Alan ensures that the Chicago-based recycling plant efficiently processes tons of wastepaper and separates it into 51 different grades and glean the maximum possible value from the loads. The insights he has gained over his 16 years at Mid America are used by client partners to great effect. “At Mid America, we don’t just tell our client partners how to capture more value from waste, we perfect the process ourselves,” Alan says.
I have only had two jobs in my entire life,” he recalls. “My first job at 16 was as a day camp counselor for preschoolers. After that, I jumped into recycling and haven’t looked back. I began a summer job working at MAPR in 1998. I have been a paper shredder, a forklift operator, a paper sorter and a salesperson before moving into my current position as plant manager. If things were different and I had another career, it might be in earth science or space because I love
reading about that subject.”
What would he do for a living if he was born 100 years ago? “I’d probably work at something having to do with horses. I spent a lot of my childhood riding horses and rode every day for 10 years.”
A member of the Mid America family that has owned the independent brokerage, processor and exporter of recovered paper for four generations, Alan manages a team of 22 employees and is on the front lines with them every day. He’s charged with running several operations, ensuring that high-speed sorting, baling, cutting and compacting systems are
operational and organizing load logistics and coordinating shipping and receiving among other things.
“I’m also a full-time solutions provider,” he says with a smile. “Many of the guys in the plant have worked here as long or longer than I have. It’s a grinding job that requires long hours, so you really have to want to be out here and want to be hungry for success.”
While it’s a dirty, gritty livelihood, the plant crew finds plenty of ways to keep motivated, Alan explains. Part of that motivation comes from finding and adopting new ways to simplify the materials processing tasks for the wastepaper that enters and exits the plant. Another crew motivator is Alan himself.
“I try to stay positive. My attitude can directly affect our production,” he says. “The people in the plant will feed off me. If we don’t have a positive team atmosphere, we will not get the results we are looking for.”
Thus, Alan never waivers on Mid America’s zero-waste initiatives and excellent service goals. “We understand the challenges customers face because we deal with them firsthand,” he points out. “I’m glad to work with such great people at the company. Having good employees is crucial to our success. We are constantly working on building the perfect team and will always go the extra mile for everyone that MAPR encounters, from the customers to the truck drivers to our own teams. We make sure they have a positive experience. If they don’t, we will certainly make it right.”
Busy as it is, the recycling business is always changing, which encourages the plant team to continue learning new things and improving production processes. “One of the industry’s latest challenges is dealing with China and its measures to reduce garbage waste and improve its pollution problem,” Alan mentions. “China is no longer buying the tonnage it bought for many years. So, we have to continue finding new outlets for these waste materials by working with more companies and more people.”
It’s those new ideas and innovations that separate Mid America from the pack. “We are successful at finding ways to handle materials that others might steer away from,” he says. “The best part of my job is seeing positive results from our hard work and reaching new highs in production. And having a happy team on the plant floor buy into what we’re trying to accomplish and believing in MAPR is a nice thing. I’m also proud that my colleagues reach out to me with questions or when they need help.”
Alan is equally proud of the positive feedback and comments the plant receives from mill buyers and guests who visit the facility. “But being in recycling, we have to remember we are doing great things for our planet. Remembering can get lost in the shuffle, yet our industry plays a big part in making the planet safer and cleaner, little by little. It’s gratifying to play a part in successfully operating one of the largest private recycling facilities in third-largest city in the country.”