Even after several decades in the industry, Harry Kletter keeps searching for new recycling ideas and techniques.
Experience may be the best teacher, but Harry Kletter is not always convinced it should have the final say.
Kletter, 73, is the chief visionary officer with Industrial Services of America, Inc. (ISA), Louisville, Ky. Growing up in Detroit as part of a scrap collecting and processing family, Kletter has witnessed and operated a multitude of recycling operations and techniques in a span covering parts of nine decades. But as his title implies, by no means does he believe that the recycling idea well has run dry.
Throughout his life, Kletter has been willing to experiment, pioneer and take risks in order to grow his own business as well as advance the recycling industry overall.
A Scrapper's Son
Harry Kletter grew up at a time when the term "melting pot" was coined to describe the ethnic make-up of urban neighborhoods such as Detroit's east side during the 1920s and ‘30s. While the term has a nostalgic Normal Rockwell feel to it for some, Kletter recalls that things were not always so idyllic.
Kletter's immigrant parents—from Russia and Austria—were the only Jews in the immediate neighborhood, making Harry and his family not just curiosities, but also targets for the less tolerant.
In the Depression era, Harry's father, Max, had a business cleaning up and preparing for re-sale properties that had been foreclosed upon. Much of what was cleaned out from the properties made its way to the salvage yard of Harry's uncle and cousins, who had started a scrap business that began with a horse and cart and was nurtured into a land-owning enterprise.
By the late 1930s, with less of the foreclosure work to perform, the Kletter family started a Detroit scrap company called Illinois Waste Materials Co. Their timing proved outstanding, as World War II brought with it a revived steel industry and a patriotic fervor to collect scrap and keep the blast furnaces stoked.
In 1945, Harry was old enough to enlist in the Navy, where he saw enough of the world to realize that there would always be something new to see—and that one of his priorities in life would be to make sure he made the time to travel and see it.