To illustrate what it takes to be part of the United Scrap Metal Inc. team, USM President Brad Serlin makes a distinction between a team
member and just another employee. “An employee is really, in my eyes, one who receives a paycheck for doing good work,” Serlin says.
“A team member is somebody who is really passionate about what they do. They believe in the organization, and they help us achieve
our goals by facilitating customer service, which helps us grow and retain our customer base. They really take pride and ownership here
and treat our customers like they’re family.” Considering that it was Serlin’s mother, Marsha Serlin, who founded USM in 1978, it’s not
surprising that making customers and employees feel like part of the family comes naturally to Serlin. And facilitating a culture of
teamwork and collaboration within the organization has paid off. The mother-and-son combination — Marsha Serlin is USM’s CEO —
has grown the metal buyer and recycler from an initial investment of $200 to 2006 revenue of approximately $140 million. Smart Business
spoke with Brad Serlin about his secret to staying positive and the rewards of being a good corporate citizen.
Get involved. I’m a lead-by-example individual. It’s imperative for a strong team to
have somebody who’s willing to roll up
their sleeves and get involved with pretty
much every facet of the business.
I try to walk through each different
department within our operation and consistently interact with all of our employees and engage with them and see how
they’re doing, give them positive feedback
and basically get a handle on how things
are going for them and any challenges or
issues that they’re facing.
It goes over very well. I speak some level
of layman’s Spanish — I would call it
entry-level Spanish — but with our work
force being predominantly Hispanic, that
has a very positive impression on them,
even just simple conversational Spanish.
When an owner or a key leader takes an
interest in what they’re doing and how
they tie into the organization’s goals, it
really goes a long way in letting them
know that they play an important role in
what we’re looking to do.
Encourage feedback and seek the opinions of
others. I’m a big advocate of teamwork,
and I’m setting that example in everything
I do by involving the other managers and
departments and collaborating, leveraging
their experience and expertise in the
industry. I’m not afraid, if I don’t have an
answer, to flat out let people know that I
don’t have the answer and that I’m really
looking to learn from them. A lot of leaders feel like they always have to have the
answer, and I don’t feel in any way that,
that has to be the case.
I want to learn from their expertise.
These are the individuals that are doing
the job every day, every week, every
month, and they have more answers than
Open communication and candor are
essential in creating a culture of team-work and collaboration. People feel comfortable, and they feel like they have a
voice and have an impact on the things that we do, and that’s what it’s all about.
I’m really proactive with soliciting their
feedback and input and finding out if I’m
doing a good job leading and directing the
We don’t offer a lot of criticism here; we
call them ‘improve-upons.’ We’re very big
on revisiting the improve-upons and
exchanging feedback because, in a
dynamic organization, it goes both ways,
up and down the organizational chart.
Be a good corporate citizen. Part of our culture is giving back to the community and
others that are less fortunate, and we’re
very involved in charities and other phil-anthropic and community endeavors, and
so we interview for that. When we bring
team members aboard, they have an
understanding of how significant that is to
our culture and that, that is a core value
and that if they don’t understand it or
believe in it, they won’t be a great fit here.
We built the safety village in the town of
Cicero, we’re on the chamber of commerce, the school board, the archdiocese.
We’re probably a little extreme, but what
we’ve done as owners is we’ve engaged
our team members.
In a lot of companies, the pressure is on
the senior management or the owners, and we’ve engaged our team members,
and they rally around it, and they really
enjoy it, and it helps to build a more cohesive team. Giving back to the community
absolutely helps our team members feel
good about what they’re doing.
Another benefit has been engaging our
customers within all of our charitable,
community and philanthropic endeavors.
That’s been fun because our customers
enjoy it. It’s hard in a business. You can
become so internally focused that you can
lose sight of the big picture, and the big
picture is giving back and helping others
and being active in the community.
Stay positive. The most significant challenge a business leader faces is staying
positive. Whatever business or industry
you’re in, you’re constantly facing challenges. You have such a strong impact on
the other team members that it is so
important that you are positive leading the
way. You can’t develop a positive culture
and environment without the leader
One of my secrets to staying positive is
this: We have a recycling center here that
serves the public. We have people coming
here pushing carts who collect metal,
whether it’s aluminum cans or other metals, and these are people that are basically living on the street.
However bad you might think you have
it that day or however tough a challenge
you feel like you’re facing, it’s not as bad
as what they’re enduring every day.
However bad you feel it is, you could have
it a lot worse.
United Scrap Metal has been blessed to
have achieved success, and for the owners, one of the greatest things that we’re
able to do is give back and allow our team
members to develop careers and advance
through our organization. That, to us, is
HOW TO REACH: United Scrap Metal Inc., (708) 780-6800 or