Stanton Moss, McMahon Iron & Metal, Mt. Vernon, New York. Interivewed March 1998. Courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Transcription by Speechpad.
Stanton: I was born in Philadelphia on May 22nd, 1934.
Interviewer: May 22nd, 1934. How many people were in your family?
Stanton: I have an older brother, younger sister and that’s it. I’m in the middle.
Interviewer: You’re in the middle. What were your… Were your parents native born or they’d come from…?
Stanton: My father is from Russia and my mother was born in America.
Interviewer: And you grew up in the Philadelphia area?
Stanton: Born and raised, went to school. Went there all my elementary school, junior high school, senior high school and the University of Pennsylvania.
Interviewer: And in the University of Pennsylvania, was there a specific school?
Stanton: Wharton School, Business and Finance.
Interviewer: And your degree was in Business and Finance?
Interviewer: And you graduated from there…
Stanton: In February ’56.
Interviewer: And did you go straight into the scrap business from the Wharton School or…?
Stanton: I went through a year of Law School, but when I was in Law School, I was also working for the… started working for George Sall Metals Company, which was a large secondary aluminum smelter and brass and bronze ingot maker in Philadelphia.
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Stanton: S-A-L-L Metals Company in Philadelphia. George Sall was one of four brothers who was in the scrap business also, two in Philadelphia and one in California.
Interviewer: And what was your work with them originally?
Stanton: I started out learning the business. I knew nothing about the scrap business. I was asked to come and start working as a learner. So the first thing I had to do was go out and get safety shoes and a pair of khakis, which I didn’t own. And the first day I came to work, we had a tragic accident and I walked into a man who got killed on the job. And I said, “What am I doing here? I should be out in a stockbroker’s office.” Which is really what I wanted to do. And I decided to come back the second day and everything ran smoothly after that.
Interviewer: Were you working in… Were you a yard man? Or a…
Stanton: Well, I was training. I learned how to sort brass and bronze. I learned how to grate aluminum. I worked in the lab. The only thing I didn’t do, which I wasn’t allowed to do because of my tender age, I wasn’t allowed to be on the furnaces.
Interviewer: And is George Sall still in business?
Stanton: No, George Sall is out of business. We had sold our company to Diversified Industry, which is out of business also. And 24 years ago, we had a strike. I was at that time, general manager of the company and we couldn’t settle the strike and I was told to liquidate the company, which I did. And then I went in business for myself.
Interviewer: As a processor or a broker?
Stanton: No, I swore to myself, I’d never have any employees because I saw 150 employees out on a picket line every day for nearly a year that I knew these people personally. And I just felt I’d never want to be involved with employees again. So I went in business for myself and I’ve one employee now.
Interviewer: Is the employee a broker as well?
Stanton: No, she’s my associate secretary and she’s been with me 22 years.
Interviewer: In the beginning of your career in business, both from a processing as well as the brokerage side of the business, what was it like? Could you describe the equipment? Could you describe brokerage back then?
Stanton: Well, in the smelting business, things have changed. When I started in the smelting business, the furnaces…we had furnaces weighing a capacity of about 125,000 pounds. Now the furnaces are quarter of a million, 300,000 pounds. We had small aluminium shredder with a capacity of maybe five ton an hour. Now the new shredders can shred aluminum doing maybe 30,000 pounds an hour. Lab equipment is much better, much more sophisticated. And everything is… There’s a lot more new technology in the smelting industry. When I started as a broker in ’74, there was maybe four or five aluminum brokers in the United States. Now you probably have about 300. So competition is much more fierce. And there’s other problems with being a broker, which we’ll talk about later.
Interviewer: What was the images of the scrap industry when you began?
Stanton: Well, it’s the image…. I guess more people called us junk dealers than they do now. I think we have raised our image quite a bit through associations and the image of a recycler. All of a sudden, recycling has become a word that people like to talk about. It’s being used in governments and kind of a publicity and to be a recycler today is being a good person where many years ago being a scrap processor wasn’t… wasn’t so great.
