Founder and CEO
Marsha Serlin founded United Scrap Metal in 1978 in Cicero, Illinois, just outside Chicago. She started with just $200 and a rental truck from Sears, but over the past 40 years built her company to more than 550 employees in six locations.
How do you feel about diversity in the industry? Is it progressing, staying the same, getting worse?
Women in this industry were nonexistent. It used to be all men. You never saw a woman. The first time I'd walk in people would just say "you have to come in my office."; The guys would all call their controller, their CFO and president and say "look what's here."; We have lots of women in our management and all over. Our safety director, HR, but the hardest part is [sourcing female] labor.
All the steel companies have women working for them. There have been organizations formed also that help women. The Association of Women in the Metals Industry – we've been a part of that for 30 years probably. We respect and try to promote women.
As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, who or what has inspired you?
It was being underestimated in a man's world that really was the key to my success. The more people would say to me "she will be gone in three months or six months" – those are fighting words for me. In a year or whatever I was still there. Now it is 42 years and they're gone and I'm here.
The integrated [mills] were the big boys in town and they wouldn't even let me in the mill because I was a woman – until they started to destroy it. [That's] when I worked for the demolition companies, and I had to go. Then they let me in but I couldn't get in otherwise. They had no respect. The steel mills never had respect for women. It was definitely the big boys.
What advice would you give a woman entering the industry today?
Be blind. Just learn your business. If you know it, people will respect you. If you don't know this business, ask questions and be a good listener. I think women are really good in the metals business and they understand it. Women in the business, if they get excited about it I think they can do anything. I never thought there was any restriction for me. I tell women, you don't have to be a metallurgist you just have to work hard. If they have a spark in their eye and really want to learn. Everybody wants a future. The future in metals, I think, will never go away.
Looking to the future, what is this industry's biggest challenge? How can the industry meet it?
It is labor. How do we train the best labor? We have 150 vehicles of big heavy 18 wheelers right now. Try to find 150 [drivers] – and they are good paying jobs. Our very good transportation drivers are generally getting older and are retiring. There are no young ones to take over and it's a good job – $75,000 a year is not a bad job for someone who may not have finished high school.
We always try to promote from within. We have a lot of supervisors and managers that we send to different parts of the country. They love it because they can end up running it and being the general manager of an operation. This industry is not going away and it is going to be more sophisticated. After we get through COVID, I believe we are going to get even more sophisticated. We're going to find that making metal will still be relevant in the US, and making products.
Interview by Michael Fitzgerald