NOVEMBER 2008

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Rubber Recovery, Inc.
Ken Winters • 626-633-1174

—Ken Winters

Ken Winters, executive vice president of Rubber Recovery Inc., explained the rather convoluted history of the company, and his involvement. According to Winters, Rubber Recovery got its start as UTT, a small operation that recycled tires under the ownership of Vern Mabry.

Robert Davis, working for GreenMan Technologies, bought the company from Mabry for GreenMan. Davis ran the company as GreenMan Technologies of California for six or seven years, before he moved on.

Meanwhile, Winters had been working for his family’s rubber recycling business, Altos Rubber Incorporated, which had been founded by his grandfather in 1939. When the company dissolved in 2004, he opened a brokerage business and did some consulting work.

One of Winters’ consulting customers was GreenMan Technologies of California, and said that he acted as “part time sales manager and sales force.”

At that time, Davis had already left GreenMan Technologies and had partnered with Mabry; the two were negotiating to buy the California business from GreenMan. When they saw Winters, they recognized him and asked him if he would work for them if they succeeded in buying the business.

Winters said that it was “kind of an interesting position to be in,” trying to build up the business for his current employer while also looking out for the interests of his future employer. “There’s an enormous amount of strength in the truth,” he said of his precarious position.

In the end, the business was sold to Davis and Mabry who renamed it Rubber Recovery. Winters became the executive vice president. And, according to Winters, “everybody’s happy.”

Winters background in the rubber business started with the history of his grandfather who was at first cutting tire patches from old rubber. Later, he started thinking about uses for the buffed bits of rubber that came from tires that were being recapped. He ended up selling those buffings to people who made things like mud flaps. “It didn’t have to be pretty,” Winters said.

When Winters’ father, Robert, came into the business, he realized that grandfather was sifting through the material and throwing away the larger pieces. “He went off in search of machinery to do size reduction,” Winters said, which helped the company recycle even more product.

Winters started working for the company from the ground up, and he said that over time, he did every job in the company except three: changing cutting knives, driving an 18-wheeler, and using a cutting torch. “As a kid, I was helping to drag around bags of asphalt,” he said.

Robert Winters, along with Charlie McDonald, was co-inventor of a process that added rubber to asphalt, which led to stronger and more resilient material. Following in his father’s inventive footsteps, Winters said that he was the first person in the United States to sell rubber for use in equestrian surfaces.

Winters explained that rubber had been in use in Europe for horse arenas, but that Americans were resistant to the idea. “It took 10 to 12 years to convince them,” he said. Eventually, Winters convinced one person, a veterinarian, to use tire rubber in his horse arena. The vet liked the surface so much that he wrote an article about it for an equestrian publication, which gave the idea a wider audience. “He was biased against it at first, but afterwards he was very positive,” Winters said.

Now, Winters, through Rubber Recovery, sells rubber for playground surfacing, mats, pads, equestrian arenas, and more. The company also resells usable tires, and makes every attempt to use every portion of the tires it takes in. “We are looking to make a decent living without leaving any carnage behind,” Winters said.

He also said that one of the biggest challenges in the rubber recycling business is that “the machinery is very hard to keep together.” He said that people who get into the business from other industries often don’t realize that rubber “does incredible damage to the inside of machinery.”

Besides maintenance issues, he said that since the margins are so low, “there’s no room for any errors or any surprises.” To keep the company headed in the right direction, Winters said that they’re willing to try new things within the company – to keep the inventive streak that his father and grandfather had. But he added that it’s not a competition in the company, it’s a team effort.

The company’s ultimate goal is to utilize every last bit of the tire material so that nothing ever goes to waste, “and ultimately create products of our own.”