Interviewer: Were you involved in either ISIS or NARI, the predecessor organizations to ISRI?
Stanton: I was much involved in NARI, being involved as Eastern division chairman on the board of directors on the Executive Committee. And then, of course when the merger took place I felt that it’s important that I’d be involved in the new organization.
Interviewer: But you weren’t involved in ISIS?
Interviewer: Have you been involved in international trade?
Stanton: Very little.
Interviewer: Your business is though primarily aluminium.
Stanton: About 90% of my businesses is aluminum brokerage. Both scrap, ingot, secondary aluminum ingot alloys and primary.
Interviewer: In relation to today, we touched on this before, but what is the… How important was brokerage when you began in the industry compared to today?
Stanton: Well, there was very little brokerage when I started. Like I said, there was four or five of us and we were all able to grow a little bit at the time. Some people wanted to grow into a large organization having 10, 15, 20 brokers with them. I decided to stay small, but all of a sudden the broker has become a very important part of the aluminum industry. There’s hedging that we do. There’s taking financial risk and that’s probably been the most important thing of the broker. And that’s what makes being a broker very difficult because you’re taking a tremendous financial risk for a very small profit.
Interviewer: Brokerage has an interesting place between processors and consumers. How would you describe the relationships between processors and consumers early in your career and then as you compare them to today?
Stanton: Well, I think the processors 20, 25 years ago, they looked very highly to the broker concerning getting material for them. They had small buying staffs and they couldn’t cover the whole gamut of dealers and generators of scrap. So therefore, they depended on brokers to bring the scrap to them. And the… I think the brokers have done a good job in educating the scrap processors to upgrade their material too so that the broker can put a certain package into a different type of consumer, something that the dealer would never think of doing many years ago. So therefore, the broker has served a service to both the consumer and the generator because they are now finding new homes for their scrap material.
Interviewer: Changes in equipment over the years, created greater opportunities, created changes in scrap processing equipment or in consumption equipment?
Stanton: Well, the HRB baler has become a tremendous tool for the scrap processor. And it allows him to easily ship 40,000, 45,000 pounds on a trailer. And therefore, in the old days when you had the upstroke baler and the downstroke baler, the bales would weigh 2,300 pounds and you could get the biggest trailer that you can find in the old days, which was probably 40, 42 foot trailer and you could still not get 40,000 pounds on the trailer. So therefore, that type of equipment sure has made it easier and more efficient to ship material. The scrap shredder that some dealers and processes have installed has cleaned up the product considerably. And ID equipment that the dealer and or processor can have in his yard to identify materials so that therefore, when they ship a segregated parcel, they don’t have problems in rejection because of contamination or because of a mixture of alloys. So the equipment has definitely become… Made us more sophisticated and allowed the consumer to buy material other than old pots and pans and mixed aluminum.
Interviewer: What are some of the high points in your career in the industry?
Stanton: I think some of the high points that I’ve had and some of the enjoyment that I’ve had in this industry is making new friends. And I have always said that our industry is like a cousin’s club. And I have really been very fortunate in making some great friends that I really feel that they are my friends, even though they are my customers. And I feel that if any of my children were in any of their cities that they could call upon anybody in our scrap industry if they needed a place to live, or somewhere to go, or needed a doctor, that anybody in the scrap industry would help them. And I feel that’s one of the high points and I feel being active in the association that I’ve been between NARI and now ISRI, I think that has been a high point of my career. It’s been a lot of fun doing some of the things that I’ve been involved in.
Interviewer: How about some of the toughest times you’ve experienced?
Stanton: Well, I guess some of the toughest time is when you find out that one of your best customers goes bankrupt and you’re on the list and you find out that you’re not going to get paid for five years or you might not get paid at all or and you are going to get 10 cents on the dollar and you need to say, “How do I stop myself from doing that again?” And then you find another one in the same situation. And that’s the bigger…that’s the low point but I have had tremendous support from my customers and my friends that I’ve been able to continue and will I ever make the mistake again? Probably. I’m going to try not to, but I probably will. And that’s the downside of our industry.
