Our guest today is TerraCycle’s Chief Administrative Officer, Richard Perl.
Richard joined TerraCycle in 2008 and has overseen strategic partnerships, investor relations, capital raising, and the company’s international growth from 1 to 20+ countries. He has worked within the green business world for 35+ years in a range of industries.
Richard is a founder of Social Venture Network and Threshold Foundation and has an undergraduate, law and business degrees from Columbia University.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- The benefits of running a green focused recycling business
- The incentives for raising different business models
- How Richard Perl’s background in law has helped TerraCycle grow
- How Richard established the right global partnerships
TerraCycle – https://www.terracycle.com
Social Venture Network – https://svcimpact.org/
Loop – https://exploreloop.com/
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In this episode, our guest is TerraCycle Chief Administrative Officer, Richard Perl. Richard joined TerraCycle in 2008 and has overseen strategic partnerships, investor relations, capital raising, and the company’s international growth from 1 to 20 plus countries. He’s worked within the green business world for many years in a range of industries. Richard is a Founder of Social Venture Network and Threshold Foundation and has undergraduate Law and Business degrees from Columbia University. Richard, I am looking forward to speaking with you. Thanks for being on the show.
I’m very happy to be here.
Why don’t you tell us how you got involved in TerraCycle? You came into the organization when it was different. Do I have my memory correct that when I read about it back then, it was worms in a box?
Correct, worm poop. The initial business was fertilizer made from compost and turned into what was called tea for plants. Tom figured he could get paid to take the waste, make a product from it, and get paid again. When he was at Princeton, he dropped out to start the company. He saw a lot of waste in food from the eating halls. When he learned about worm poop being a great fertilizer, he had this brainstorm that he could conquer that.
He went into it with business plans while a student and kept winning the business plans first place. He even won one for $1 million. He said, “I’m going to quit school and go do this.” He was not giving up the idea. He’s been fascinated by waste ever since. The focus of the company evolved right around the time that I get in.
When you got involved in the company, there were so many stories along the way. You hear of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies getting told no. There were all these hurdles. He was getting early success in the early accolades. Did you get hit with some early struggles as well as you were joining the organization? You must have.
Number one, I met him at the end of 2007. In 2008 when I joined the company, their financial markets got bad. In 2007, the company had $12 million in expenses and $7.5 million in revenue, meaning it burnt through the $5 million of equity it had brought in and investors weren’t happy. It was in that period that Tom iterated the change from being a worm poop company and making products from waste to being a recycling company that could deal with volumes, recycling non-recyclable pins, toothbrushes, candy wrappers, and juice pouches.
It was in that change that he implemented. It was not the company investors had invested in so we could understand their disappointment in the immediate results and change in business. Fundamentally, they’re pretty happy with what he turned it to do, but it was losing money at the time. With the 2008 financial crisis, it was not an easy time to raise money. That was a very tough moment to join. When he met me, he asked for some help. I thought it would be a six-month engagement of advising him on the side, but it’s now several years.
This sounds like my story at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I got involved to help Brian for a few months and coach him. He was my best friend at the time and it turned into a great seven-year run for us. What was it that you saw that had you say yes to helping him with some consulting? Was it just a consulting gig or was there something about the business that you liked?
It’s an unpaid consulting gig. He couldn’t afford to pay me. Fortunately, a clean energy company I had taken public on the London Alternative Investment Market got a tender offer from a large company. It had built wind and hydro that it wanted in its portfolio. I was able to work for free for some time and equity, but I wasn’t on the company books in the beginning.
What got me to do it was I met him in November of 2007 at the 20th anniversary of Social Venture Network, which is now called Social Venture Circle. He spoke after me. I was doing a eulogy for one of our early members, Anita Roddick, who founded The Body Shop. I had goosebumps. When he looked me up and said he could use my help, I said, “I was blown away by your presentation. What do you need?”
He explained his situation and asked if I could help and I said that I would. I knew intuitively that the message was, “This may be a hard thing to do but do it.” That’s generally how I make my decisions. I do have a Law and Business degree and I’m a member of the New York Bar, but my greatest intelligence is intuition, as long as it’s also grounded in rational consideration. My high resonance would be in my words, “Give this person some support. It’s a good thing to do. It’s worthy and it’s what you’re here for.”
