: Well, as the government supply of precious metals started dwindling, then at about late ’50s and early ’60s, we got into the gold plated computer board, the gold plated boards, the PC boards. And we were using a lot of transistors with a lot of gold on them on the board. And the boards were plated with a lot of gold. So we’ve seen the computer boards, when the computer came about, that goes to the boards and they got rid of the vacuum tubes in the computers and we went to the transistors. We saw the transistors had a lot of gold on them and the gold content of those boards up until, you know, gold started, when 1974, ’75 gold was only $35 an ounce. They didn’t care how much gold they used.
I mean, gold was…you know, it was unheard of to put a small amount of gold on. Once the gold went up, started up in price in the late ’70s and early ’80s, everything changed. The whole complex of how gold was used and where it went to was changed because of the cost. And as gold gets more expensive, it becomes less and less and less recovered. Now, I can remember when you would be able to take a ton of electronic scrap and you’d be able to get somewhere between 200 and 300 ounces of gold per ton. Today, we are working material that’s got three, four, five ounces of gold per ton. The cost of processing that ton has to be reduced down. So we had to become more efficient in the processing procedures in today’s market than what we were in those days.
Interviewer: How have you been able to do that? What have you done [inaudible 00:19:47]?
Howard: We’ve had to come up with some very efficient processing. I mean, chopping board, burning boards and doing things like that, eliminating some of the steps and going directly into melts with the boards, that’s some of the things we’ve had to do in order to be competitive in the business. Not only did we have to worry about the precious metal content going down, we had to worry about what was going on in the foreign markets because the labor costs overseas are so cheap that it was hard for us to compete. I mean, when you pay people overseas to sit there and take things apart with their hands, maybe 25 or 30 cents a day, when you have to pay an employee, by the time you figure in all the insurance and everything else, maybe $30 an hour, there’s a big difference. We have gas to figure out, what it cost us here. Maybe overseas they’re getting gas over there, their fuel over there a lot cheaper, and still they can put stuff in a container and ship it over there a lot cheaper. So in order for us to stay in a marketing position, we had to really sharpen our wits in order to do it, come up with new innovative ideas and still survive.
Interviewer: If you could put your finger on one or more major differences in how the business was, you know, when you personally got into it versus how it is now, what are the major differences [inaudible 00:21:27]?
Howard: Oh, I would say that when I started our business, we didn’t have computers. We didn’t have fax machines, we weren’t able to pick up a phone and call someone, you know, halfway around the world that it didn’t cost us a fortune. I think the greatest innovation that came along, and this applies to all businesses, that we have computers today that we can keep inventories in. We can keep our units in it. We know exactly what we got.
We have hedging programs today that we can go and hedge all of our units in some market throughout the world, 24 hours a day, there’s a market for that and we can hedge it. If you can’t sell something on the back, the back on a gold position or a silver or platinum or palladium position, there is a place you can go to and sell it on some kind of a market, which is a commodity market somewhere in the world. And that is an advantage. And I think the communication process that we have today, we can fax people, we can email people and talk to them. If you’re on AOL and the other person’s on AOL too, you can sit there and talk to each other and it’s not costing you a fortune. You feel freer to do business today. And I think that the ease of doing business today is much better than what it was 20 years ago.
I feel that that the biggest innovation is that we are able to communicate today where we were not able to communicate and make deals before. We have specifications, we know pretty well what we’re going to be getting and I think that we have laboratory techniques in processing samples that are better. We’re more aware of telling our customers how to sample material. Don’t go out there if you’ve got a pile of stuff and take the best stuff and send it to me and expect when you ship it to me, that’s what you’re gonna get. I want you to be very honest with yourself and look at that and evaluate and say, “You know, it’s mixed. I wanna give the person a little bit of everything.” I don’t believe that people should be getting surprises when, when the materials process and they get a report back that it’s not going to be somewhere in the ballpark of what they thought that they were going to get.