Interviewer: Is your brokerage business regional or national or how far does it spread?
Stanton: I buy and sell material probably from New Hampshire to Alabama. I sell from the East Coast maybe into Ohio, Chicago. I do buy some imported material. I do sell some export material, but most of it it’s from St. Louis East.
Interviewer: Okay. Could you describe a day in your life as a broker?
Stanton: I get in the office, get on the phone. About eight, nine hours later, I put the phone down, I go home.
Interviewer: So it’s basically a telephone business.
Stanton: If I had a telephone growing out of my ear, I’d be terrific. Now that we have cell phones and car phones and faxes, it makes life a little easier. You’re never out of reach.
Interviewer: Is email picking up the business?
Stanton: I don’t use email because I find it… I’d rather talk to a person that I get an answer rather than typing out an email message. I find a personal voice makes life a lot easier and makes deals to be made easier. One of the things I do hate is voicemail. I just can’t stand that and sometimes I would rather call back than leave a message on voicemail.
Interviewer: Excuse me. How about travel? Do you travel to your accounts at all?
Stanton: I have, when I was younger tried to make at least one visit to every customer per year and maybe two per year. As I get closer and closer to older age and senior citizen and I have cut my traveling time down and my customers say to me, “Fine, don’t travel. We’d rather have you on the phone all the time finding new markets, getting us quotes” and there’s no reason to see me. Before I take a new customer on, I make a visit to their yard just to make sure that everybody knows what each person expects from each other.
Interviewer: What are you looking for when you go to a new yard?
Stanton: I’m looking basically for quality and also if I could help the new customer out in giving advice on ways to handle material, or how to upgrade material, what material I can accept, and what material I can’t accept. I, because I’m a one man operation, look for no problems. It’s too time consuming. It’s too costly. It costs me money, it costs my customer money. And most of the time the trucking company makes all the money taking material all over the country when you have a rejected load. So I’d rather nip it in the bud, tell everybody what I expect, what I want, give them the specs, put it in writing. So therefore, there’s no problems.
Interviewer: Do you see this as a form of your own marketing? By going to the new accounts and you’re going through, is that a marketing techniques in your [crosstalk 00:18:01]?
Stanton: It’s something that I provide. I do analysis work for my customers again, just to make sure that there’s no foul-ups. I want everybody to know what… my consumers to know what they’re getting. And I want my customers to know what I expect to get.
Interviewer: And if there’s a problem, how do you handle that?
Stanton: Well, you try and solve it the best way you can and the cheapest way possible. And it’s easier to say, “The load’s rejected, send it back.” I try to talk to the consumer find out just exactly what’s wrong, what’s it going to cost to correct it, promise that it won’t happen again and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Most consumers are cooperative. They understand that they’re not handling prime metal, they’re handling scrap, but they have a specification that they expect to get material to meet. If we foul-up at one time that’s okay, but do it continuously, I don’t blame them for rejecting the material. But most people will cooperate and they understand that a broker cannot see every load that they buy and that’s why I try to depend on my shippers, my customers to give me what I need.
Interviewer: Let’s say the problem your consumer discusses…advises you of the problem. How do you then go back to the processor and make sure that that never happens?
Stanton: Well, I advise them what the consequences will be you know that, a, number one, the material will be rejected. The material will be returned to them. They’ll pay their freight both ways. They will probably still have the order open and then I would expect them to deliver on that order, at that price, whatever the agreed price was. If they don’t want to do that, then I will go out and purchase the material in the open market and charge them the difference, if there is a difference. But I haven’t had to do that with any of my…. in the last 24 years.
Interviewer: And you haven’t had to drop a processor for failure to perform?
Stanton: I have not…. I don’t say drop them, I just don’t call them again. And if they call me, I just tell them that I’m out of the market or I don’t have a home for their quality material. And I tell them why. I just can’t handle their type of material now. I’m sure there are other homes for it because he just doesn’t sit with his material forever. But I try and be upfront with them very candidly.
