The Latest Trends in Entrepreneurship

By Scott Vollero

Not much moves faster than the business world. With rapidly changing tastes, increasingly large global customer bases and new styles, often the challenge for entrepreneurs is just trying to keep up. But entrepreneurs are a creative bunch and many have taken the bull by the proverbial horns and met the challenge with glee. Here are some the latest trends and how entrepreneurs are taking them on.

Small Brands Do What Big Brands Can’t

Big brands pay lots of money for advertising, market research and inventory. Small brands can’t do that, but they have a huge advantage over big brands in one significant way — they know their own customer base better than anyone.

“In fact, one of this year’s most important trends is entrepreneurs who seek out overlooked consumer segments and fill the gap.” — Scott Vollero

That’s exactly how Benji Wagner, co-founder of Poler Outdoor Stuff, came up with the idea of producing camping and outdoor clothing and marketing them directly to consumers.

The big brand outdoor apparel industry, think North Face and Patagonia, was originally founded to cater to mountain climbers and that’s pretty much where it stayed. Wagner saw an underserved market in weekend campers who don’t need a jacket that keeps them warm at 40 degrees below zero. They just want to stay warm around the campfire. Founded in 2011, the company has experienced double-digit growth every year since.

Poler found its niche in finding an unserved segment of the population. And a whole lot of entrepreneurs are following suit in the apparel industries as well as other business segments.

Online Products Make It to Store Shelves

Many niche companies began by selling products online. But increasingly, those same brands are appearing in stores that already carry big name brands. When entrepreneurs serve a previously unserved segment, their products don’t compete with the big names, but instead bring new customers in. For example, Poler apparel is now carried in over 500 other stores in 30 countries across the globe, including Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom.

Tiny Houses Aren’t Just Flash in the Pan

Removing clutter and small footprint living inspired the tiny house movement. What once looked like a flash in the pan has turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Tiny houses on wheels filled a gigantic need and the movement is here to stay. Students who need a place to live while going to college, families who like to have grandma close and people who travel have created a demand that’s nothing short of phenomenal.

And with the tiny house movement comes opportunity. Experts believe that the industry is ripe for entrepreneurs to step in with everything from tiny house decorating to perks for pets services.

It’s Not McDonald’s

Another up-and-coming trend takes on the giants of the fast food industry. Fast food is quick and easy but most menu choices are far from healthy. A few insightful entrepreneurs developed healthy fast food truck services and customers love them. Fresh juice, smoothies, salads and local ingredients give harried consumers a healthier choice.

Other trends shaking up the business world include delivery services that encompass a vast range of services from delivering dinner to gassing up your car, high-quality pet food and unique consulting services, such as ethical business consulting. There’s always something new on the horizon for the creative entrepreneur.

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.

The Dos and Don’ts of Naming a Business

By Scott Vollero

Naming your business sounds like a simple thing, but it’s actually a bit complicated. It’s also incredibly important.

It doesn’t help that so-called experts disagree on what an effective business name means. Some believe abstract names that create a mental picture are great. Others believe a business name should describe what the business does. Others think catchy phrases and puns are best.Scott Vollero name card

The fact is, the experts are all right, to a point. But, while a catchy phrase might work well for one business type, it could spell disaster for another. If you do it wrong, there’ll be consequences. If you’re working on coming up with a great business name, consider the following.

  1. Define your target customers. Are they seniors, millennials, parents, single people or some other demographic? Is your reach strictly local or do you now or plan to reach out nationwide or globally? Keep your answers in mind as move on to the next step.
  2. Think short, pronounceable and easy to remember. Your business name plays a huge part in your marketing strategies. Word-of-mouth advertising works best when the business name is easy to say and remember.

