Trash to trea­sure: How one man quit his cor­po­rate ca­reer and built a re­cy­cling empire

Through sheer grit, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and a com­mit­ment to qual­ity, BR Met­als has grown from a three-man team work­ing in a small room in Guangzhou, China, and to a re­cy­cling pow­er­house.

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In 2009, Frank Chen was at the ca­reer cross­roads which would change his life for­ever. His first step was the bold de­ci­sion to leave his lu­cra­tive and high­fly­ing ca­reer as a busi­ness con­sul­tant at one of the world’s largest multi­na­tional pro­fes­sional ser­vices com­pa­nies. Soon after leav­ing the com­fort of his cor­po­rate of­fice, he rolled up his sleeves to col­lect spent cat­alytic con­vert­ers and other auto parts to re­cy­cle. In par­tic­u­lar, he fo­cused on pre­cious met­als such as plat­inum, pal­la­dium, rhodium and oth­ers.

BR Met­als has grown from a small team work­ing in a cramped of­fice in Guangzhou, China, to a re­cy­cling pow­er­house with of­fices in Sin­ga­pore, Guangzhou, China, and Cam­bo­dia.

In­vest­ing in the right tech­nol­ogy

When Chen started his re­cy­cling busi­ness in 2009, he wanted to not only pro­fes­sion­alise the in­dus­try in China, but also set a new stan­dard in the col­lec­tion, pro­cess­ing and re­cov­ery of th­ese pre­cious met­als. From the on­set, Chen has spared no ex­pense in in­vest­ing in the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and ac­quir­ing the lat­est tools of the trade.

At present, BR Met­als has a com­plete set of cut­ting-edge sam­pling equip­ment to an­a­lyze, grade and process scrap ma­te­ri­als con­tain­ing plat­inum group met­als (PGMS) quickly, ac­cu­rately and cost-ef­fec­tively. Th­ese tools are de­signed to pre­cisely mea­sure the pre­cious me­tal con­tent in any batch of cat­alytic con­vert­ers. “This was what dif­fer­en­ti­ated BR Met­als from the com­pe­ti­tion, and the pro­fes­sional ap­proach soon paid off,” Chen says. “Within a few short years, the com­pany has cap­tured about 40% of the mar­ket share in China.” Un­like most com­peti­tors in the Asia-pa­cific re­gion, BR Met­als has its own lab­o­ra­tory in Guangzhou, equipped with the lat­est test­ing equip­ment, pro­duc­tion work­shop and a com­plete pro­duc­tion man­age­ment sys­tem.

Reap­ing the fruits of suc­cess

BR Met­als has grown by leaps and bounds from its hum­ble be­gin­nings. Backed by its staff of ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als, it is com­mit­ted not only in in­vest­ing in the lat­est tech­nol­ogy but also in build­ing a loyal net­work of sup­pli­ers.

“We have 21 sup­pli­ers across the globe. They have cho­sen us for our ex­cep­tional ser­vice--we of­fer con­ve­nient on-site col­lec­tion, free ac­cu­rate anal­y­sis of pre­cious me­tal con­tent, fast pay­ment and even fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to help sup­pli­ers col­lect more ma­te­ri­als. Our price quotes are also based on the lat­est mar­ket in­for­ma­tion,” ex­plains Chen.

In 2014, the com­pany es­tab­lished a branch in Sin­ga­pore as part of its ex­pan­sion­ary plan in South­east Asia. And in 2017, BR Met­als Pte Ltd (Sin­ga­pore) ac­quired BR Met­als Lim­ited (Guangzhou) as a fully-owned sub­sidiary, and set up a new rep­re­sen­ta­tive of­fice in Phnom Penh, Cam­bo­dia. It em­ploys 40 staff across its three of­fices.

To­day, BR Met­als has be­come the lead­ing PGM re­cov­ery com­pany in Asia with a turnover of over US$30 mil­lion, of which $6.5m is from the Sin­ga­pore op­er­a­tions. It re­cov­ers more than 2,000 kg of Plat­inum and PGMS each year.

Re­cently the com­pany has de­vel­oped and im­ple­mented a new pro­duc­tion sys­tem to raise pro­duc­tiv­ity as well as to ad­dress the labour short­age faced by the re­cy­cling and waste man­age­ment in­dus­try in Sin­ga­pore. It will also col­lab­o­rate with lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties and think tanks on re­search projects, and de­velop new an­a­lyt­i­cal method­olo­gies and tech­niques.

Bright fu­ture

“Over the next five years, BR Met­als plans to ex­pand its pres­ence with lo­cal of­fices or rep­re­sen­ta­tives in neigh­bour­ing de­vel­op­ing economies in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to Myan­mar, Viet­nam, Thai­land and Laos,” Chen says. We also plan to lever­age Sin­ga­pore’s well-es­tab­lished pre­cious me­tal trad­ing plat­form, in­fra­struc­ture and strate­gic geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion to mar­ket our met­als di­rectly to the in­dus­try and end-users in the re­gion,” he adds.

In 2018, BR Met­als be­came a mem­ber of the pres­ti­gious Bu­reau of In­ter­na­tional Re­cy­cling (BIR) - the first and old­est in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion in the re­cy­cling in­dus­try. “The mem­ber­ship is not just a recog­ni­tion of our mar­ket strength, it will also open up new op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion and net­work­ing on the global stage,” Chen says. “Our core val­ues-pro­fes­sion­al­ism, ac­count­abil­ity and at­ten­tive­ness–drive us to de­liver the best pos­si­ble cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence and com­mer­cial out­come, ev­ery time.”

“Within a few short years, the com­pany has cap­tured about 40% of the mar­ket share in China.”

Born Fran­cis Chan, Frank took on the name Frank Chen be­cause his Chi­nese col­leagues can­not pro­nounce “cis” in “Fran­cis”. As for Chan, ev­ery one he met calls him Mr. CHEN. To blend into the Chi­nese in­dus­try, he took on his busi­ness name and built BR Met­als as Frank Chen.

Frank Chen, manag­ing di­rec­tor at BR Met­als.

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