I’m not saying that market conditions, I have control over that, because a person is gonna have to, you know, hedge their material and they can do that. We’ll tell them how to do that. But all of those tools are part of what we have to offer today that people need in order to stay in business. And I think that that’s the big thing today that I really enjoy in business. And not only in the precious metal business, I think it goes in all of the facets of our industry. It’s part of the industry, the operation of the industry.
Interviewer: How about environmental, was there a big environmental regulation in the early days versus today or…? I mean it seemed like things had gotten a lot more stringent [inaudible 00:24:47].
Howard: Well, 1960, I operated under one permit and I had a license from the City of Los Angeles. Today, I think I operate under more or less like 30 different permits all the way from having a APA number down to having a license from the Fire Department, the County of Los Angeles for having hazardous materials in my plant. And we are held accountable by all of those people keeping track of what we discharge back to the environment. We have to prove it. We discharge water back into the environment, we have to have samples of the water that when they come in, that means that we have to have a very, very strict quality control. We have to have the equipment and the instrumentation to measure the parts per million is discharged back to the environment. Same thing with what we throw away. It has to be environmentally sound or put it into an environmentally-sound condition that it made certain tests and the same thing with the quality of the air that we discharge out of our operations.
Interviewer: Does that make the business less enjoyable to you or more difficult to be profitable in?
Howard: No, you know, it’s part of the business environment and, you know, it’s bound to come. I mean, that’s part of civilization going on. You just have to, you know, understand that if you’re gonna stay in business, that you’re going to have to conform to what the rules and regulations are. You may not agree with them, but it’s there, and it’s not gonna go away, not until people decide to change what’s going on in Washington. And that’s why it’s very important that we as members of this organization understand what’s ahead in the environmental area for us and that we support everything environmentally that’s possible to make our lives easier to operate our plants on the property we’re on, because as it looks like now it’s not gonna get better. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.
Interviewer: You mentioned hedging and market opportunities like that. Did you do that kind of thing back when you first got into this or was that kind of stuff not available to you?
Howard: Well, it wasn’t available to us in those days. I mean, we had commodity exchange, but they were really not used for that. I mean, sure, they were trading silver back in 1960 and they were trading…I think the platinum and the palladium contract came in to being in the late ’60s. But no one ever used them. They didn’t believe in that they hedged through a dealer or someone like that or they did back to back business. Of course, gold, you couldn’t hedge because it wasn’t allowed until 1974 when it was available to hedge. And then people didn’t believe in it. You know, most of the people in the scrap metal industry don’t believe in hedging their positions in precious metals. Now, if they had to have gone out there yesterday and hedged their silver position, they would’ve saved 30 cents an ounce when it went down 30 cents this morning. And, you know, that’s a lot of money.
And that the way that markets are gyrating today, I mean for a metal to take a 30, 40, 50 cent an ounce swing is nothing. I’ve seen silver take a bounce of 73 cents in one day and gold take a swing of $10. And we’re gonna see more of this dynamic gyrations of the markets because of who the players in the markets are. I mean, the technicians are controlling the markets. It’s not so much the situation of we’re dealing in the law of supply and demand. We are dealing in two factors, a law of supply and demand, which is fundamental. But we’re also dealing with a bunch of technicians and we’re dealing with fund managers that got so much money, they don’t care what they’re gonna do with it. I mean, they can make a lot of money in the stock market and go take a position in the precious metals business and lose a lot of money over there and force the market down or up and they really don’t care. So you’ve got to really be aware of what’s going on, understand it.
Interviewer: Is it difficult to you to have to operate in such a volatile market?