“Avoid using intentional misspellings. It works for Krispy Kreme because they have a huge marketing budget to work with. You don’t.” – Scott Vollero

  1. Unique and descriptive works best for small businesses. Let’s face it, you’re never going to compete with General Electric. But, what if you called your electrical services business “All Star Electrical Services” or “24/7 Electrical?” Your name describes what you do, is easy to remember and sounds professional. Avoid overselling, though. For example, avoid superlatives like “Best,” Greatest,” “Apex” and other overused sales words.
  2. Avoid narrowing your product line and/or geographic area. Maybe your product line is can openers now, but what if you want to add more products in the future? Perhaps you only serve your local region at the moment, but if your business takes off, you might want to add staff and services beyond local. It’s better to come up with a name you can keep as your company grows rather than changing it to better fit later. In other words, “Fairview Can Openers” is not a good choice.
  3. Make a list of possibles and analyze, analyze. Look at the names on your list. What feelings does each conjure up? Does the name describe what you do? Is it unique enough to stand out from the rest? Don’t forget to evaluate how it translates into other languages. Look also at the acronym for each name. You may find the result memorable, maybe even funny. But it may not be great for your business.

Take your time. Consult with trusted friends and family.  Don’t rush through the process. Getting your business name right is that important.

 

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.

This Little-Known “Black Belt” Can Be a Big Boost to Your Business

By Scott Vollero

Is Lean Six Sigma Greek to you?

It’s well worth the effort. According to the Project Management Institute, project managers with PMP certification earn 20% more than their non-certified peers. They’re also more marketable, an especially important criterion for independent project management and process efficiency consultants who move freely between short- and medium-term engagements.

“Taking the PMP exam was one of the best career decisions I’ve everLean Six Sigma relies on the Six Sigma methodology. Six Sigma was developed back in the 1980s by Motorola, a Japanese conglomerate best known in the U.S. for its communications equipment, and quickly adopted by forward-thinking global organizations such as General Electric.

The system relies on tight control of every measurable process, cross-organizational buy-in (often enforced to the point of “managing out” key players who aren’t on board), easily repeatable and scalable steps, and quantitative measurement methodologies that rely heavily on the precepts of advanced statistical analysis.

LSS Black Belt: The Mark of Champions

Lean Six Sigma is a straightforward discipline, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to master. Even the most talented managers and executives take years to become experts in Lean Six Sigma. It’s worth their time and effort to do so, as upward mobility is directly correlated with LSS fluency in many organizations.

LSS has several different levels, each corresponding to a higher degree of fluency (and, eventually, mastery):

  • White Belt: LSS White Belts are relative newbies. They’re expected to understand the principles of Lean Six Sigma so that they can effectively support the activities of LSS experts, but they don’t direct, manage, or even participate in LSS projects on a regular basis.
  • Yellow Belt: Yellow Belts are “LSS aware,” meaning their understanding of LSS processes is sophisticated enough to directly inform their duties. However, their roles in actual LSS projects are basic and usually peripheral.
  • Green Belts: Green Belts have documented, verified LSS project experience and can be trusted with ownership of LSS project tasks.
  • Black Belts: Black Belts are LSS experts who take ownership of entire LSS projects, often directing multiple Green Belts (and sometimes Yellow Belts) over the course of time-limited engagements. Black Belts are usually senior directors, VPs, or C-level executives. They’re integral to the LSS system; without their efforts, projects are far less likely to be completed on time and to satisfaction. Not surprisingly, they’re highly sought after, well-compensated, and frequently lured away from their current employers by competitors. Many choose to work as consultants — hired guns who shop their services to the highest bidder.
  • Master Black Belts: Master Black Belts are usually C-level executives or veteran consultants who live, eat, and breathe LSS. They’ve often graduated beyond project management, at least of individual projects. Instead, they serve as “sponsors” or “champions” of Black Belts. Due to rigorous certification requirements, there are relatively  few Master Black Belts relative to lower LSS tiers.

Beyond LSS: Perfecting Project Management

The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt aren’t the only marks of managerial expertise. For managers and executives who specialize in larger projects, Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is equally important, if not more so.

The PMP certification exam has 200 multiple-choice questions, so it’s no snooze. To qualify for it, you need to have 35 hours of project management education and either a) a two-year degree and 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects, or b) a four-year degree and 4,500 hours of project leadership experience. To maintain your certification, you need to earn at least 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years — typically achievable through a mix of hands-on and classroom instruction.

