Albert Cozzi on what it means to have a mentor – July 2016

Al Cozzi reflects on his mentors:

As our scrap metal business was growing, my brother said to me that our roles in the company needed to change. We needed to shift our focus from sales and operations to becoming farmers. We needed to hire bright young people to raise and train them to be the next generation of managers.

We are now at that point again in our new business. We are growing Cozzi Recycling, and hiring bright young people. It is up to us to train and mentor this new crop of future superstars.

With this is mind, I began to think of my mentors and the people who helped me become successful.

The first one was my father. One of the greatest lessons he taught me was to always put myself in the other guy’s shoes. He would say, “Think about how your actions make the other guy feel.” He lived his life by that Golden rule and he would always remind me that a man is only as good as his word.

I used to love to go to work with my dad and his brothers. Everyone looked up to them. They taught me the value of hard work. From the time I was a little kid I would work on the “Junk truck” with them and my dad. Peddling the alleys of the west side of Chicago picking up paper, rags and metals, they would sing the chant “Rags old iron” which always sounded like “Yikes ole iron.” I always thought they had voices like Italian Tenors. We would leave early each morning and, without any appointments, we would always come back at the end of the day with a truck burgeoning with scrap metals and paper. They used to let me drive the truck through the alleys as they walked along side singing for material. It was quite the thrill for an 8 year old kid.

When we first started out we worked ridiculously long hours. A typical day started at 5:00 in the morning and lasted until 6:00 at night. We were a customer of a company ran by Ed Lissner. Every morning at 5:30 or 6:00, Ed would call to see what business we were doing with them that day. He taught me the value of persistence. He would call that early because he knew that we were there. Back then, “9 to 5” wasn’t how you earned a living.

We were also a customer of a company owned by Charlie Fritz. I still get together with Charlie for a “cuppa” coffee and to hear his stories. He had built a successful business and we were just starting out. Charlie took me under his wing, he was a man’s man who loved to play poker and to gamble on the horses. By this time, we had switched away from handling paper and rags to handling scrap metal generated by industrial manufacturers. This was part of Charlie’s business as well. But Charlie wanted to buy a horse that was qualified to run in the Kentucky Derby. The name of the horse was Vegas Vick, all too fitting for Charlie Fritz. To raise the money to buy the colt, Charlie said he wanted to sell us his business that served industrial scrap metal customers for $75,000. The business consisted of several trucks running routes serving industrial customers. That was a great deal, but all the money in the world for us at the time. But Charlie understood. We would go to the bank, he would borrow the money and we would pay off the loan from the profits we would earn on the deal.

Shortly after this Ed Lissner approached us about buying his business. The relationship we had developed with him and the fact that we were one of the first to acquire another company in the area made it natural for him to approach us as a potential acquirer. Our relationship gave him a comfort level that made it easy to do a deal together.

Although these are just a few people who have helped me along the way, there are many others who have mentored me throughout the years.