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Making a Positive Impact: The Empowered Women of United Scrap Metal

When Marsha Serlin entered the gritty, scrap recycling arena over 40 years ago, her intention was merely survival for herself and her young children. But what began as a means of self-preservation became a crusade of conservation and a story of inspiration to men and women alike.

In 1978, Marsha was a single mother of two trolling Chicago’s alleys in a rental truck collecting recyclable materials. Today, she is the successful CEO of the business she founded, United Scrap Metal, and a proponent of professional women changing the perception of the industry while creating opportunities for the women following in her footsteps.

As a pioneering female leader in a male-dominated industry, Marsha transformed the idea of what a woman could do. She forged ahead by creating opportunities for herself and her family, all while ultimately building a sustainable and scalable business whose mission is rooted in making a positive impact in the lives of others.

United Scrap Metal continues to be a woman-owned business that employs over 500 team members across six geographic markets. Amongst a wide and varied array of awards and recognitions Marsha and her company have received over the years, she takes the most satisfaction and pride in the countless opportunities she has afforded to others.

If Marsha is an unlikely scrap industry contender, the same could be said for almost anyone employed there and the ways and means that have led team members to its roster are as diverse as the individuals themselves. The one common factor is that each person, in their own way, can view their career not as a path (a narrow, predictable ladder climb), but as a voyage. A voyage allows room for freedom of choice and seizing opportunities.

United Scrap Metal embodies a career voyage culture by creating opportunities for all team members, where job creation is explored and implemented. This is accomplished based on team members’ strengths and achievements and/or because of the changing needs of the business, industry, or customers.

Part of enabling those career voyages means investing in the team members’ development, enrichment, and shared culture. Each month United Scrap Metal selects a cause or movement to rally around, and this July is designated as United in Supporting Empowerment.

Empowered by this culture, four women of United Scrap Metal share their career voyages in the following stories.

Meet Monica Monteros

Monica joined United Scrap Metal six years ago after leaving her office administration job in the healthcare industry. While much of her knowledge and skills transferred to a shipping and receiving position within the company, working in operations and a manufacturing environment required some significant adjustment.

She was one of the few women working in operations and quickly learned she needed to pay her dues to be successful. It didn’t take long for her to realize that if you work hard, learn what you don’t know, and stay connected with everyone, you will succeed. For her, United Scrap Metal’s culture was refreshing. She discovered the only limitations to her advancement were ones that she placed on herself.

After three years in her shipping and receiving role, she was promoted to Area Supervisor in the wire processing and sorting area before moving into the stainless-steel operation, retaining her supervising responsibilities.

Taking on a supervisor role in operations as a young woman required a great deal of humility, understanding, and a willingness to forgo any preconceived notion on what a “supervisor” should do -akin to Marsha’s foray into the industry.

One of the best pieces of advice she was given was to learn forklift operation. If you can show your team members that you are willing and capable of handling the forklift, you will earn the respect you need to succeed. To this day, she prides herself in heeding that advice and has fond memories of her time in operations on and off the forklift.

“I was able to work with some incredible team members. They taught me more about how to manage and when to lead than I could have ever learned elsewhere.”

Along the way, she welcomed her third child. She returned full-time (nights and weekends) to school to earn a Business Administration degree with a concentration in Human Resources from St. Augustine College.

“None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for United Scrap Metal’s flexibility to let me grow my family and earn my degree. I felt supported and encouraged throughout each milestone and couldn’t be more grateful. The tuition reimbursement program was an investment in me, myself. Most importantly, the flexible hours were truly priceless.”

Monica’s dedication as an area supervisor and her commitment to earning her bachelor’s degree was well regarded when she applied for a position in the People Development Department. In January, she started her new talent acquisition role, more informally known as a recruiter.

As she reflects on her career voyage, she marvels at what an unconventional journey it has been and continues to be today, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Equally exciting is what tomorrow is capable of bringing at United Scrap Metal.

Meet Jodi Keller

To share Jodi’s career voyage, it is best to start with where she is today and then work backward to what led her to this prominent position throughout her 19-year tenure.