Interviewer: How often does that happen?
Stanton: About twice in 24 years.
Interviewer: Before you were talking about you try to find new markets for your customers’ materials. In what ways?
Stanton: Well, there are always consumers looking for a cheaper or a lower price feed-stock. And if you discuss what your consumers need or if I know what a consumer needs because I was a consumer at one time, I could try to develop something and offer them a package and say to them, “If I give you this package, could you use it and at what differential could you use it at?” And if it sounds reasonable that I could go to my supplier and say, “Look, if you do this, we can get that and here’s what it’s going to cost you to do it, let’s try.” And if he can do it at a reasonable price, he’ll do it. If he won’t, then you just, you go to the next situation and try and find something new. You’ve got to keep finding something new. Yeah. You stay in the same rut then you get stale. So you got to always keep one step ahead of everybody else.
Interviewer: What I’ve noticed in this industry is that many of the people, families who’ve been involved in this business long are involved in community activities back home. Is that true for you as well? Are you involved in various activities in your community?
Stanton: I’m very active in the Federation Allied Jewish Appeal. I’m president of our Country Club and I get involved in some… active at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. And also, I was active in the Society of Die Casting Engineers which became NADCA and try to keep busy.
Interviewer: And how many children do you have?
Stanton: I have four children. Three daughters and a son.
Interviewer: And they’re all in…
Stanton: And four grandchildren.
Interviewer: Four grandchildren. What are the names of your children?
Stanton: My oldest daughter is Jamie Needles, my middle daughter’s Meg Geist and my youngest daughter’s Betsy Zeidman and my son is Stephen.
Interviewer: And the age variance?
Stanton: Forty two, which I don’t think she would want to hear that to 25.
Interviewer: And the professions they’re in?
Stanton: Well, Jamie is a housewife. Meg works for a company that installs overhead sprinkler system. She’s in a family business that she is the probably the highest paid non-family member in the business and she’s very well regarded in the industry. And my daughter Betsy has her own mail fulfillment business. And that’s M-A-I-L. She stuffs envelopes and sends out packages. And she’s been in business eight years and it’s been fantastic. She keeps growing and growing and growing. And Stephen works for a company called Profit Management Group, which is a company that consults banks. I also have three step children, three step daughters, they’re Carole’s daughters, and none of them are married. All are very happy and all are working and all are very eligible.
Interviewer: Is that an advertisement?
Stanton: No, they don’t need that.
Interviewer: And their names are?
Stanton: Alyson, Amanda and Holly.
Interviewer: And their ages?
Stanton: Oh, they’ll kill me this one. Twenty seven, 25, 24, I think.
Interviewer: And are your children and stepchildren all in Philadelphia?
Stanton: They’re all in Philadelphia. And we are very blessed with that. Holly lives with us and the other two live downtown Philadelphia and so all my children are within 20 minutes away.
Interviewer: And your grandchildren are boys, girls or boys and girls?
Stanton: I have two grandsons and two granddaughters. One being five months old, Betsy’s newest child.
Interviewer: What part of Philadelphia did you grow up in?
Stanton: I grew up in Wynnefield, which was probably one of the greatest neighborhoods ever. We had sidewalks on the streets and there were nothing but row homes. We’d walk to wherever we wanted. We didn’t need any of our parents to drive us. None of the parents had car….Well, the fathers had cars, the mothers didn’t know how to drive but we were able to walk everywhere and you couldn’t walk down the street without knowing somebody else and it was just a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in.
Interviewer: And Wynnefield is in West Philadelphia?
Stanton: Wynnefield is part of West Philadelphia, yes.
Interviewer: And you were talking about association with Jewish organizations before your neighborhood was a… There was a Jewish community in that neighborhood?
