Whoever coined the adage Its a mans
world apparently forgot to tell English immigrant Wendy
Kelman, who arrived in East Brunswick, N.J., as a child in the
Her career path might spark confusion among the plethora of
women who wed well-heeled men and were only too happy to trade
in their working shoes for a closet full of Jimmy Choo
stilettos. She entered the secondary metals industry at a time
when females were dispatched to the secretarial pool, won over
environmentalists, started an electronics recycling company and
married one of the most prominent men in the U.S. scrap arena,
Wendy Neus journey began with the quintessential
ideals infused in teens growing up in America: she was
determined to make the world a better place. After graduating
from college, she took a job as a social worker at a
maximum-security prison, the first femaleaside from a
nunto work in such a position. I learned probably
the most important lesson of my young 21 yearsthat life
was not fair, and luck had as much to do with ones
situation in life as much as any other factor, she told
attendees at an Association of Women in the Metal Industries
(AWMI) meeting. Changing the world was hard work and I
wasnt very good at it.
Suffering burnout and faced with the disillusion of youthful
aspirations, her father suggested she apply for a job at Hugo
Neu Corp. Ironically, her only condition was that she
wouldnt have to work with chief executive officer John
Neu, who was considered more than a little intimidating.
Thats saying something from someone who had worked
with death row inmates, she said.
Once again, she found herself in a male-dominated world.
The only women that worked at Hugo Neu were in
secretarial positions; but I survived, she said. Working
her way up from traffic to preparing documents and collecting
under letters of credit, she was finally promoted to work at a
New Jersey scrapyard. It was there that Wendy Neu revealed her
moxie, using her diplomatic ability to win over the mindset of
environmentalists and make a lifelong ally of its ringleader.
When the company decided to embark on a dredging project, she
took the initiative and invited the local Baykeeper
organization to tour the scrapyard, offering a proverbial olive
branch before the environmental group attempted to delay the
project and ultimately drive up costs.
This might not sound so revolutionary, but back then
the only time an organization like Baykeeper came into your
yard was to deliver a notice of intent to sue, she said.
The group arrived lawyered up for the visit. I learned
they were very skeptical of our intentions and had joked among
themselves as to whether they might end up in the shredder.
They had never once been invited to participate in a process
such as this. A key member of the group was included in
meetings throughout the project, and still consults on projects
for the company to this day.
When the company sold out to Metal Management Inc., John and
Wendy Neu used her blueprint for success to enter new markets
and new arenas. By trying to stay ahead and integrate our
values around the environment and social justice, weve
discovered new areas of recycling, such as electronics
recycling, food composting and new regions where recycling
rates are minimal, like Puerto Rico, where we are building a
state-of-the-art recycling facility designed to process 25,000
tons per month, she said.
Looking to capitalize on future trends, she established
Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based WeRecycle! LLC, an electronics scrap
recovery business that opened last year and sources its
feedstock from New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Wendy Neus diplomatic ability has many times landed
her in a seat where she replaced her hard hat with a hairdo and
has testified before Congress on how U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency regulation enhances the industry.
She is the first to acknowledge that her environmentally
stringent approach oftentimes takes people off guard and might
be misinterpreted. We are now working actively to support
federal legislation prohibiting the export of unprocessed
electronics waste to developing countries. It is never popular
to advocate for more regulation. Dont we wish that people
and corporations would just do the right thing? she
asked. Sadly, we have found no better way to protect the
public, the environment and our own company than through proper
legislation and regulation.
Looking ahead, Wendy Neu does not see her path deviating
much. Five years from now I expect things to be not much
different than what I am doing today. Electronics recycling is
... quite different than what we were used to, so it has been a
challenge. Wed like to grow, but I dont think
bigger is always better, she said.
Wendy Neu credits the development of her character to her
parents. My parents had big dreams of not only aspiring
to a better life, but one in which their children could both
achieve their potential and also make a difference, she
Wendy Neu told the AWMI meeting that she did not succeed in
her attempt to change the world. But she apparently fails to
recognize that she has left a pretty big footprint by tackling
jobs historically held by men and working to protect people in
less-developed countries from facing the threat of toxic scrap
from other nations.