What is your official title?
I am the CEO of Schupan & Sons, Inc.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
My day is trying to help steer the ship, to motivate, to listen, and to try to look into the crystal ball for the future. I would think that I’m kind of a problem solver, but mostly my job as CEO is to be able to help the people I work with to have the tools to do their jobs and hopefully to inspire them, and to continue to learn from them as well.
What is Schupan & Sons? How long have you been in business?
We are a diversified metals related company. Our roots are in the industrial recycling of metals, with aluminum as our specialty. We have about 600 industrial plants that we do recycling for. We also have three plants that distribute metals, primarily aluminum, and we are also manufacturers. We make parts for a number of companies in different industries, from automotive to medical device to office furniture.
I’m also part owner of a melting operation in Wabash, IN. We are the largest in the United States in handling redeemable aluminum containers in deposit states; we have two facilities outside of Kalamazoo that do that. We handle most of the containers in Michigan. We have a joint venture with a company out of Norway called Tomra, and they have the barcode technology for when you go into a store to identify the containers. We also have an electronic scrap recycling operation, which is fairly new. And we handle about 300 schools where we do their recycling for their electronics.
In 1968 my father bought a very small company that was in an estate called Konigsberg and Company on Lake Street. He ran the company from 1968 until he passed away in 1974. I always joke that I reached my level of incompetency at 26 when I took it over. From a values standpoint, we try to follow the quote of “There’s nothing nearly so clever as honesty and sincerity.” It’s how we try to run our business and it’s how we treat our customers. We’re not always perfect. I tell my kids that integrity is number one. Then it’s tenacity – staying tough. And compassion. I think if you have those three values you can be a pretty good person.
What community projects are you involved with?
I’ve been involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters for probably north of 30 years for sure. I’ve been on the board off and on for that time period. Most of my commitment has been their annual dinner that I have been co-chair of for over 30 years that provides a third of the funding for the program, which over the years has been very successful. I truly believe in the values and the ability to help change people’s lives. I really respect people who are Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
I’m on the board for the Air Museum, which I’m really enjoying; I’m still fairly new to that. I recently helped them be able to purchase a mural of the Tuskegee Airmen, which is up now; I think that’ll be a good thing for our community. I’m on the board for Southwest Michigan Economic Development and have been for quite a long time.
A number of years ago we backed American Diabetes Association for a golf outing and it’s been very successful. Now, we run it and we split the funds raised with Big Brothers Big Sisters and American Diabetes Association. This was in honor of a fantastic employee we had, Rich Holtz. We saw what diabetes did to him, and he was an inspiration to us, so we’ve continued with that.
There is a swimming program now that I kind of helped start a few years ago that’s mostly for minorities or underprivileged children. I kept reading these stories about kids who drowned who should’ve been able to swim, but never learned. We’ve run over 700 kids through that program over the last few years. They also get tutoring; Kalamazoo College has been involved, along with the Kalamazoo County Parks and Recreation.
Generally in the community, we support Western Michigan sports programs and theater. There are lots of opportunities and lots of things we can be a part of. We give away some scholarships; we have one at Loy Norrix. This will be the 41st year of giving away the scholarship, which started after my father passed and this year the first recipient of the scholarship will be 58 years old. We give one to a deserving student at Norrix, and one at Kalamazoo Central. The nice thing is that I still get a chance to present the scholarship. It’s interesting to get to talk to the recipients about what’s important to them.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
I went to Loy Norrix High School. I went on to Michigan State. I always joke that I had four years of undergraduate work, and then another year of post-undergraduate work. I got a Political Science degree. I went an extra year to pick up a teaching certification. I ended up teaching and coaching – I like sports a lot, football and basketball. I taught high school for three years in Caro, MI. The really important thing there was that I met my wife right when I was leaving Caro; she was also a teacher.
I came home after three years, and I was either going to go to law school or try to coach college basketball. I said to my father that I would give him one year in the business before I made my decision, and unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly three weeks after I came home. I had a younger brother and two sisters, so I kind of became the patriarch of the family and went to work, which is what I’ve been doing ever since. The only other thing is that I do have a degree from Harvard now in business, which took me a lot of years to get.
I bleed Green and White, but I also support Western. Tom Izzo and Coach Dantonio are good friends; I have a lot of respect for them. I was pretty athletic up until 43, when I had an injury and back surgery. Up until then I played about 50 games of hockey a winter, tennis, and softball, and chased my kids around of course. I also like to fish, and read and travel. I am always trying to learn. People say as you get older that there’s so much you don’t know, so when I have opportunities I like to do things like the Idea Conference in Colorado, and I’ve been to a few global leadership programs overseas, which I’ve gotten the chance to learn a lot from.
The biggest thing for me is family. I love watching my kids and grandkids play sports and spending time with them. Family is certainly the most important thing. I think one of the great things about working for our company is that we respect how important it is to be at your kids’ events; that’s why you work.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I think it’s been a great place to raise a family. I think the community has been very generous in so many ways in trying to make it a better place, whether it’s the arts or education or general philanthropic endeavors. I shop at the D&W, and I used to do the floors for Harding’s Market at the same location when I was 14. I know the parents and the grandparents of the kids that have come through there over the years. My wife thinks that that is where most of my social activities take place.
What have you been jammin’ to recently?
Oh, I think classic. I like mostly classic or old stuff, everything from Jimmy Buffett to the Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills and Nash. I like country music, too.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
Coffee in my milk with some artificial sweetener. I don’t drink much coffee. One in the morning, and maybe one in the afternoon.
What is your favorite craft beer?
My favorite is my favorite because a friend of mine is the owner of Petoskey Brewery, and they’re brewing it right now. It’s called Horny Monk.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
I live on a little lake, so sitting on that dock and watching the sunset or fishing off the dock is my favorite. It’s very quiet and peaceful there. I think that’s one of my favorite spots.
Who would play you in a movie?
Who’s the guy that used to play Bond? Sean Connery. I’ve always liked him.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say to appreciate those around you and to always take time to let them know that you do.
What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled?
I did the running of the bulls in Spain; that was a pretty cool thing to do, once. People asked what it felt like, and I tell them Winston Churchill once said, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” And that was it!
I’ve been a lot of places. I really like Thailand a lot. I like Australia. We just did a Baltic trip, which was pretty interesting. I lived in London. I also had a really interesting trip in Brazil a number of years ago.
What’s something new you want to try within the next year?
It’s our 40th anniversary next year, and we are booked to go to New Zealand. One of the reasons we wanted to go is because of the Lord of the Rings movies being filmed there; we want to see the scenery.
Any advice that you would give to someone just getting started in business?
There’s a lot of things. Understand that no matter what you do, unfortunately there will be challenges, and life isn’t necessarily fair. How you react to those challenges will determine your ability to be successful. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who have skills that maybe you don’t have. I owe my success to surrounding myself with people who are good at a number of things that I’m not.