We’re going to talk about TerraCycle and what you’ve built in your role there, but I want to go prior to that and go back to when you started the Social Venture Network. What was that all about?
Social Venture Network in 1987 was formed by a group of friends that is a network of business people who see business as a means of doing good in the world, as well as making money. Every dollar spent is a vote. It’s the notion that you’re going to be able to create a response commensurate with the task. Our view was business as usual as a prescription for disaster, but the only way to change the world was to make the business work better.
It’s become a whole world of impact. ESG businesses. B corporations came out of that organization and community. The purpose of business was also to be a good citizen actor as well as to make money, but compete with pathos, ethos, values, respect for the earth, and sustainability for the environment. Also, respect for people and minority shareholders. It wasn’t to extract, exploit and pollute, but a different vision for the world to be incorporated into the business.
Back then in 1987, people laughed at us. Part of the group was Ben & Jerry’s, Gary of Stonyfield Farms and Wayne Silby of Calvert Group who first socially screened mutual funds. That community emerged. We got together and spawned other organizations like Net Impact, which is on over 500 MBA campuses and one called Students for Responsible Business at the time. Also, Business for Social Responsibility. There’s a whole ecosystem developed and out of that grew the ESG movement. I’ve been fortunate to be part of that from its very early days and have worked with companies in various aspects of that.
That was not the era back then. 1987, I remember it well. I was in the 2nd year of running my 1st business. I had about 20 employees. I was 22 years old. That was back in the Gordon Gekko Wall Street era. That was the Greed is Good era. That was when Donald’s book, The Art of the Deal, came out. I first decided I didn’t like him when I read that book and the gold faucets turned me on. I was a kid from Northern Ontario. That social enterprise didn’t even enter my lexicon.
Bill Strickland from the Bidwell Corporation was the first one that I got exposed to in the social enterprise world with his TED Talk that he did. He had Herbie Hancock playing behind him. With the social enterprise or the social venture, was that something that attracted you to TerraCycle because they were doing something with the environment or for good?
Let’s say that I was interested in all things that could make the world a better place through business. I spent two years in the nonprofit world between college and then grad school, law school, and business school. I realized I was preaching to the converters that my skills and greatest contributions to making the world a better place would be through transactions and business. I developed a career for myself by working largely as a fiduciary with multiple social venture companies in and out of that network.
When I met Tom, my plate freed up because something I’d worked on for some years got a tender offer and I had some time, but when he asked, I said, “I’m here to help.” I had some other things I was doing and it took me a little while to extract myself from those. Tom and I took the time to get to know each other. The more I learned about him, the more I got that this is a person who deserves support, who could lead things to greatness and that was certainly smarter than me.
I’m pretty smart by most people’s standards, but I would say Tom is the smartest person I’ve ever met. I’m on my toes when I am working with him every day. Anything I write and communicate comes with a degree of precision and attention because those are the standards he sets for himself. I choose to meet them.
We know why you got attracted to the organization and where you and he attracted each other. Talk to me first about how you navigated the ‘08 and ‘09 global financial crises. You were already burning money too at that point.
You have to build the revenue. We brought costs down. People were paid below-market salaries. In some cases, equity was handed out. Before I got there, most of the monopoly money has gotten all cleared out because of vesting. You still had to pay for your stock options at some point and the company wasn’t in the money then as it is now.
What I would say is the navigation was raising. The last time we raised capital for the parent company was in 2009 and 2010. We needed cash. We have raised money through subsidiaries. In other words, the twenty subsidiaries like TerraCycle Japan, France, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Canada. We sold minority interests to strategic partners between 2010 and 2019.
However, the parent company has not had any new investments since that 2010 raise. Raising it took a lot of work and time, but we brought in $6 million, which was transformational for the company. We brought in a superlative CFO. We had a very sharp person before who was more of a Wall Street financially trained person, Stanford NBA.
In terms of a CFO who could build margin into everything, do the forward planning, and guide and mentor the company to where it needed to be, we were very blessed to bring in Javier Daly, who spent twenty years at P&G Finance and also worked at DHL and a few other great firms. The financial management and the capital helped turn it around.
With the support from Javier, myself, and others, Tom was able to flourish. Once he got clear on that business plan, the key was convincing the people who pay us to collect waste, which is brands. They pay us to collect waste streams where the waste stream is so cheap like pens, toothbrushes, candy wrappers, juice pouches, lipstick, coffee capsules, contact lenses, cigarette butts, and dirty diapers.
