Al Kublin
Screenshot of Al Kurbin sitting on a couch, taken from oral history video.

Al Kublin, Simco Recycling Corporation, Miami, Florida. Interviewed March 1998. Interview courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Transcription by Carmen Venable.

Kublin: Well, I was a department manager at, uh,  Goldwrite Brother’s(?) in Chicago, boys’ clothing department, and, uh, though they are very long on title, they are very short on money, and a friend of mine offered me an opportunity to work for his parents in the waste paper business. My father thought that was an excellent idea, having had experience with people in the business, and so I thought I’d give it a try. I don’t know who did who a favor, because it was very hard. We started at seven in the morning, we finished at seven at night, and it was a new—completely new way of living, although, I learned the business, from the bottom, from the trucking, to the sorting, to the baling, to the shipping. And, um, that was my beginning in this industry.

Interviewer: What year was that, do you recall?

Kublin: 1950. The spring of 1950.

Interviewer: And what materials were you handling there?

Kublin: We, uh, we, a plant that handles strictly high-grade, at that time wastepaper. Um, we handled no bulk-grades, and we—our customers are printers and um, and the like.     And that became my expertise, so to speak.

Interviewer: And were you primarily in the domestic markets?

Kublin: We were almost exclusively in the domestic market—in Chicago, yes. Uh, we did no exporting.

Interviewer: And about how many employees did you have at that time?

Kublin: That company had probably, uh, twenty-five, thirty employees. It was a relatively small company, in competition with the pioneers and the Thomas Paper Stocks and the People’s Iron and Metal. We were kind of the midget, but we had our niche in the marketplace, and that’s where we tried to stay.

Interviewer: What was the most exciting event that happened in the fifties and sixties in paper recycling?

Kublin: In the fifties and sixties? Well I think you had, um, the up and the down, it was really the nature of the business. We had some very, very good years, and we had some very, very bad years. And that was the period that I decided to move to Florida. And, uh, in 1960 opened up my plant in Miami. And it was because I knew high-grades, that’s what I stuck to, and there was no one in Miami at the time that knew anything about high-grades. So it was a relatively new thing for the area and for me. And it was very exciting, uh, starting out from my car to a garage, to a—the rear end of another packer’s plant, to having my own plant and growing. That basically sums it up. In nineteen, uh—I left that business and went to work for Simkins Industries at the request of Mr. Leon Simkins. I took care of two plants and bought for the local mill, and after working for him for nine years I purchased the company in 1981, with the closing of the local mill. And really, that was the start of a new—a new time for me. I started exporting, I got involved in handling the liner board, as well as the bulk-grades, and, um, in ’84 bought the plant where I’m presently located. My son joined me after graduating college, and we focused on exporting, and um, have maintained that position through the years. The business really has gone full cycle, from uh—although it’s still very employee, uh, focused. The paper still has to be sorted, still has to be packed, though we do it faster with faster equipment and heavier equipment, uh, the demands of the business had become more financial, and more—from packing more tonnage in less time, so that the dollars make sense. And that’s what we all strived for, I think.

Interviewer: How has your competition changed since 1950?

Kublin: Well, the basic change in competition has been that the garbage people have come into the recycling industry and recycling has become a word, [??] no one even knew what the word recycling meant back in the ‘50s. We were in the wastepaper business and that was our niche. We didn’t realize that we were saving the world, and the tree of the world. Since we’ve learned that, and since the trash people have entered our business, it behooved us to compete and go a little bit into their business. I think that’s been the biggest change um, in focusing on finding our niche in the industry. Not trying to buck heads particularly, but finding the things that we could do best, knowing paper best. And um, and being better marketers because of our experience around the world.

Interviewer: What about processing and sorting of material? Is that any different today than it was in 1950?