It’s much easier to break the ice with new clients when you can tout such a well-regarded credential.” — Scott Vollero, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Certified PMPs break through for a simple reason: they’re actually better at managing complex or challenging projects than their non-certified peers, even those with years of practical experience. A recent Project Management Institute study found that, when organizations certify at least one-third of their managers, they “complete more of their projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals.”

In other words, PMP certification is directly correlated with organizational success. Companies that pay for PMP certification aren’t simply investing in their employees’ marketability. They’re investing directly in their own success, provided they’re able to retain certified PMPs or hire and train new PMPs to account for churn.

What Other Professional Certifications Are Worth Pursuing?

That’s the $64,000 question. (Actually, given how well management and efficiency gurus are compensated, it’s probably more like the $640,000 question — or the $6.4 million question, if you include deferred compensation and company stock options.)

The short answer is, it depends. (You’ve heard that before.) The longer answer is: if you’re established in your career, but seeking to pursue new types of opportunities, move up in the ranks, or change direction altogether, it may well be worth your time and money to hire an executive coach to discuss the most effective professional development strategies; if you’re a managerial neophyte, your first few assignments or contracts will likely dictate where you devote your professional development energies. (Was that long enough?)

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Efficiency experts and project management professionals are always in high demand, and they’re likely to be even more so as the economy grows increasingly globalized, automated, and lean. Moving up the ranks of Lean Six Sigma and notching a PMP certification into your “Belt” are surefire ways to stay one step ahead of the competition.

 

Here’s Why You Should Start Work Before the Sun Rises

By Scott Vollero

Millions of Americans wake up each day to alarm clocks, probably swearing mildly at being awoken from slumber. But some highly-productive people are leaning into early rising. Can you imagine waking up before the sun rises, say at 4 a.m.? Sound impossible or a certain way to kill your social life? You might reconsider your 6 a.m. wakeup time after reading this article.

The Wall Street Journal and several other sources are claiming that some of the most productive people are doing their best work when everyone else is asleep. The reason they cite for why getting up before the rooster is awake is such a productivity boost? No distractions. At those hours, there are no people around to bug them, no new emails coming into the box, no flood of social media messages.

It’s Not Just for Business…

It’s not just business productivity that improves when there are no distractions. Personal productivity is also improved. Some of the greatest entrepreneurial minds stick to an early schedule, including Tim Cook, head of Apple, who actually gets up at 3:45.

Does it kill your social life? Perhaps, but it also prevents people from making evening mistakes that could rob quality of life, like going out drinking or eating too much after dark. And for the people who are early risers, most are surrounded by people all day in high-pressure jobs. Reclaiming two hours early in the morning before anyone can reach them is like getting a mini-vacation all to your own every day.

So what do these people do during the wee hours of the morning? A popular early morning activity is hitting the gym or spending quality time with family before the work day hits. Some work on their most challenging work-related tasks to free up the rest of the day for lighter work. Others spend time on personal projects like learning a new language, personal reading, or mastering a skill. When you’re up super-early and you’re alone with your thoughts, the things you’ve been neglecting to do for yourself can bubble up to the surface.

Scott Vollero’s Tips on Rising Early

How do you become an early riser? First, you need a reason for doing it. Even if it’s just curiosity. Remind yourself of why you want to wake up early before going to bed. Place the alarm clock well out of arm’s reach. A good place is on the way to the bathroom because that’s where most people go when they get out of bed.

Keep your shoes nearby the bed and put them on as soon as you wake up. Most people find it very hard to go back to sleep with their shoes on. Also, don’t forget to eat. You’re going to need energy in the early morning. Make it something simple that you can grab, like overnight oats.

It’s also best not to yank your sleep schedule back two hours at once unless you have the space to deal with the sleep issues. For a gradual stepping into the early hours, set your alarm back 15 minutes each night until you reach 4 a.m. Know that you’re going to need to sleep earlier as you do this, so schedule your day so you can get in the bed earlier than you’re used to.