Stanton: Oh yes. Wynnefield was divided up between Jews and Catholics. And my father was president of a synagogue, of a conservative synagogue which was about a block and a half away from the house. So then we moved and we moved to an area, it’s still in Wynnefield, but Har Zion Temple was right across the street from our house. So I was 12 years old and my mother said to my father, “You’re not going to make Stanton walk to your synagogue. Why don’t we join Har Zion?” So we became members of two synagogues. I was bar mitzvahed at Har Zion, where the rabbi from [inaudible 00:27:20] came to the bar mitzvah. I don’t know who ran his services, but it was just a terrific neighborhood. And we’re still members of Har Zion Temple.
Interviewer: And my recollection is that Har Zion is a very large, very large synagogue.
Stanton: It’s probably one of the largest conservative synagogues in the United States and a wonderful synagogue and very active in men’s club and theological seminar.
Interviewer: And you are active in…?
Interviewer: Looking back in your career, looking to what’s happening in the scrap recycling industry today, what advice do you have for the people who are either just coming into the industry or who are moving this industry toward or are involved in an industry that is moving toward the 21st century?
Stanton: Well, I still think it’s a good industry, even though with all its problems between super fun and OSHA and everything else, I think the industry is still a good industry. I think there’s still growth to this industry. I think there’s still plenty of scrap that has to be recycled. And with the automotive industry looking to make their cars lighter and bigger the way they’re going, they need… they need recycled metal. And I just feel that the… a young person getting in this industry, I think there’s tremendous potential for them. And I think that the best thing that they could do is become active in ISRI because that way you get to meet young people that are active and are here and get to be able to talk with them and discuss the problems that they have.
And I know that… I guess the first…one of the youngest people that I… The first young person that I met was David Serls and we competed against each other. And he’s my oldest and best friend in the industry. And when he was working for Colonial Metals and I was with George Sall Metals and the principals of those two companies didn’t talk, they had a falling out, like they did in those times. And David and I struck up this friendship and the principals said, “Well, if you want to be friends with them and you want to do business with them, it’s up to you.” And we developed a nice business together. And we were able to discuss a lot of things. And it’s important that I think these young people meet with their fellow young people and be able to have a place to talk and a place to talk about their problems. But I think the potential for young people in this industry is there. It’s not an old man’s industry anymore. It’s growing and growing and you have to be on your toes to be participating in this industry.
Interviewer: You, in your involvement with ISRI, have had a number of positions. Could you tell us what those positions have been in ISRI?
Stanton: Oh, after the merger I was elected chairman of the non-ferrous division and which carried a board position. Then after that I was chairman of the Aluminum Committee and stayed on the board. Then I became convention chairman and that’s been interesting and fun. And I was on the nominating committee and I’ve been on the board….This’ll be my last year on the board because I can’t find another way to get back on the board until I take a year off. And I was also an insurance trustee for six years. And I think that’s about it.
Interviewer: So what you’re saying is you would very much like to remain on the board if you were able to.
Stanton: Sure. No, I really would. But I will… I am going to be convention chairman again for the next two years under Shelley Padnos’s reign. And so therefore, I will be coming to the board meetings always.
Interviewer: Let’s talk for a moment about the two conventions that you have chaired. We’re in the midst of the San Francisco Convention as we speak in 1998. What have you learned about ISRI or about yourself in the course of your chairmanship?
Stanton: Well, the…. last year, the Vegas Convention, which was at that time was the biggest, which I’m sure San Francisco will exceed that, and we were at The Mirage and we were able to use their ballroom and use their outside facility for the large equipment. Everything ran fairly smooth and it was a good convention, but we were all looking forward to San Francisco, which we were going to move into a new mode of having our exhibition and our meetings in a convention hall. And there was a lot of fear and trepidation about that because we knew it was going to be more expensive. We knew that our members are going to have to walk from their hotels to the convention hall. We didn’t know whether… having the meetings at the convention hall, how that would work, and we didn’t know how the weather would hold up.
But I got to tell you something. It’s really worked out. We’ve had nothing but compliments about the convention. It will be the largest, I’m pretty sure we’ll probably… I’m guessing maybe be 3,300 registration. Our exhibition was the largest ever. There were some glitches, but it’s like anything else. And this year we brought most of the activities in-house, which was something new again.