The value of the material is when you recycle it is worth less than the cost of collecting, sorting, and recycling. That’s why no one else recycles it. It’s the only thing that has inherently positive. You know this. Economics recycling is glass, paper, and certain metals like beer cans and plastics like water bottles. Everything else goes to incineration or landfill or oceans.
The point is Tom’s masterpiece was, “Somebody will pay me to recycle a cheap pen. It’s probably BIC or Sharpie. Somebody will pay me to do beauty care and it’s probably L’Oréal, Estée Lauder or someone like that. Someone else will pay me to do this because the world is moving to the point where it’s turning people into a polluter by selling them something they don’t want to package. They want the content.”
You’re making them buy a package. Use once, discard, repeat. You own that ice cream container though you wanted the ice cream, not that piece of cardboard with plastic on the inside. We’re all forced to be polluters. We don’t want to call ourselves polluters because we have that choice, which is coming through our new venture Loop, where everything will come and be a model in a durable package that gets washed and refilled by the brand. Consumer borrows it and gets their deposit back.
While we’re in a “use once, discard, repeat” world and in the transition to a durable, reusable system, there’s a lot of waste that’s going into the landfill that can have a second life, but someone has to pay the difference between the value of the recycled material and the cost of collecting, sorting and recycling and our margin. We started going after brands and Tom was able to sell this first to Kraft Foods for Capri-Sun pouches and yogurt containers from Stonyfield Farm.
We have hundreds of brands and retailers working with us in twenty countries and we margin well. Tom is consistently looking at new models of how we iterate doing the right thing with our waste and making it worthwhile for someone to pay us to do post-consumer collections of waste streams that have their names or their competitors’ names on them. They then become the eco leader, enabling people to buy content and not pollute. Even though the packaging gets recycled, it’s not as good as reuse, but it’s a major step forward in every scientific carbon energy footprint.
Is it a guilt tax on some of these major brands that if they don’t support this model, they’re going to get ostracized by their buyers or the press?
I don’t think there is motivated by guilt. It’s less than our messaging. It’s more about every company having a sustainability mandate and department, but most of them don’t have a budget. Who’s got a budget? It’s marketing. What do they spend it on? Maintaining and growing sales and market share. We say, “Give us some of your marketing budgets and we will use it to run authentic post-consumer collection programs nationally.”
We don’t own trucks. We use UPS in the US and Canada, Royal Mail in the UK, and Sagawa in Japan, but we will run authentic post-consumer collection programs and tell people that you’re sponsoring them. As a result of that, their consumers get engaged and others may switch to them so I think it is less about guilt and much more about if we can achieve with the money that we have to spend the same consumer and customer engagement.
Here’s a good example. When I say customer, that’s the retailer for a brand. We do collection programs of toothbrush at Walmart. We do not do it year-round. People don’t just bring in a used toothbrush or ten of them. They buy things. Not just oral care, but they buy everything. What does Walmart want in the age of Amazon? Foot traffic. What does Walmart do? It rewards Colgate with extra shell space in endcaps which is a cheap program. That doesn’t mean people are buying more toothbrushes.
This is what Tom likes to call outsmarting waste. We take a vicious cycle to the bottom and turn it into a more virtuous cycle where everyone wins including the environment except for the landfills, which shouldn’t exist. They should be an anomaly in history. Nature can’t digest what we put in landfills and so ultimately, we need to iterate our way out of it. That’s what Tom was able to do. It’s not guilt as much as people don’t like to be contributing. Its name is all over his package. They have landfills and streets with their name on it is not glamorous. This is more about whom we want to be. Increasingly, who do our customers demand that we be?
When we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, someone asked me one time if we ever would expand to somewhere like India and I said, “No, there’s no waste.” There aren’t landfills of stuff that has any value. Almost everything we ever haul away for GOT-JUNK, there’s value in that stuff. There is another use case for all those things. You joined TerraCycle. I also want to learn a little bit about this brand with these strategic partners. Give us some perspective on the size of the company and how many were there when you got there.