What you do with your newfound time is up to you. Even just sitting with your thoughts can be a very restful thing to do. Most people only get a few moments for themselves when they are on vacation or on an airplane, and that’s if they don’t fill up the time with distractions. Try purposefully putting yourself into a non-distracting environment by waking up early. You may find that you really enjoy it and the productivity boost.

The Five Qualities that Make for the Best Employees

By Scott Vollero

Let’s face it: employees are the most important part of your business. They are the people who get things done, who make everything work, and make the wheels turn. And as a result, you need them to be the most skilled, most intelligent, and all-around best people you can find.

Which is why hiring is so tricky.

Even if you want to hire someone for the next 2-10 years (or more), you nonetheless need to get to know them in a period of just a few weeks. At the very least, you need to get to know them well enough to know whether or not to give them a shot.

Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. And to help out, we’ll give you five qualities to look for when you’re hiring new employees.

Aptitude

Many jobs may require lots of experience, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s easy enough to measure. Your candidate’s experience will be printed out all over their resume or CV, and simply asking them about it can get them to wax eloquently about their time spent at XYZ company, or in ABC industry.

Sometimes, what’s better than experience is aptitude — lots of talents or skills. A candidate who is a master at social grace can be trained to be an excellent sales rep, even if they’ve never done sales before. And best of all, they’ll learn to do it your way, without having to unlearn anything they’ve experienced before!

Attitude

Attitude is everything — a word which needs no definition. What good are all the skills and experiences in the world if you don’t have the desire to get out of the chair and use them? Look for the right attitude in your candidates and you won’t go wrong.

Creativity

This could almost be called intelligence, but that might get confused with IQ — which it is definitely not. A good employee knows how to take a problem and get it dealt with, even if that problem is tough, or challenging, or has never been solved before. All major technological advances come from people who, when told that something was impossible, found a way to do it anyway. That takes creativity in spades.

Focus

Your employees need to give their all for your company. That doesn’t mean they need to spend late nights and weekends in the office, which just produces burnout and malcontent. When they actually are at work, though, they need to be fully present and doing all they can. By all means, they can leave at 5pm and watch kittens for hours on the internet, but the workday is (sadly for them) a kitten-free zone.

Integrity

Last but not least, this is one of the most important qualities you should look for in employees, friends, and partners alike. Especially at work, people need to give their A Game. If a report is to be on your desk by 5pm on Friday, 5:01pm is just as bad as 10pm. If people can master integrity for the day-to-day, you know they’re upholding it in their work for you, too.

New hires are a tricky thing. It’s easy to hire someone who looks good on paper, but turns out to be a disappointment in practice. That’s not a good match, and it’s not fair to either of you. As the employer, it’s your responsibility to protect both of your interests and use these five qualities as a guide to selecting only the best candidates.

Good Luck!

Why Everyone Should Wait Tables When They’re Young

Have you ever waited tables or worked behind the counter in a restaurant? Millions of your peers have, for sure. Restaurant jobs are among the easiest for young people, who don’t mind working irregular hours and have few marketable skills, to get and keep. In some circles, working in restaurants on school breaks, or year-round to fund extracurricular activities, is a rite of passage for high school and college students.

For various reasons, the youth labor force participation rate is steadily falling: It’s below 50 percent overall, by some measures, and higher in disadvantaged urban and rural communities. This deficit erodes students’ “soft skills” and work experience, threatening their long-term employability — even after they’ve obtained advanced certifications or degrees. It also threatens to accelerate the drive toward increased automation in low-skill industries — a trend that would likely occur independently of employment patterns, but is nevertheless exacerbated by a lack of youngsters willing to work long hours for peanuts.

All this is to say that youth employment is absolutely critical for America’s future. It’s also important for our young people. Working in restaurants is a great “trial run” for aspiring professionals, no matter what careers they ultimately decide to pursue. Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of youth restaurant employment: why everyone should work in a restaurant at least once before they age into more productive forms of employment.