Interviewer: In-house meaning..
Stanton: In-house meaning ISRI staff to a process and put the whole convention together. And I got to tell you something, I’m amazed that the more work you give the ISRI staff, the more they could do it and the better they do it. And I take my hat off to them. It made my job a lot easier and it’s been fun.
And somebody said I’m a glutton for punishment for taking it for two more years, but it’s fun. It really is. And one of the….the most fun I had was doing a little sketch with Jimmy Fisher and running up the hills of San Francisco.
Interviewer: For a video.
Stanton: For the video. That was… But he got even with me because I made him jump out of the cake last year for our 10th anniversary and he thought I was going to be in the cake too, but there was no room for both of us, so he was younger, so he had to jump out of the cake. He’ll probably never talk to me again.
Interviewer: Thinking about these two conventions experiences, what was your greatest surprise for you in being the convention chairman?
Stanton: The greatest surprise I guess…
Interviewer: What surprised you most at the convention?
Stanton: My real feeling about that, it went smoothly. And this one, even though we had some glitches for the number of people and for the new things that we experienced that we hadn’t had any experience with and we didn’t know what to expect, I really feel that this convention is running smoothly and I think next year will be a good convention if businesses is okay. I mean good business brings big attendance at conventions. And I could guarantee good weather, I can guarantee good entertainment, good speakers, business I’ll have to leave that up to Shelley Padnos.
Interviewer: What was the toughest thing you experienced in the convention?
Stanton: The toughest thing probably telling somebody that they’re going to have to buy a new badge because they lost their badge. And this guy was bigger than me and I just was a little worried about that or telling the ladies that they could only take two of the services in the Sonoma lounge instead of having a manicure, massage, hairdressing appointment and something else, or taking a guess as to how many people we’re going to guarantee for the final night.
Interviewer: During the course of your many years in this business you’ve seen many companies and many people, of those people who are no longer in the business or perhaps no longer alive, who were most important to you? Who were most influential?
Stanton: Well, I think George Sall was probably the most influential because he taught me the business. I mean that on hand, cutting a piece of a brass gear telling me it’s high grade, but he was the one that pushed me into it and he taught me a lot about selling and buying. And he just taught me a lot about this… our industry and about life itself. My father had a lot to do with it, but he wasn’t in this business. He was in the sweater business, he was a sweater manufacturer. And he taught me a lot about selling also and how to talk to people. And I think that has a lot to do with my success.
Interviewer: Any other memorable people, companies, events in the course of your history in the scrap industry?
Stanton: Well, I made a couple of big mistakes one time. We bought the 12 propellers down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. I sampled every… each one of them. And I came back with one that showed that it was high grade. The people at George Sall Metal never saw a high grade propeller in their life. And I said, “I cut it and I broke my back cutting that propeller and I’m telling you, it’s high grade. Okay.” We had the plans to ship 11 propellers to Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on these big low bed tractor trailers. And one was coming back to George Sall Metals and that propeller came in and there were 12 people out there. They wanted to see where that high grade propeller is and our chief brass sorter, he jumps up on the propeller and he takes the hatchet, manganese bronze. Hits another blade, bang, another manganese bronze.
They all look at me. “Stanton where’s the high grade?” And I found where I took that cut out of there and what had happened was they broke the tip of the propeller and during the war they didn’t have manganese bronze available. So they braised on high grade. I happened to hit that spot where they braised that high grade propeller. So we called the state police, stopped the parade of propellers going to Bethlehem Steel and said, “Wait there’s one more coming up.” And everybody laughed at me and I had to find it. But I got to tell you something. I learned how to sample propellers after that. You always look for a seam, that’s for sure. So that was one of my low points.
Interviewer: If you could, would you do it all over again?
Stanton: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have absolutely enjoyed being in this business. And I guess because it’s a business that just never stops. There’s changes constantly and momentarily, and markets go up, markets go down. And I guess the friendships I’ve made makes this business worthwhile.