Kublin: Well, only from the type of equipment and the fact that you have to produce it faster because of the economic features. We’ve gone full circle, we sorted from conveyers, and we sorted from containers, and now we’re back to sorting from conveyers and sorting from containers. So it’s um—the only thing is you’re handling—have to handle more tonnage. My company has expanded into bulk-grades as well as the higher grades, and um, I think the trend is that you either have to be very large or very small, and I think you’re going to find more and more companies joining up with other companies, uh, making conglomerates, or selling out to larger companies, but there will still be a place for the company that wants to remain small and find the niche in the marketplace that they fit, and are content to stay in that place. So I think it depends on where you want to be in the—and can be successful both ways. And I see a definite growth in our industry, I think recycling is here to stay, I think it’ll become more, uh, focused. I think they’re going to find more and better ways of using all the products in the recycling industry, from the glass that we all shudder at, to the to plastics that we kind of look up in wonder at. Um, technology will catch up, it always has—it has in each grade of paper that we originally found we couldn’t use, now we found a use for it. Um, or the mills have found a way of using it. So technology is going to be the key, and finding your place in our industry is going to be the answer to be successful.

Interviewer: Have your vendors changed? Have your mill consumers changed over the years?

Kublin: Well I think that—the biggest thing that has happened in relationship to the vendors and the suppliers is there was originally an antagonistic view between the mill and the dealer. Everyone was looking to protect themselves. And I think now it’s gone more towards a working relationship, where the mill is relying on the supplier and the supplier is relying on the mill. Um, I think this is good for the industry. I see it more and more, I see there are mills that are going into the recycling business. And then there are mills that are going out of it and letting the experts—quote unquote—handle it. But —it definitely—a closer relationship has become the rule rather than the exception.

Interviewer: Have you seen the equipment change?

Kublin: That’s been, probably, the biggest change. We’ve gone from slow, inexpensive equipment to fast, expensive equipment. Um, the economy has forced that. It’s just one of those things that has to be and that’s not only in our industry but in almost every industry. The results end up the same; you’re still producing a bale, you still have to ship that bale, that bale has to be put into usage to recover the fiber, and it’s just a question of doing it faster, with more expense in buying it. And that’s uh, that’s the nature of this business as well as many other businesses.

Interviewer: In shipping your products [Kublin coughs] what types of shipping companies are you typically using these days?

Kublin: Well, I think my company was one of the first companies to use containers to ship rather than bulk shipment. Years ago, we used produce our bales, put them on a boat bulk, half the time the bales would fall off the ship or get wet, and when they got to the port there’d be bales broken and you’d have them all over the dock, uh, and we found an alternative, and that was by—we could load many containers and reposition them for the shipping companies, and when that became a normal thing, I think that was really the beginning of, um, truly exporting in our industry. It allowed us to go anywhere in the world, with as much or as little, because we could ship as little as twenty ton or twenty-five ton, rather than saving up shipments of a thousand ton or two thousand tons shipped to any one particular port. And um, I think that has done a great deal to expand our markets.

Interviewer: Since your business today is a family-owned business, where do you see your company going in the next twenty-five years?

Kublin: That’s a very interesting question, because I’ve given that a lot of thought. I have merged part of my company with the mills uh, in a foreign—Venezuela. My son, I really weaned him in the business, from sorting tabulating cards when he was ten up to where he is now and basically, I forced him to handle the things—the business as if I weren’t there. Hopefully his children will follow it, uh, in the business. Um, it would be nice to think that that’s what would happen.

Interviewer: What advice would you give him for running that company in the future?