We were about 40 people when I got there in 2007, all operating in the 1 company that was operating exclusively in the US. In 2021, we are about 450 employees with almost 100 open positions. We’ve grown. People are increasingly wanting to come out of this pandemic and evidence of climate change saying, “What can I do to reduce my footprint? I want to recycle where I can.” That’s the size of growth in terms of employees. About 100 of that 450 are employees of our spinoff Loop, Loop Global Holdings, which is opening in six countries. We’ll be in Kroger in the US. We’re already open in Carrefour in France, Tesco in the UK, and Aon, the largest retailer in Japan.
What does Loop do?
Loop is the durable package system, but to be clear, TerraCycle manages it and owns about 78% of it. Loop is a reuse platform with separate investors, P&L, and staff but operated by TerraCycle. We principally own it. We are managing it through our senior staff overseeing full-time employees of about 100 in the countries that I mentioned where we also have TerraCycle offices.
Why the different financial models versus running everything are under one company? Is it because you’re global? Are there incentives for tax? Is it because you can raise money differently?
All of the above. Loop’s going to take some major investment to roll out, particularly with the pandemic creating delays and openings. We should have been in Tesco in the UK in March of 2020. The event was planned. Eight hundred people had signed up and we had to cancel it because of the pandemic. I had my tickets booked. They launched in September 2021.
There are costs of having people on staff before the revenue comes in, but the delays were COVID related. We have investors and those investors include two of the world’s largest consumer products companies, as well as some family offices, venture money, and a couple of other strategics. That was one piece. You wouldn’t call it a subsidiary, even though we own most of it.
We have most of the equity. We operate in twenty countries, so we create TerraCycle US, TerraCycle Canada, and TerraCycle France. Each country has that. That’s a tax issue because the French could claim a bigger piece of the UK’s earnings. The Dutch could claim some French earnings. It’s much cleaner in an international structure to have one specific company to which directly related income and expenses are allocated. It’s been advised by tax advisors that it’s much better to do that.
We have an international structure that is tax efficient but not tax avoidant and compliant with all. We pay all our taxes, but we do have a number of entities through which we conduct. Yes, we did sell, as indicated earlier, interest in some of our minority companies. TerraCycle Japan is owned 20% by a $50 billion Japanese company.
TerraCycle France, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, and Sweden are owned 30% by Suez, which is merging with Veolia. That will be a €50 billion company. We do have strategic partners in a variety of companies owning minorities and we control all. Still, these are companies that are controlled by TerraCycle. We work closely with those partners to get the benefit of their expertise and larger operations.
I started my ADD kicked in and I had to figure out what Loop Store was, but it’s an interesting model. You’re buying the product in packaging, but then the packaging ends up going back to the store or whoever ends up getting refilled. It’s your recycled pack. You’re hitting your Häagen-Dazs ice cream in a little metal container instead of getting it in cardboard that’s getting thrown out. Is that right?
It’s right. The better URL is ExploreLoop.com. You have it right. The package is owned by the brand. When the manufacturer owns the brand, there’s built-in sustainability. Why? If a milk bottle costs $10 and you get 10 uses, it’s $1 a use. If you get 100 uses, it’s $0.10 a use. When you’re going to own it, you build it to last. When it’s single use, it becomes a cost of goods sold to the manufacturer.
What does the consumer get? They get a “use once, discard, repeat” model that is pretty unfortunate for the planet. It’s giving them a better package and letting them put a deposit down because they have to have the incentive to return it. It’s a valuable piece of material. The current package you see on there for Häagen-Dazs is stainless steel, but they’re coming up with gorgeous packaging for future ones.
In Japan, brands are already developing Internet of Things-enabled packaging. The packaging of the future evolves and all of it will be free to consumers, but for a deposit, which comes back after you returned it to any of many locations. You could buy it at the store and return it at Burger King. McDonald’s and Tim Hortons have joined.
Have you heard of Plastic Bank at all?
David Katz, the Founder, he and I are friends from Vancouver. He’s gone to some pretty cool stuff. It’d be interesting for them to get involved with Loop to have a lot of the plastic become the containers for a lot of this. That would even take the plastic out of the oceans and put it into this model. The growth and the law. Where has law helped you in your role? How do you use it? Are you the chief legal counsel as well?
Not laws in terms of how TerraCycle operates because we work within the law.
I mean being a lawyer.