Howard: Well, I think I’m, kind of, fortunate. I bought a seat on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1978. I am close to how it operates. I’ve been partners in a floor brokering operation. I’ve been in the commodity trading business. One time, I operated a brokerage business in New York. I got a feel for it, but I think I’m a little fortunate more so than others. And I think that I have connected myself with people who can give me a pretty good assessment of what’s going on in the market by just picking the phone up and asking them who’s doing what. And that makes a lot of difference. If you know what certain people are doing in the industry, you can judge what the motive is. And, you know, not having that information available, again, it goes back to being, who are you connected to? You can save yourself a lot of money.
Interviewer: Yeah. Griff, who do you sell your metal to? Who are your major consumers of this?
Howard: Well, we sell it to people who are in the…they use silver in making, say, dental alloys, silver amalgam. We sell silver to the plating industry who use plate silver. We sell silver to people who will make Sterling silver. We sell silver to a lot of people that are in the casting industry, make jewelry. Gold goes back into making brazing alloys for the aircraft industry, to the jewelry industry. The palladium that we make as [inaudible] 95, will go back into making industrial palladium that’s used in wire sheet, things like that. Most of the palladium that we manufacture, we make it to a specification with a very, very low iron content is gonna be made back into palladium chloride used in the catalytic converters. That’s where most of it goes.
We do sell some palladium that goes in the dental industry, some that goes in the jewelry industry, but the big consumers today of platinum and palladium are basically the automotive industry, Boeing and the converters
Interviewer: Are the people you sell to today a lot different than the ones you sold to back in the ’60s? Types of…
Howard: Well, say 20 years ago, we had one fabricator that we supplied all the metals to and we just supplied the metals to them. They distributed to different industries. And that fabricator is no longer around, so I had to go out and find other people in order to buy the material. But there’s always someone out there to buy the material at a price. Let’s put it that way. I like to sell material at the market. Martin Metals makes a high purity, high-grade material. I’m not gonna undercut the market and sell any bargains. I never have. I don’t believe in it. If you make a good product, you get paid for it. And that’s the way we’ve always been operating.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about the competition in the business. You know, is it very competitive today versus in the older days or was it more competitive in the older days versus today?
Howard: Well, let’s say I think it’s more competitive today than it is in the older days. When I got my MBA, or went after my MBA, my thesis was on: “Can a small precious metal refiner survive in the markets that we’re operating in?” And that was back in the early ’70s. And at that time, we had gigantic consumers and they’re still there. And they’ll do it at a lower price, but the service is not the same as we would give the customers that we deal with. I guess we can say that we’re more or less a boutique refiner. We will do everything we can to service that customer. That customer is our bread and butter. That’s the bottom line. And people may pay a little bit more for us to do the work, but I think were held a lot more accountable than other people.
And I think that the type of people we deal with realize that. They want someone to hold their hand, to be held totally accountable. If there’s a problem, they wanna know about it. They don’t wanna find that there was a problem after the fact. And that’s the market niche that I’ve tried to fill and I think I’m doing a job at it. I tell people, “You know, you can go out there and find people that’ll do it for less, but can they be held accountable on the SA results? How long, the whole thing, I’ll be held accountable, 100%.” And we are not afraid to go back to that person and talk to them and say, “I want, like, to have more business from you.” And I think that if that person’s not happy and satisfied, because believe me, all we have to sell is service and that customer is gonna generate the bottom line. And every day I wake up, I look up there and I see a sign, what service can I be of my customers today? And that’s it.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about employees for a second. What kind of skills do you require from employees today that you didn’t require back when you were first starting out? How much more sophisticated do your employees have to be, you know, to make the business work?
Howard: Well, I would say with the automation of all the equipment that’s going on today, we really don’t need skilled employees as we did, say, 20 years ago. And I just used an illustration that I was down there in the exhibition hall today. And I’m looking at analytical equipment. And what’s going on with the analytical equipment? And the guy’s telling me, “Well, we wanna sell a piece of analytical equipment that’s gonna be, number one, accurate, gonna be cheap, and all the person has to do is push the buttons and give you the results.” And most of the equipment today that you get, you’re looking for that kind of equipment. So you have to teach the employee how to use that equipment. But we want to buy equipment that we don’t have to worry about how qualified the person is in using it.
