Brookfield Iron & Metal

HOW A CHANGE OF CAREER LED TO BIG SUCCESS FOR THIS CHICAGO-AREA RECYCLE/SCRAP FIRM

Dec 16, 2013

Komatsu machines - “High productivity. Great fuel efficiency. Excellent reliability.”

After graduating from college with a finance degree, Josh Wilkins spent five years building a successful career as an accountant/VP Sales. He had a downtown Chicago office and worked for clients at the Chicago Board of Trade, the Mercantile Exchange and elsewhere. But in 2005, he abruptly left all that to join his dad at Wilkins Rebuilders, a small Chicago Heights-based company that recycles diesel truck parts.

“It may seem like an unusual career move, but it made sense to me,” said Josh. “Number one, this was a family business, and I wanted it to continue beyond my dad. Number two, the company I was with wouldn’t promote me to controller because I was too young. They had a rule that you had to be 30 years old, which I thought was stupid, so I left and never looked back.”

“He took a pretty big pay cut to come here,” recalled his dad, Pete Wilkins. “I paid him $9/hour to run a shear. As the new guy, he also had to clean the office. I questioned whether he would choose to stay with us, not just because of the pay, but because it’s dirty, outdoor work – not the suit and tie, office job he was accustomed to.”

Not only did Josh stay, but in 2010, he partnered with New York-based Brookfield Resource Management to form a Chicago division, Brookfield Iron & Metal. That move built on what his dad had started and took the Wilkins’ operations to an entirely different level.

“When Josh came here, I think he was our fifth employee,” Pete noted. “Five years later, we were up to about 15. Today, we have 75 people between Wilkins and Brookfield, and it’s all because of Josh. He spent some time learning the industry – applied his education, background, aggressiveness and vision to it – and boom. It’s been unbelievable. The volume we push through here now is stunning to me. The business has grown at least tenfold since he’s come onboard.”

Wilkins Rebuilders recycles diesel truck parts. Brookfield Iron & Metal recycles passenger and commercial gasoline-powered vehicles and sells scrap. This year, they will recycle about 15,000 cars and vehicles, 2,000 to 3,000 trucks and a similar number of trailers.

“At Brookfield, we dismantle for large companies like Waste Management, Nissan and UPS,” Josh explained. “They want to make sure their old vehicles don’t end up back on the street. We guarantee that with photos. We sell the useable parts, largely to overseas markets. What’s left, we process as scrap and sell to steel mills.

“In my opinion, one thing that separates us from our competition is relationships. The scrap industry doesn’t have a great reputation, but our customers know they can trust us to do what’s in their best interest. The other crucial aspect is efficiency. I’m a numbers guy. When the opportunity with Brookfield arose, I ran the numbers in my head and could see how it would work. From there, it was a matter of putting infrastructure, equipment and people in place, then running it with standard procedures and processes that would get us where we wanted to go.”

“Josh came from a different background and different mentality than most of us in this industry,” said Pete. “He could see a better, more efficient and profitable way to do things. Then he, and the Brookfield team, made it happen.”

Quality Komatsu machines

Equipment is an important part of the efficiency factor for Brookfield. The company turns largely to Roland Machinery and Portage Branch Sales Rep Dave Cruise for its mobile units including five Komatsu wheel loaders and two Komatsu PC350 excavators. Brookfield also has two SENNEBOGEN 830 material handlers.

“Some people in this industry try to get by on the cheap, but we believe in quality and have been very pleased with our Komatsu units,” said Josh. “High productivity. Great fuel efficiency. Excellent reliability. The excavators have plenty of hydraulic power to run the attachments. And the wheel loaders are bullet-proof. We’ve never had one down.

“Part of that is due to the fact that we take care of our equipment,” he added. “For example, service intervals and oil samples are required every 500 hours, but we do them at 250 hours. We also get excellent support from Dave and everybody at Roland. When I need something equipment-wise, Roland is typically my first and only call.”

Dynamic growing business

From zero to 55 employees in a little more than two years is impressive. But Josh Wilkins says Brookfield is not standing still. “We’re definitely still growing. We recently paved our entire yard and did a nine acre expansion. We’re adding a rail line to better move scrap out of Chicago. Once that’s finished, it will require a second shift and another 20 people or so. I’m also working on another expansion effort, but I want to keep that quiet for the time being.”

As for making the move from downtown to the south side; office to yard; and white collar to blue collar; Josh says he wouldn’t change a thing. “I love my job. This is a dynamic business, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.” It’s a sentiment echoed by his dad. “For a father to work with his son and have it turn out like this is tremendous,” said Pete. “It’s like being at one of his Little League games with a front row seat to watch him hit a home run. It makes me proud that he’s been able to do this for us and our employees, and it makes me happy that the family business will continue after I’m retired.”