 

  • Character-Building. Restaurant gigs involve repetitive tasks that need to be completed on tight deadlines. To ensure that their clocks run on time, managers tend to watch employees closely: the proverbial micromanagement approach. Dealing with picky, overly attentive managers builds character and resolve.
  • Cool Under Pressure. Most restaurants have rush periods. Some are predictable, some not so much. Both types need to be addressed, stat. Dropping lower-value tasks to put out fires elsewhere teaches youngsters the value of prioritization and teamwork — critical skills in any workplace.
  • Go Along to Get Along. Restaurant staffs are diverse and personality-driven. Workers who don’t get along well with their peers tend not to last long. Mastering the art of getting along is invaluable, no matter what the future holds.

Is There Any Hope for Aspiring Restaurant Workers?

Long-term employment trends don’t look favorable for young restaurant workers — or for any low-skill employees, for that matter. Once thought automation-proof, restaurant jobs are increasingly vulnerable to efficiencies that boost productivity (and profit) for managers and owners while squeezing hourly wage earners (or eliminating their jobs entirely).

What’s more, cracks are beginning to appear in the foundations of America’s tipping regime, which has always been unusual in the developed world and which faces increasing pressure from fair-wage activists who argue that restaurant staff should be paid under a more generous, flatter wage scale that eschews tips in favor of living wages. This might be good news in the short term, but it could well end up backfiring — saddling workers with wages that don’t rise with inflation, and removing the opportunity to earn a few extra bucks per hour through tips.

Still, the potentially grim outlook shouldn’t stop ambitious youngsters from walking into their local eateries and asking to speak to the manager. Restaurant jobs and other customer service positions are great for building character and instilling the discipline and professional expectations necessary for workplace success. Parents, take note.

 

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Start Your Own Business in 2016

This isn’t another feel-good blog post about why it’s a great time to start your own business. Think of it instead as a cautionary paean — a “look really hard before you leap” admonishment to, well, think twice about getting into business for yourself.

While it’s arguably easier than ever to start your own business, that doesn’t mean you should run out and do so tomorrow. Being your own boss is hard work, and it’s easy to get in over your head before you quite realize what you’ve done.

DashBurst has a nice tongue-in-cheek roundup of all the reasons you shouldn’t start your own business in 2016 (or any other year, for that matter). Here’s a look at the highlights:

  1. You Can’t Beat a Passion Deficit

It’s often said that business owners need to believe in their business even more than they believe in themselves. If you aren’t totally sold on your own concept, how can you possibly sell it to others?

Before you set out on your own, make sure you’re fully committed to what you’re doing. Spend some time trying to poke holes in your business case, and ask yourself a simple question after each trial: Am I willing to do what it takes to fix this?

  1. Talent Is Scarce

It’s a seller’s market for talent, particularly in high-skill tech industries that feature multiple open positions for every truly qualified applicant. If you’re going into business in a tight talent marketplace, you need to be prepared to pay top dollar for qualified employees. You also need to recognize that, depending on your staffing needs and the qualifications you’re seeking, you might literally be unable to field a full team. If that’s the case, you’ll need to take drastic measures — up to and including putting your plans on hold.

  1. Funding Is Tough to Find

Money makes the world go ‘round. If your business doesn’t have enough of it, you could find yourself belly-up before you ever have a chance to make it.

Entrepreneurs who aren’t fortunate enough to have seven-figure savings accounts or deep-pocketed friends and family need to go hat in hand to investors and lenders who literally hear dozens of business pitches per day. Securing funding from such sources isn’t a sure thing.

  1. You’re Worried About Your Personal Life

This one’s real simple. If you’re a workaholic without close family ties or major non-professional responsibilities, by all means spend every waking hour attending to your business. If you have a spouse, kids or parents who need your time, or if you’re simply not willing to forgo me-time for the next few years, think twice about going all-in.

Now for the Optimistic Case

Ready to throw in the towel on your business idea? Not so fast. If you’re not fully invested in your business idea or worry that your decision to start a company will adversely affect other important facets of your life, it’s best to think twice before jumping in headfirst. But if you can look yourself in the mirror and confidently make the case for why each of the factors listed above shouldn’t stop you from getting into business yourself, you’re well on your way to making an affirmative case for your entrepreneurial dreams.

