The world is full of passionate people who can and will talk your ear off about their favorite topic, be it history, sports, music or any number of other interests.
Michael Whyte is no different. His passion is rooted in one of the fastest-growing industries in America-electronics recycling.
"If you let me, I can talk about this business all day long," he says. "It’s the perfect industry for me, and I love it."
Whyte, 49, is one of the leading experts in the region when it comes to e-waste. He is president of Victor-based Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery LLC.
RCR&R has more than 6,000 clients that include businesses, universities, municipalities and individuals, primarily in New York along with parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Whyte’s passion has helped drive tremendous growth at RCR&R. The company has been ranked on the Rochester Top 100 list of the region’s fastest-growing private companies each of the past three years.
RCR&R has increased its revenues 15 percent to 25 percent each of the last several years, Whyte says. The company also has doubled its workforce to 140 employees over the last four years. The majority of those employees work in RCR&R’s 100,000-square-foot facility on 18 acres of land on Victor-Mendon Road.
"Mike has been a major part of what this company has been able to accomplish over the past several years," says Peter Bennison, director of business development. "His passion is unmatched. Mike has so much knowledge of this industry and where it’s going. His leadership has been just as much a factor in our growth as anything else we’ve done."
Whyte says RCR&R’s success has coincided with the overall growth of the electronics recycling industry during the past decade.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. has reported the e-waste industry provides an economic boost of some $5 billion to the U.S. economy, up from $1 billion in 2002. The industry now has 30,000 employees in the United States, up from 6,000 in 2002.
During the past two years, the recycling industry has processed more than 3.5 million tons of used and end-of-life electronics equipment. It includes circuit boards, electronic tubes, computer monitors, computers, batteries and lamps.
Whyte says over the past two years RCR&R increased its volume of recycled electronics by 100 percent and now processes approximately 25 million pounds of e-waste at its facilities annually.
As the recycling industry has evolved, so too has Whyte’s career.
He is a native of the small Southern Tier town of Horseheads, Chemung County. Even as a child he gravitated toward numbers and science.
He eventually made his way to SUNY Binghamton, where he earned a degree in mathematics. After graduation, Whyte was recruited to work at Buck Consultants, a human resources benefits and consulting firm in Manhattan where he spent most of his time compiling and analyzing figures to help calculate insurance risks and premiums.
"I quickly realized that (was) not something I wanted to do," Whyte recalls.
From there, he moved to Rochester and began work in the personal financial planning field, doing investment, retirement and cash flow analysis. Whyte wound up working in cost accounting for Schlegel Corp., but that job also failed to stick.
"I found myself sitting in a cubicle all day, crunching numbers," he says. "I always envisioned myself doing something different."
In 1990, Whyte made a career change. He had a friend who worked as a sales manager at Waste Management Inc. in Rochester. The friend set Whyte up with a sales job.
It was love at first sight between Whyte and the disposal-recycling industry. Within a year, Whyte switched over to the operations end of Waste Management’s business.
"Operation was very much the nuts and bolts of the business," he says. "Most of the leaders at the company had moved up through that end."
When Whyte started at Waste Management, the company had little to no electronics recycling. That segment of the recycling industry had yet to be defined, which meant there was room to grow, Whyte says.
"There were a lot of things to learn," he says. "From an environmental health and safety standpoint, I learned a ton. And from a financial and efficiency standpoint, I had a lot of training."
Moving to RCR&R
The training served Whyte well. In 1997, he became director of operations for RCR&R. In less than a year he moved up to president as part of a restructuring plan.
Since then, RCR&R has grown thanks to several initiatives, including giving managers the freedom to run each of their departments as they see fit.
"There’s a level of trust there that Mike and the leadership team have in the managers here that gives everyone the confidence to succeed," Bennison says. "There are a number of segments to this business and a number of departments working on various things. I think everyone feels there is room to be creative and try something they think will be more efficient. It makes for a thriving workplace."
RCR&R also emphasizes education. The company has a client service group of some 20 employees, whose purpose is to educate businesses and individuals about the danger of e-waste and the benefits of electronics recycling.
Another key component of RCR&R is its fleet of 10 big box trucks and two tractor-trailers, along with more than 30 drop trailers throughout New York.
"We make it easy," Whyte says. "We will pick it up for you, whether it’s one monitor or five trailer loads’ worth. We dedicated ourselves to that logistics network early on."
RCR&R’s structure has given the company a solid foothold as the country’s focus on e-waste is at an all-time high, he says.
In 2010, the state Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act was signed into law. The act requires manufacturers to provide free and convenient recycling of e-waste to most consumers in New York.
Many manufacturers do not have their own electronics recycling infrastructure, Whyte says. That is where companies such as RCR&R come into play.
But manufacturers are just one segment of RCR&R’s growing client list, which includes federal and local governments, small to midsize businesses and residents.
"The number of stakeholders in this industry keeps growing and growing," he says. "Our clients want environmental integrity. They’re demanding data security. I think RCR&R is the best in the business, and we’re right here in Rochester. We’re a leader not only in the Northeast but in the country as well."
In the outdoors
No one is more proud of RCR&R’s success than Whyte, who spends much of his free time in the outdoors and is passionate about the environment.
He and his wife, Cheryl, recently moved from Honeoye Falls to Fairport to be closer to RCR&R’s headquarters. When he’s not in the office, Whyte enjoys skiing, boating, travel and playing lacrosse. The fact that his job involves eliminating waste in the environment is a big plus.
"I have to admit our business wasn’t perfectly planned from day one," says Whyte. "It has absolutely exceeded my expectations, both in how we’ve structured the business and grew the business and our success and what we’ve been able to do with the waste stream. I couldn’t be more proud."
Position: President and owner, Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery LLC
Education: B.A., mathematics, SUNY Binghamton, 1985
Family: Wife Cheryl; daughters Casey and Danielle; son Zachary
Activities: Skiing, boating, traveling, lacrosse
Quote: "One of the keys to our success is that we have an awful lot of very experienced employees that come from all different career paths. We have good managers, and we know what we’re doing. Each manager has a lot of freedom to grow their department, which promotes the drive for success."
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