Tyler Adams

Chief operating officer at SA Recycling

When Tyler Adams received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami in 2008, it was the beginning of the Great Recession and good jobs were hard to come by. Adams’ family owns SA Recycling, formerly known as Adams Steel, in Orange, California, and he grew up working in the scrap yard during summer breaks. He decided to return to work for the scrap company in 2009, and though he didn’t intend to stay with the company for long, he admits it’s hard to leave the scrap industry.

At the time he joined, SA Recycling was busy adjusting to change. Adams Steel had merged with Australia-based Sims Ltd. to form SA Recycling in 2007. Then the Great Recession caused the market to collapse in 2008. The company also was considering various mergers and acquisitions at that time.

“We saw tremendous strength throughout the market runup, only to see it completely collapse from underneath us,” Adams says of the Great Recession. “But that also created a lot of opportunity. And those opportunities really allowed us to come out that other side a much stronger company. I think that’s the inception of what made us who we are today—to recover from that economic crisis and reestablish ourselves.”

Adams now serves as the company’s chief operating officer. SA Recycling has about 125 facilities across the United States, and Adams helps oversee those operations. He tells Recycling Today what it has been like to watch his family’s business expand and how he has helped maintain consistency at each facility.

"An area I thrive best in is action and change.”

Recycling Today (RT): What was it like for you to watch your family business grow the past two decades?

Tyler Adams (TA): It’s certainly been exciting. An area I thrive best in is action and change. For me, it’s probably what’s kept me so engaged and really drew me to the industry to begin with. This is not a business that we just sit behind the desk all day. We’re out and about; we travel; we’re face to face with our customers and our employees on a daily basis, and having that constant change ... has really been particularly exciting for me.

RT: As a large multilocation scrap processor, how do you keep consistency across different locations?

TA: It’s a little bit of a playbook that we have. ... It starts with the key management and identifying those managers and rolling out a program that gives the manager a bit of a vested interest in the performance of that unit. Empowering those managers and being fully transparent with them and giving them the tools that they need to make the proper decisions really allows them to grab the bull by the horns and run with it.

Human capital is really what it all comes down to—having the right people in the right places. I tell my people all the time that I work for them. My job is to give them the tools they need to succeed. I’m not here to tell them ... how to run their yard because, ultimately, I expect they know how to run their yard—they likely know how to run it better than I do. What they need from me is to make sure they have the tools, the information and the knowledge required to make decisions.

RT: How do you know if an acquisition is a good fit?

TA: We look for synergies that any potential acquisition can bring to our existing business or whatever our existing businesses can complement to those. … A lot of it comes down to gut. When you tour a yard and you see things you can improve or things they’re doing really well that you could bring into your existing operations ... that’s a lot of what it comes down to—try to understand what the two businesses can learn from each other.