And the people that I’ve talked to in the exhibition here all agree that that is the goal of what the analytical equivalent… And you have about, oh, I’d say, what, six different people are selling, kind of, analytical equipment. That’s phenomenal for this. You know, I can remember when I used to exhibit in the Esri or Nary Andy ISIS thing, we didn’t have such things at all. I mean, you get all the people that one to sell to this iron people and that was it. Today, we have a lot of people down there selling technical equipment and is geared for just the layman to use.
And I think that’s what’s going on with a lot of equipment today. They don’t want any guesswork. They wanna build it so sophisticated, may cost a little bit more, but so sophisticated that you can take anyone because people are moving today. They’re moving from job to job. There’s all kinds of things that people move for. They have personal problems they gotta move for. They don’t like the weather. You know, California, you know, they’re afraid they might slip off into the ocean or El Nino will come lapping at the door or something like that. You gotta be prepared. The one thing I’ve learned in business that you must be prepared for every contingency that comes up whereas maybe 20 years ago, you knew you could predict fairly what was going on. Today, we can’t predict. I can’t predict 10 minutes ahead what’s gonna happen to anything. But it’s fun.
Interviewer: How about the way you pay them, benefits? Just, you know, how is it different that you have to deal with your employees and I’m sure there’s a lot more concerns and…
Howard: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, today, you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with because they’re the extension of you. And you don’t have to have a basic, common philosophy that’s going to be permeated out to the customers you’re dealing with, both the people you buy from and the people you sell to. And you’re more people-orientated today, you look for loyalty and you’re gonna pay for loyalty. It doesn’t come for nothing. And you’ve gotta take care of people. If you don’t take care of people, there’s other people that will. So you have to think of, you know, their medical needs, time off, vacations, all the things that it takes to make an organization run. And we’re not a large organization but the people we have, you know, they’re very loyal. I mean, they care about what’s going on from day to day and they know that if we don’t take care of the customer, the customer is not gonna stay. And I tell you, I make them well aware that, you know, these people are your bread and butter. They know that.
Interviewer: Griff, were there any particular times in your career that you recall being the toughest, ones that really tried your dedication to the industry or made you wanna think about getting out of the industry, any real tough time?
Howard: Yeah. But, you know, the precious metals business has not been the easiest road to hope. We’ve seen good times. We’ve seen bad times. I learned something a long time ago. You know, if you’re gonna stay in operation, you have to live, carve it down to the bone and live like that. And I’ve seen, you know, when silver was real cheap, we didn’t have the margins that we work on today. And I think that I heard something this morning and what the guy was saying, you know, what really made him successful in making his life work, and he’s a survivor, he knew he was gonna survive. He knew that because it was implanted. And I think certain people in this industry who are here to stay, they’re survivors and they know how to survive.
It’s an innate ability to recognize the opportunities when you can do something and make it work and when to stay away from something that’s not gonna work. And that’s called survival. And I think that we have learned over the period of time, we’ve honed up on things and we’re a lot smarter than what we were, say, 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, there has been sometimes, I mean I’ve had some real rough times. I’ve had people say, “Well, why don’t you get out and go on, do something else.” But I’m not that type of person. I mean, I love challenges. I mean, I think challenges are what makes your life work. And if you don’t accept challenges, there’s nothing for you. And I enjoy it. And I think this industry is a challenge. I mean, I feel very proud to be part of this industry.
I’ve seen it grow from, not like my father had at the time my father was in it, but I’ve seen the technological advance in this industry that is fantastic. And I’ve met a lot of people in this industry and because of those people, I’ve been able to do business and learn. Every time I come to a convention, I learn something new. I meet new faces and I renew a lot of old acquaintances that I’ve had, which mean a lot to me too. Those people I’ve known for a long, long time and I’m very proud to be part of their life to do business with them. And they’re from all over the world.
