Garber dives in at ISA, upbeat on turnaround

PITTSBURGH — Industrial Services of America Inc.’s (ISA’s) new top executive recognizes that there are problems at the metals recycler, but is confident that a turnaround is possible.

Sean Garber last week was named president of ISA, Louisville, Ky., as part of a three-year management deal with Louisville-based metals recycler Algar Inc., where he serves as chairman and chief executive officer (, Dec. 4).

His appointment comes as ISA, a full-service metal recycler involved in the used auto parts business, has been plagued by a financial losing streak, the loss of top executives and a short-lived management agreement with a company not active in recycling (, April 1).

Garber has been spending his first official week on the job getting to know each of ISA’s 131 employees. "This is day five of my job and I am listening and finding out what is going on. It won’t take long. I am not one of these guys who does analysis paralysis, and I know we need to move fast," he said.

Industry sources say he is a good fit because he served as ISA president in the late 1990s and owns a thriving automotive and metals recycling business.

"We have four corners of business. Surround yourself with good people, listen to your customers, check your ego at the door and check your greed at the door," he said.

A focus on customers is key, according to Garber. "Customers are vital. Are you listening to your customers some of the time or all the time? We are in a commodity business, therefore the price of scrap is the price of scrap. What makes it different is the experience. You have to create an experience that is better than the competitor," Garber said.

As for greed, too often company leadership allows a profitable employee to wreak havoc on others, he said. "If an employee is good at buying or selling but has a horrible attitude, organizations may overlook it because they think they need him. But really, by their actions the employee is an internal cancer and the good of many outweighs the good of one."

Unlike most management contracts, Algar’s compensation will be solely performance driven. "We wanted to be rewarded through performance," Garber said, adding that he began discussions with the company’s retired founder Harry Kletter in August. "Harry has always been a visionary and definitely a guy that has been a leader in different industries and pushed the end of the envelope. This is an opportunity to put an exclamation point on a 60-year career."

Garber has scrap in both of his bloodlines. His maternal great grandfather, Jacob Lechtner, started Liberty Iron & Metal Co. LLC in Erie, Pa., and father Steve Garber worked for his cousin, industry legend Leonard Rifkin, who built OmniSource Corp. Garber was raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., started working for Rifkin as a teenager and learned the business from the ground up.

"I’ve painted, bought cans, drove tractor trailers, operated cranes and then went into OmniSource’s management training program," he said. "That is why I feel it is imperative to leave your ego at the door and maintain a high level of humility. We all started from somewhere and you should never forget that," he said.
Garber said his broad experience in operations and trading gives him a good perspective. "Some managers find it easy to say ‘just get it done,’ but I have held all these positions and recognize what challenges employees are facing every day," he said. "I can figure out if they truly can’t get it done or just don’t want to do it."

ISA, which is heavily dependent on the stainless market, has been losing money for nearly two years. The company’s footprint in the stainless side is too heavy for market conditions, Garber said.

Garber’s leadership might see the company increase its auto parts presence while enhancing the core ferrous and nonferrous business. "The alloy business has been struggling. However, it has been and continues to be a niche business. If you analyze it, it is outside the core business of a scrap processor. Is there room for it, yes, but you don’t need to have that much of a concentration," he said.

But the problems at ISA are manageable, according to Garber. "It is an extraordinary facility with really good people putting forth a lot of effort. Unfortunately, these efforts are not producing the results required. There are challenges, but for each challenge there are many more opportunities," he said.

Dec 10, 2013 | 04:03 PM | Lisa Gordon

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Industrial Services of America Inc.
7100 Grade Lane
Louisville, KY 40213