This scrap metal company is taking the Upstate global
AUGUST 18, 2011 10:29 a.m. (0)
That was all before turning 17.
Today, at 32, he is co-owner with Rodney Adams of Adams Scrap Recycling, a multi-million dollar business with an entry into the global recycling market.
It’s a growing business with an army of down and outs who exchange trash for a few bucks to buy simple essentials, just as Desor, his parents and five brothers and sisters did growing up in Spartanburg.
“We employ the unemployable, the people who come in here with a bag full of cans or a broken screen door,” said Desor. “They’re going to buy a couple of gallons of milk or some kerosene. We give out $8 million of those dollars to people who need it the most, and they spend it right away.”
The recycling center deals with around 8,000 different peddlers or venders, many of them individuals, and employs 25 people full time.
With expansion, Desor and Adams plan to add 50 more initially and, if it takes off, as many as 100 employees in two years. The company pays 75 percent of health and life insurance benefits for full-time workers.
‘Two Fools Colliding’
Last week, the company and the Greenville Area Development Corp., Gov. Nikki Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt announced an investment of $3.2 million to expand Adams Recycling into a one-of-a-kind one-stop center for recycling anything salvageable.
Desor and Adams plan to use eight acres across from the 20-acre junk and recycling yard on Old Easley Highway for all non-metallic material and expand the metal recycling operation on 20 acres that adjoins the existing yard. They have asked Greenville County to rezone that property from residential.
Adams, the third generation operator of what had been just a junkyard and a supplier of reusable auto parts, refers to his partnership with Desor in recycling “as two fools colliding,” a characterization Desor gleefully accepts.
For Desor and brother Rajesh, 29, who is general manager and plans to buy into the business, running a company that will have $15 million in revenue this year is a long way from living with their parents and siblings in the back of a pickup truck and collecting cardboard for $4 or $5 a load.
They learned a thing or two from their parents about getting by in hardship.
Spartanburg via Idi Amin
Surinder Desor, who had emigrated from India to Uganda, and Sherbanu Manjothi, who was born in Uganda of Indian parents, were among thousands of Indians given 90 days to leave Uganda in 1972 by Idi Amin, the mercurial and brutal president of the former East African British Colony.
They spent three years in a UN refugee camp in Germany until being admitted to the United States and randomly sent to Spartanburg where they were “given two weeks of bed space in a mission” before being sent out on their own.
They had crossed paths in Germany and were reunited in Spartanburg, where they married, defying formidable religious and culture barriers of India. Surinder was Hindu and Sherbanu Muslim. They had six children, all born here.
Sherbanu worked for awhile in a textile mill, and Surinder got a job at Spartanburg Steel, where, though he was employed for 27 years, he experienced long layoffs that put the family on the streets.
“We had a 1974 pickup truck, and we lived out of it, two adults and six children,” recalls Kamal. “We would go to gas stations to get ready for school. I slept on the truck floor, and I remember the cold steel against my face.”
State Takes the Kids
To pick up a few dollars, the family would travel around Spartanburg and neighboring communities going through dumpsters looking for cardboard and other trash they could sell to a recycler.
“I was just as small as you could find,” said Kamal. “I’d jump into the dumpsters and throw the cardboard out. The others would stack it and flatten them. We didn’t strap it. We would sit on it until we could sell it.”
One day, a lady asked them to take some metal she had in her trash. “For a load of cardboard, we used to get $4 or $5 maximum. The first time we took a load of steel, we got $20. We were shocked, and that’s when we started seeing some profits whereas before we were just maintaining.”
The family quickly switched to metal scavenging; and by the time he was seven, Kamal could identify different metals by color and knew their value and where to sell them.
When a teacher found out the family was living in a pickup, the state took custody of the children and shuttled them “in and out of children’s homes for the next five or six years” until their father was able to “establish a proper home for us,” Kamal said.
Kamal didn’t attend high school but got his GED when he was 15. Around then, he got involved “with a ring of older guys who were doing a lot of burglaries. I was fencing all the materials.”
He became “the first juvenile in South Carolina tried and convicted as an adult” under a law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 1996, 22 days before his arrest, lowering the adult threshold for criminal prosecution to 16.
Class, Trash and Pizza
He served three years in the prison industry shop, an experience he views “as one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life. I wouldn’t take it back for nothing. The people I met, the experiences I had, the things I learned. It changed the way I am, the way I think.”
When he got out, he enrolled at Spartanburg Technical College and earned a degree in industrial mechanics. In those three years, Kamal worked with his father, who had started a salvage business in Spartanburg, and delivered pizzas for Papa John’s.
“We were buying the stuff and taking it to Spartanburg to recycle it there. Spartanburg is the epicenter for recycling. The most advanced equipment and the most brilliant minds on recycling are there in Spartanburg.”
Because Greenville “didn’t know anything about recycling,” Kamal could take “a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand bucks” to Greenville, buy scrap and double his money by hauling it to Spartanburg.
When his father died in 2006, Kamal took over the business and built global connections, selling to markets in Spain, Turkey, Korea and mainly China and India.
He was buying a lot of scrap from Adams “over the course of five years and we exchanged a lot of revenue with each over and that developed a lot of trust and friendship,” so he approached Adams about launching the export business from the Adams yard. That led to the recycling business in 2009.
The goal, said Kamal, is “the very first receptacle for all recyclable products” and to teach the public that “everything that is possible to recycle should be recycled.” And that includes building “an institute of higher learning of recycling.”
A bit audacious? Perhaps, but, as Kamal quotes Adams: “Neither one of us is weak enough to give up or smart enough to quit.”
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