 

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.

Your Business Needs These 4 Types of Workers

Here’s your understatement of the day: launching a new business is hard work.

Building a business from the ground up involves too many considerations to name. One of the most important revolves around the hiring process. Before you welcome a new member to your team, you need to have a good sense of whether they’re going to work out — and have the confidence to say “no” to a bad hire.

Look for these four types of workers that every nascent startup should have:

  1. People Like You

Don’t take this one too far, obviously. “People like you” means creative, entrepreneurial types — people who’d probably want to run their own business if they weren’t already working with a cool entrepreneur. Creative go-getters tend to be great problem-solvers and often provide the idea kernels that transform into high-ROI initiatives.

  1. People Who Really Love What They Do

Passion is almost as important as creativity. Make sure your team has at least a few people who are willing to go the extra mile (almost) no matter what — people who love nothing more than staying up late to complete a coding course or read the latest case study on your market segment.

  1. Jacks (and Jills) of All Trades

For a nascent startup that’s trying to do 20 things at once, skilled generalists are all but indispensable. Once you’ve hired your expert programmers and top-tier applied engineers, look for folks who can handle pretty much any unspecialized task — and handle it well.

  1. Collaborators

There’s no I in…well, you know the rest. Hire team players, particularly for your generalist department. You’ll thank yourself later.

The Other Side of the Coin

Of course, as Jayson Demers of Inc Magazine notes, it’s also critical to avoid certain types of workers. Demers identifies four types, in particular, to “steer clear from.” Way clear:

  • Negative Nancies (or Nicks). These are pessimistic types who leave half-empty glasses strewn around the office, spreading their downbeat vibes amid their bright-eyed coworkers. Over time, charismatic pessimists can taint an entire department or organization with their thinking, causing incalculable harm.
  • Punch-in, Punch-out Types. While workers who only want to do the bare minimum can thrive in a highly bureaucratic environment, small businesses need folks willing to go the extra mile — even if it means coming in early or heading home late sometimes.
  • My-Way-or-the-Highway Types. Although it’s great to infuse a nascent startup with hard-won experience, there’s a fine line between mentorship and inflexibility. Plus, highly experienced employees are more likely to be insubordinate or carve out domains of their own, particularly when the C-suite’s occupants are uniformly fresh-faced.
  • Robots. Obviously, we’ll all be replaced by robots someday. But if you want a robot working for you, build an actual robot — not a human worker who’s so uncreative (or fearful of stepping outside the box) that you pretty much know you won’t get a new idea from them, no matter how hard you try.

So, what about you? Are you hiring the right types of workers for your growing business?

 

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.

Building a Business the Right Way: How Scott Vollero Transformed Autocats

Scott Vollero is the first to admit that the top half of his CV lacks a unifying theme. After he graduated from James Madison University, he went to work at an old-line investment banking firm in Washington, D.C.

“The youngest partner there was in his 60’s,” he says. “But they were the most genteel, polite and caring people I’ve ever had the privilege to work for.”

Great coworkers aside, Vollero quickly realized that i-banking wasn’t his cup of tea. Feeling the bite of the entrepreneurial bug, he purchased a stake in a struggling California solar firm and headed west to run the place. He later admitted he didn’t really know what he was getting into, though he credits the experience with laying the groundwork for what would later become a cohesive (and sought-after) lean management philosophy.

In fact, Vollero’s prescient decision to surround himself with a talented team and give its individual members the space they needed to build their respective competencies may well have saved the company — or at least “allowed me to escape with my skin,” as Vollero self-deprecatingly puts it.

Scott Vollero later bought into a chain of fitness & racquetball clubs, a jarring transition from the renewable energy business. But it wasn’t until he got into the automotive parts recycling business that he found, arguably, his professional purpose. Here’s what happened next.

Catalytic Converters? …But Why?