Interviewer: Griff, at this point, can you look ahead and see if any changes you think are coming up in the precious metal processing industry or is it gonna pretty much continue as is for a while? Do you see any change coming up?
Howard: Gee, technically, I don’t know. You know, at this point it depends upon how much precious metal is gonna be used in the area that it’s applied to and how it’s gonna be applied. You have to remember one thing, that in our industry, an engineer will come up with an application and that’ll grab all the precious metals. Back in 1960, no platinum, no palladium was used in catalytic converters. Now, what’s gonna happen when someone comes out and we don’t need precious metals for the catalytic converters? What’s gonna happen then? Where’s it gonna be used at then? Or how’s it gonna be used? Precious metals are an ongoing application according to what engineers need it for. God forbid that, you know, and I can see this down the road, that Eastman Kodak comes up and said, “Well, no more silver used.” And it’s going that way.
Silver’s the big user in doing the sensitized goods. But all of the things that are coming out today, I mean, I just think, you know, that with computers and digital equipment and things like that, you don’t even need to take a picture today and develop. You buy a digital camera, you take the picture, put it in there, put it on a floppy disc and you can put it over there in your computer, print it on a piece of paper. Now, where’s the silver used in that. I look forward to that being and I like it. Believe me. I’m an advocate of that because I could do anything with a picture I want. I get any color, change all the things that I like or dislike. It’s so easy, may cost a little bit more. But, you know, a television set a long time ago cost a lot of money. You can get them for next to nothing today.
So those are the things you got to look at and what’s gonna happen in the future. Those were the markets. I don’t know where we’re going to find a substitute and have that silver go-to. But someone may come along and have another application. Jewelry, which is the biggest consumer of gold, I think will always happen. But, you know, there’s like 4 billion tons or ounces of jewelry up here stored away, up above ground. And the recycling of jewelry goes on and on and on. So you don’t lose any. The only way you lose gold is that what’s being buried into the dumps in electronic goods that are not worth reclaiming. But other than that, gold is pretty well recycled. It’ll stay steady.
Interviewer: Griff, we’re gonna wrap up here a little bit, but I wanted to ask you, you said earlier, initially you thought you wanted to have a professional career, not in the scrap business. What professional career would that have been? And what made you decide to stay with this scrap business?
Howard: I wanted to become an attorney. You know, I like to make a point and that’s a great way to make a point, only with a law degree behind you got some authority. I think that I see things fairly logical and you need a logical approach. You’ve got to know how to negotiate. All the things that an attorney needs to be successful, I can apply in my industry. You have to have a logical approach to whatever you’re gonna do to make it work, especially in precious metals, because precious metals follow a logical step of chemistry. You have to be able to predict and you gotta be able to negotiate when you’re out there trying to sell refining services.
What kept me in the industry? I think that what kept me in this industry is that I’m very proud to be who I am. There’s not very many processors of precious metal burying scrap or precious metals in this world. You’re, kind of, a unique species. And to know that you had the ability to do this and can do it if you want to or you don’t want to, and that this is at your command, gives me a sense of security that I couldn’t get if I were pumping gas or anything else. There’s not that many people who are refiners, but there’s an awful lot of lawyers. I think there are 60,000 lawyers in the State of California alone, but there’s not that many refiners. There’s always a market for my services.
Interviewer: Well, at this point in your career, you could easily, you know, retire, do whatever you wanted, but why don’t you? Howard: I like to be active. I think that once you stop learning, you stop doing things, it’s like a tree that’s growing, you’re just gonna wither and die. And I think every day you learn something new. And that’s very important as a process. That’s a process of life, the process of living, living and learning and being active and learning from other people. I learn a lot from other people, and that, to me, that’s the ongoing process of being who you are. I think that’s…the ultimate goal is to learn as much as you can and participate.