T.J. Walker was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He held down several jobs through high school before attending Colorado State University and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2001. Immediately following college, T.J. joined the professional world, taking a position at a local startup. He moved to the Chicago area in 2004 after accepting a role in technology sales at CDW. During his time with CDW, he earned several accolades for his work in sales and customer service.
In 2005, T.J. Walker began to work for his family’s business, Elgin Recycling. He took the time to learn every facet of the business, from running the retail stores to managing office support and sales. He also started a brand new division at Elgin Recycling that buys and sells electronics which now accounts for a substantial amount of the company’s business. T.J.’s current title is Sales and Purchasing Director, but he contributes to all aspects of operations.
Outside of his career, T.J. Walker enjoys healthy eating, collecting sneakers, and spending what little free time he has with his wife, daughter, and rescue husky.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Recycling accounts for billions and billions of dollars in the economy annually. Through recycling, many companies in many industries save on raw materials by recycling resources rather than mining new sources of minerals and other natural resources needed to manufacture technology or build infrastructure. It’s a growth industry and one with a bright future. My mother and father-in-law thought metal recycling was the wave of the future and founded the company in 1986.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start out each day by tracking the commodity market for movement and adjusting our internal prices accordingly, then I respond to urgent customer inquiries and time-sensitive issues. I then move on to checking our inventory systems and scheduling loads to sell. At that point, I reach out to our operations team and discuss their needs and workflows. I make my days most productive by staying on task and delegating the appropriate work to well-selected team members.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me, the key to bringing an idea to life is having the right team in place to address the idea and adopting the correct strategies to execute the idea effectively. I’m also always ready to pivot or change the plan if we’re not getting the results we anticipated.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Automation. Over the preceding decades, the recycling industry has been reliant on manual labor to operate the machines we use during the course of our business. Now, the trend is tilting towards automation, where instead of having 30 workers doing one task, there could be maybe two or three with the right equipment and automation processes in place
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Consistency is key for me; not just in work but in all aspects of my life. Consistency is what drives me on days when I find my motivation lacking.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to fail. Great things usually await on the other side of failure. Also, experiencing a failure usually means that you are pushing your own limits.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The Denver Broncos are the best football team in the United States.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Instead of one thing, I’ll give you three things: Being consistent, staying on task, and delegating work appropriately.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We’ve had a lot of success growing our business by spreading out across the various sectors of the scrap metal industry, as well as keeping our client mix evenly distributed between small, medium, and larger customers. Also, another important strategy has been blending the ideas and processes of the founders of the company with those of the younger family members, directors, and executives.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There was one time that we tried implementing a new sales strategy, and it didn’t go so well. The way we overcame that problem was by changing the strategy until we found something that worked. Always remaining receptive to changing our approach is an absolute key to our success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Although I don’t want to give away any particular ideas for businesses because I might one day use them myself, I will say that the green energy industry is booming and shows no signs of slowing down. An entrepreneur might do well to start a business in that sector.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Recently, I purchased a gift card for an employee who went above and beyond expectations. I find it pays great dividends to reward hard work and talent whenever possible.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There’s a service called Superhuman Email Service that provides life-changing assistance with inbox organization and management. It just makes the day-to-day struggle with emails a whole lot easier.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book is called The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. The reason why I’d recommend it is because it’s by far the most comprehensive and tactical business book I’ve read.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is by Brandon Burchard, and it is this: “‘I can’t’ is often code for ‘I’m unwilling to do the long-term training and conditioning necessary to achieve that.’”
- Always remain open-minded to changing strategies based on results.
- Consistency is a key to functioning well, both in work and in your personal life.
- Automation is the wave of the future in the recycling industry.
- Hire the right people so you have the team that can support you as you grow.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.