Let me put it this way. I did law school while being a social activist. Throughout law school, I still had my nonprofit staff working for me and doing the work that we were doing. I did 5 years and 3 and did business during the summers after 1st and 2nd-year law. It was intense. It was Columbia, but what I can tell you is I always knew I wanted to do social change business.
I learned more business in law school than I did in business school. I learned a lot in business school figuring out how to use the law and understand the corporation, tax, and structure. It has been core to what I’ve done in my work and aspect of the business. I work with great CFOs who handle the financial side. I can understand it, but that’s not where I put my emphasis.
I’m at the nexus of business and law. We have a general counsel who, like Tom, is Canadian but also American in this case. Tom is also Hungarian with a green card. What I want to say is in the legal department, it feeds into Dan Rosen and Dan reports to me. I’m with him mostly on the complex legal things. We oversee the global structure together. He deals with all of the contracts and I deal more with investors’ strategic partnerships.
My legal training has helped me enormously because I’m dealing with lawyers several times a day at top firms across the world, whether it’s intellectual property, investment-related, or M&A. We have so many things that to conduct the business, either Dan or I or one of our associate general counsels that report to Dan, deal with. My legal background enables me to do my job as Chief Administrative Officer. It’s a title that I don’t love.
It’s not a bad administration, but in the C-Suite, the board insisted back in 2010 that I should have a C title. I wouldn’t qualify to be Chief Financial Officer. I don’t do ops. I’m far more legal. When the negotiation comes up, Tom will usually figure out what he wants, talk it over with me, and say, “You take it from here.” When investors call, people want to do certain things or we are looking to develop new businesses and relationships, Tom from the business side knows what he wants and it comes to me for structure.
We’re looking to buy companies. We’ve got money in the bank. We’re looking to grow. We’re raising more money. All of that is bringing in the capital but also the M&A side is my responsibility. Understanding what a target company might want from the purpose of structure allows me to be in a meaningful dialogue with them because we have our priorities and needs, which I can articulate and they have their priorities and needs, which I can try to find a balancing structure that incorporates them.
Can you speak to these global partnerships that you’ve helped put in place then? How did you find them and end up getting them through to a deal? I can’t imagine those were always easy either.
No, they weren’t easy at all. It was great, but we realized that it was not timely to raise money for our parent company. We wouldn’t get the valuations that we wanted. We didn’t need a lot of capital. A couple million here and there helped us between 2010 and 2020. Around 2016, we got nicely profitable and then we did a US quasi-public raise. It was certified by the SEC so TerraCycle US, not TerraCycle parent company, is on SEC.gov for just the US operations, but the minority interest is sold. It’s non-voting stock. It’s an economic interest, but we have 6,000 shareholders there and we raised about $20 million in that.
We’re not sitting on meaningful capital. We’re about to do it in the first capital raise in the parent company in over ten years. That will add to our coffers to buy companies and fuel growth over the coming years because we see enormous opportunities. While we’re profitable and have cash, we want to have a cushion and the ability to think bigger because we’re already thinking big. When we were $10 million and in close to 20 countries, you could say that’s thinking big.
We pull off all kinds of things that are small but big in symbolism as well. For example, the stage of the Tokyo Olympics that all Olympic athletes stood on was made by TerraCycle from the waste collected from retailers in Japan. It was a statement from Japan to the world, but it was a lot to get that through the Tokyo Olympics Committee, the Japan Olympics Committee, and the International Olympics Committee and then to pull it off. We do lots of big things and small things audaciously.
I’m curious. What were some of the lessons of negotiating with some of these different countries? What helped you get these deals through to completion? They’re complicated and every country is different as well.
Every culture is different. With the deal with Japan, I’ve spent a lot of time on over 50 trips over the years, most of them before TerraCycle, but at least 15 to 20 since we opened in Japan in 2014. I was there in ‘12 and ‘13 helping to set that up. What can I say? We thought this would make sense for one of the large Japanese companies to join us and have an interest. We went to a great Japanese company called ITOCHU, and they operate worldwide.
We spoke to a couple of others, but ITOCHU expressed serious interest. They’re a very large broker of plastics that wanted to get more into recycled plastics and particularly, as we could get them, ocean plastics. They have a strong eco motto, but it took almost a year from meetings and pieces to go back and forth, which is not necessarily a long time in negotiating with Japanese companies.