Kublin: Well, I—I built my business on sincerity, both with my customer and with the—people I supplied paper to. Um, I think we kind of lose sight of that sometimes, the dollar gets in the way, but you’re in business for a long time, and this is what I’ve told my son, and what goes around will come around. If you treat customers right, and you do the right thing by them, eventually it will come back to you. And I think that’s one of the things that we lose a little—we lose humility a little bit in our attempt to gain—financial gain. And I think in the long run you’re better off just taking it a little slower, but doing it the right way, and I think you build a more firm situation. That was really born out—I had one main thing that happened in the business in 1991, I had a fire which destroyed my plant completely. On Saturday afternoon, I stood there watching my past burn up. And um, that was one of the low points of my life. But Monday morning became one of the highlights of my life, because with the help of my son and my customer friends and my mill friends, we didn’t miss a beat. We started all over again, and since rebuilt the plant, and uh, that’s a wonderful feeling to know that in the sight of adversity, you still have – to your aide and helped you get along and with a little hard work and a little determination you can spring back.

Interviewer: What year was that?

Kublin: 1991. And uh—

Interviewer: So what is your—what is the size of your plant today, and your employee—

Kublin: Well we have, um, actually well over 100,000 square feet, um, on about six acres of property. We’re in the process of opening a second plant, um, to handle more of the bulk-grades and to go in the [unintelligible]. We have about a hundred employees, and uh, it’s grown from myself to that point. And I—I feel very good about it, and it still requires a lot of work and a lot of attention, and it’s not a business that can run itself. It’s a business that you need management because there are always catastrophes happening. Its very easy to run a business that just runs smoothly and people come in and buy from you and—but that isn’t the case in our business. Our business is—has always been one that requires a lot of work and a lot of attention. And that’s what we hope to give it.

Interviewer: If you could, would you get involved in this industry all over again?

Kublin: Oh my gosh, what a question. You know, when I moved to Florida, I said to myself, “Gosh, do I really want to be in the recycling business?” You have to fight to buy the merchandise, you have to fight the process, I—I have to fight to sell it, it’s physically hard, mentally hard, but you know—it’s a business that’s never boring. It keeps you excited because its always changing, and every day a new problem is there for you to solve and a new technology has come about—producing a new kind of paper, a new ink, or—and it just takes—takes what you have and it makes you work at it. And that’s good. That’s exciting. I don’t think I’ve ever been bored in the business. And I hope to—that’s why people have asked me when I am going to retire. I—I don’t—I hope never, really, I think that—as long as I’m excited about the business and I—it remains fun, then I’m going to keep plugging at it. That’s it.

Interviewer: You’ve been a member of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries since 1987, when the, um, merger occurred. How many years were you involved in the paper recycling —I think during that time period it was—

Kublin: Well, it– uh—

Interviewer: [unintelligible] Stock Institute.

Kublin: Around 1975, I was brought to my first paper stock meeting– and a friend of mine, Joe  Martinelli—it was an uplifting experience. I mean, it was—I was new, no one knew me, and yet everyone treated me friendly—we were friendly, and uh, the exchange of ideas were—was open. It gave you a warm feeling to be a part of an industry that could be competitive, and yet friendly. And since that time, I’ve been actually been coming to all the meetings, or as many as I can make, and uh, been an active part of the association. Uh, when I joined [NARI?], I was—joining [NARI], and then subsequently ISRI, and I’ve not regretted it, I’ve uh, made some very good friends, and we worked together. See, it’s a good feeling to work together.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for others in the industry, for the future?

Kublin: Wow. Yes, as I said before, don’t—the dollar is important. We all need it. But there are other important things: your integrity, your working with and for the industry, all are important. And will let you sleep well at night. And that’s the advice I would give. It’d be—just be honest. Okay?

Kublin: –fifty-pound bass, and had it mounted, and it was over my—in my office. My office was completely burned out, and I was standing there, and the firemen are walking out of the office, holding this tremendous fish. And he looks up at me, he says, “Look, smoked fish!” [Laughs.] I mean, it was tragic, yet it was really comical. That was about all, I mean the rest of it—we’ve all had wonderful things that happen in our business, we’ve all had bad things happen in our business, and that’s what’s made it an interesting business, because you do have good things, bad things, exciting things, dull things. It’s, uh, it gets in your blood, this business.