Every modern vehicle has a catalytic converter. In layman’s terms, a converter cleans the exhaust produced by the car’s internal combustion engine before it exits the tailpipe, ensuring that the vehicle meets local emissions standards. Though emissions standards vary widely by jurisdiction, it’s more cost-effective at this point for automakers to simply make standard “cat” models for inclusion in their vehicle platforms.

Here’s the cool part: Every catalytic converter has a significant amount of valuable metal inside. Some metals, such as copper and nickel, aren’t worth salvaging. But some, particularly platinum complex metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium — are extremely valuable. Platinum’s per-ounce value can easily double gold’s, and rhodium is one of the world’s rarest commercially refined metals. The typical catalytic converter contains approximately $60 worth of platinum complex metals, and some go as high as several hundred dollars, depending on its make and origin.

This simple value proposition is made even more attractive by the fact that platinum complex mines cluster in politically challenging (to say the least) parts of the world: South Africa and Russia, for example. Companies that recycle the precious metals found in catalytic converters and sell them on the open market — or direct to auto parts manufacturers — provide a valuable risk reduction service.

Scott Vollero Builds a Global Business

Vollero stepped into this breach, founding Autocats in 2000. Vollero and his team of key associates developed and implemented an operational business model that was “close to the customer” and still achieved “low cost – economies of scale”. With a cost-effective means of acquiring and recycling platinum complex metals and Scott Vollero’s best-in-class management philosophy behind it, Autocats was off to the races.

Over the subsequent decade, Vollero built Autocats into one of the premier automotive parts and precious metals recyclers in the world. As he’d done in previous ventures, he hired a first-rate team and took care to develop his personnel, pushing them to do more — and better — than they ever thought possible.

Autocats opened several collection and processing facilities overseas, in such hot markets as India, Australia and the Arabian Peninsula. But Scott Vollero personally devoted a great deal of time and attention to China, whose rapidly growing automotive market — driven by hundreds of millions of newly minted members of the middle class — was leaving a heap of used catalytic converters in its waste.

Vollero traveled the Chinese countryside, speaking with villagers and networking with local businesspeople, in search of opportunity. He’d later characterize it as one of the most educational period in his life.

An Exit for the Ages

By the late 2000s, Autocats was the dominant catalytic converter collector in the Western U.S. as well as several key overseas markets.  That attracted the attention of Toyota Tsusho America Inc. (TAI), The trading arm of the Japanese automaking giant.

TAI and Autocats effectively entered into a strategic partnership in 2000, and Vollero officially sold his company to the automaker in 2011.   Although Vollero retained a 20% stake in the firm and stayed on to help manage the transition, he’d achieved an exit for the ages from the greatest challenge (and opportunity) of his life.

On to the Next Challenge

Although Scott Vollero retains a minority stake in the catalytic converter business he helped build into a global powerhouse, he’s no longer involved with the firm’s day-to-day operations.

Whatever he does next, is probably not going to involve extracting precious metals from old catalytic converters —  and is not at all clear that he’s interested in a traditional employment arrangement.

“I’m not sure I’m interested in working as a full-time, retained employee in any capacity,” he says.

Building a multinational business from the ground up does put the “yes, boss” part of the daily grind in perspective, to be sure.

But it’s equally clear that Scott Vollero has a lot of gas left in the tank — perhaps more than just a few years ago, when he sold off Autocats and contemplated sailing off into the sunset. Vollero is still a registered environmental assessor with the state of California, and is currently in the process of attaining his personal development goals of completing his 6 Sigma lean black belt and Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications.

Across the big pond, the China market is changing fast, and Vollero is one of the few American-based entrepreneurs who understands its vagaries and iniquities — the rough yet intoxicating “real story” behind the placid, rah-rah headlines. Plenty of American firms desperately need an ally with that sort of expertise.

What’s certain at the moment is that Scott Vollero’s Autocats experience is the best-read chapter in a book that’s still being written. Here’s to an entertaining epilogue.

 

Scott Vollero is an international entrepreneur and expert in the precious metals and automotive parts recycling industries.