They had to get to know and like us. We had to get to know them and go through different channels and levels. Patience. Finding out what was important to them and them understanding what was important to us. Also, several negotiations, drafts, and pieces. Thorough but getting it done. In Europe, we talked to the two largest waste management companies. One is Suez and the other is Veolia. Now, they’re merging.
They both were interested, but Suez was more interested. We made a deal with Suez and have worked well with them in those five countries, France, the UK, Belgium, Canada, and Sweden. Was it hard? Yes. Did players, terms, and perspectives change? Yes. Have I worked well with French companies in the past? I have. Have they dealt with Americans before? Yes.
In some ways, I’m quintessentially a New Yorker-American who is worldly. I can appreciate their culture and also be direct in ways that they will smile and go, “He’s American so he’s direct.” Americans are more direct. The question is, “Can you do it with heart?” That’s an art that I’ve tried to commit myself to, learning, if not mastering.
Do you think that’s one of your biggest successes? You do not come off as a New Yorker at all and then at the same time, you do, but it’s wrapped in the heart. It’s so different to find a New Yorker who’s a lawyer and has an MBA but also was starting a social venture network years ago before it was even a thing.
I was also the CEO of Deepak Chopra for a few years. I believe in the importance of not just the empirical but the transcendent. That one has to focus on the numbers but also on purpose and listen carefully to what’s trying to emerge in attention so that one cannot just blast. Sometimes, you have to use a little energetic dynamite to break up something static and bring it into a place of, “Here’s what’s important to you. Here’s what’s important to me. How do we solve this? Here’s my idea,” and try to move it.
Love is a better force than force. That doesn’t mean that one is asleep at the wheel and it’s all Kumbaya. It all comes down to, “Can the numbers work? Can the purposes align?” If you’re buying a company and partnering with people, it’s like marriage. You’re going to be dealing with these people. How do you make sure this is right for them as well as right for you? In other words, it’s not right for you if it’s not right for the other party.
This somehow seems basic. It does get lost when you’re only looking at numbers. A lot of businesses, strictly analytics and we bring Tom for sure, are looking at it from multiple perspectives and we certainly align on those. He’s very rational. I’m a bit more emotive, but he’s also aware of things, tries to read what’s going on behind the scenes, and thinks six steps ahead as to what the possibilities are before he charts a course. In that sense, I do bring some softer skills to help balance some of the more empirical training that is useful but by itself inadequate.
You’re ten years too young to be a hippie, but you have this hippie lawyer thing going on, which has served you. Talk about you and Tom for a second. Tom is the Founder and CEO, entrepreneurial for sure. Does he still have that entrepreneurial winging it, shoot from the hip, make it up on the fly, the idea of the moment or bright shiny object? Does he have that? How do you work with him in the early days when I’m sure it was all there?
It’s still there. He’s on fire all the time and moves incredibly quickly. To get a sense of how quickly, he is booked solid five days a week from 6:00 AM to at least 6:00 PM and starts a couple of days a week. These are half-hour meetings so it’s often 20 to 25 meetings a day. Some are one hour. In the midst of it, he’s dealing with emails, people coming up to his desk when we’re in the office or on Skype, chats, and things he’s responding to.
He’s razor-focused dealing with all kinds of pieces hands-on and masterfully able to do that while enjoying his three children, his wife, social relationships and enjoy life. His garden, he’s into that and building things at his home. He’s a phenomenon. I would say that I often like to sleep on things, even if it’s for ten minutes.
Tom likes quick. I sometimes have to say things like, “Tom, I see that. I got that. Let me think about this a little bit and come back to you, but I want to make sure you’re okay with it. There are three things I want to think about.” As long as he knows I got it and I’m thinking about it, I get the space to digest and generally, he’s spot on. He gets there faster than I am.
Some of the time, I’ll say, “There’s a legal thing here. I want to check this thing out with employment counsel. I want to see if we do this here, whether it could involve a securities issue or this and that.” We’re lined up with great attacks with legal advisors. They’re all attentive. They appreciate that we’re pretty good so we don’t need a lot of research, which is where they make their money.
They’re surgical high-level experts and if they start moving into research, I remind them that wasn’t the deal. I don’t hire people where I can’t work with them in a way that meets our approach and that’s not everybody. What I can say is we have great advisors. They cheer us on and give us what we need as quickly and efficiently as possible. That doesn’t mean we don’t have legal bills, but we’re efficient with everything.
My relationship with Tom is to check my gut. Check it out here. Empowering unless I have a concern. If I have a concern that I can articulate, immediately he hears it and goes, “I got it. I see that. How about we do it this way?” I go, “Great.” The other piece is if I don’t have it and he’s in a rush, that is where there’s often a piece of tension because he sometimes says, “I don’t have time to come back to this.”
I said, “You don’t have time to argue with me that I need a little more time on this one so let’s not argue. Give me the time.” He goes, “When do you need it by?” I said, “How about an hour?” I also might say, “Tomorrow morning. I want to think about this and make a couple of checks first.” Usually, he’s good with it unless he’s pressed. We’ve got fourteen years of doing this. He’s generally spot on and he wants impeccability. He never wants to push a law or a thing. He loves the for-profit space. Unless there’s something telling you can’t do it, you can do it.
He likes to move fast. The one thing I’ve learned with entrepreneurial CEOs in that area is that I always say, “I love your idea. Let me go away and think about it for a few minutes.” As soon as they feel like I love their idea, they don’t feel like I’m debating them. They’re like, “You love my idea. Go away and think about it.” I can then come back and go, “I thought about it. Now, I hate your idea,” but they don’t think I was debating them right on the spot.
It is exactly very parallel. He’s not attached to a single idea. He has so many of them. We’re incubating about seven businesses idea.
They just need it out of their heads because their brain’s getting too full of ideas. They need it to go somewhere else.
He’ll often call me and say, “I need you to take down some things that we can talk about.” We do that. Before his next call, we may cover three of them and then he calls back later and says, “Can we resume on the others?” It’s great because often, I realize my job is whenever he sends me something, it allows him to go do his thing. Even if I don’t have time to deal with it, I can table it or designate it. He just needs to get it out so it’s not lost. I feel that way with my staff often. I put it on their plate and say, “You deal or bring it back to me, but I’m not focused on it now. You have to come back to me.” It helps.
I want to go back to you. I want you to give yourself some advice as a 22-year-old. If you were to go back and talk to the Richard Perl just finishing your undergrad and getting ready to start your career, what advice would you give yourself back then? You know it to be true now, but you wish you’d known when you were 22 or 21.
I’m going to answer it with a reference to something I’ve said before. When people ask me what I do, my answer is, “I do Richard Perl better than anyone I know.” It sounds pejorative, and it is, but it’s more than that because as I look back at my twenty-year-old self, even my slightly younger self, how I leaned in on high school in creating this and that thing or whatever I did, there was an essence of me that’s the essence of me right here with you.
When I catch that, when I was in my twenties, I had doubts. I followed what I wanted to do. I went to work in the peace movement and then I realized I was preaching to the converters. I went back into law and business school. I was following it, but if I knew what my son and daughter know at this point, it’s to trust yourself. It took me a while to get that I was the smartest when I followed my intuitive skills and focused on cultivating my intuitive skills.
I’ll also tell you that the mind is good, but getting outside of the mind is important. Some people use drugs and alcohol for that and that’s a nice friend when used correctly. Meditation has been a great friend for me. When I slow down, the constant thought after thought reaches a space of stillness. It doesn’t mean I can’t hear a pin drop or answer a mathematical equation. I’m just not at the effect of all these thoughts.
I would have liked to get into that earlier on. It would be an easier time trying to not just figure things out but sensing that things were unfolding. You can access more confidence when you’re not letting your mind spend. I spent a lot of time in law school and other things. Cultivating the mind to get credibility and credentials, I don’t regret it. I use it.
The key piece that you’re asking about is what I would say to myself or anyone else. Don’t just rely on the mind. Cultivate your intuition and learn how to not spend your entire life going from thought to thought. Find out what’s true inside you so you can use it in any situation. Look at a situation and evaluate it from the perspective of the heart. It’s not how I feel but what I sense. There’s intelligence there that affects business decisions as well as negotiations, relationships, and what to do next.
In 180-plus episodes that I’ve done over 3 years, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that as a response. It’s interesting and super cool. Richard Perl, the Chief Administrative Officer for TerraCycle, thanks so much for joining us on the show. I appreciate the time and ideas.
Thank you for the inquiry and for leading this journey for us to even learn about ourselves as we go through this dialogue with you. It’s nice to meet you.
You as well.