Jodi Keller is United Scrap Metal’s Executive Vice President and one of only three women holding an executive seat, the primary seat being held by Marsha Serlin. Jodi’s appointment to the Executive Team roughly 10 years ago enabled her to provide the voice and perspective of the next generation of women.

Drawing upon much of her own experience of being a working mother of two children and juggling the demands of her career, she has been able to help shape and champion accommodations for women and men across the company, trying to balance work and home life by offering flex schedules, maternity/paternity leave, parking for expectant mothers, continuing education and more.

Before her vice president role, she held positions in sales and marketing. “I have a natural affinity for sales. Just when I think I grow tired of it, I am quickly reminded how much I enjoy it and derive tremendous satisfaction from it.”

Jodi was hired as one of the first female sales team members and which revolutionized the scrap industry by adding more women to the mix. Presently, the sales team consists of 70 percent women. This happened organically as they found in recruiting talent that more women saw the woman-owned company’s opportunity (primarily based on Marsha Serlin’s heroic story) and didn’t mind being “scrappy.”

In Jodi’s nearly two decades with United Scrap Metal, she has had the best of both worlds. She learned how to succeed as a woman in business from Marsha and was challenged to stretch further in areas (like finance) by Marsha’s son Brad, the President of United Scrap Metal.

Jodi Keller with her mentors Marsha Serlin and Brad Serlin

Jodi’s loyalty to the company and her team is unrivaled. She is a visionary and can take a nugget of an idea and run with it. She was instrumental in United Scrap Metal’s expansion into additional markets and offered a portfolio of other successes contributing to the company’s growth and success.

Giving back to others inside and outside the company is also something she holds dear. In Minster, Ohio, where she grew up, and some of her family still resides, she is involved in a high school scholarship program with her dad, Dan Keller, and sister, Jill Keller-Howe, called the Keller Manufacturing Scholarship. The Keller’s have a long-storied history in manufacturing and felt impassioned to help students interested in manufacturing careers. To date, they have raised $20,000 in scholarship money, and United Scrap Metal proudly matches those annual donations.

Jodi has also helped and mentored countless women. In recognition, she was awarded the Women in Manufacturing STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead Award for her excellence and leadership in representing women across all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the C-suite. Additionally, Jodi holds board positions with the Illinois Manufacturing Association and Valley Industrial Association.

Meet Yessenia Ordonez

Yessenia, or “Yessi” as she is affectionately known, is a native of the beautiful state of Colorado. While she enjoys the hustle and grandeur of Chicago and the suburbs’ quaintness, she cherishes the occasional respite of traveling back home to spend time with her family and take in what nature has to offer. “Being able to share where I grew up and spend time with multiple generations of family members with my son, Jaylen, is really important to me and my husband, Miguel.”

After working nine years in the retail jewelry industry, she was about to accept another position working for a diamond vault when she took notice of an inflection point. Was she going to continue being on a defined course, or was she willing to take a chance and move towards something bigger? She yearned for a company that would provide her with a career that would allow growth and advancement rather than just a job. After interviewing and accepting a receptionist position at United Scrap Metal, she realized that this would be the start of something significant for her.

“I often laugh when I think I left the jewelry industry and yet ended up working with metals all around me.”

While her days as a receptionist were short-lived (she was promoted into the Inside Sales Department within six months), working at the front desk would prove to be an invaluable experience. From the beginning, she worked closely with Jodi Keller on developing and implementing a national aluminum program and continued to do so as she moved to Inside Sales.

More than a decade has now passed, and in that time, she has grown from roles in data entry/input to a team lead and then her promotion and appointment to Inside Sales Manager three years ago. Her team now consists of 10 women who, in their own right, offer an abundance of passion, knowledge, skills, and unbridled determination to exceed their internal and external customers’ needs.

Yessenia Ordonez with some team members volunteering at Enchanted Backpack 

“One of the things that I wanted to do with the Inside Sales Team when I became the Manager was to change the name of our department. There was a lot of misunderstanding about our department’s responsibility, and we were not a sales team. Changing the name to Customer Excellence better reflected our focus and created a sense of purpose and pride amongst the team.”

Yessi has mentored others who have followed in her footsteps, from receptionists to spots on the Customer Excellence Team. She has never forgotten those early years and what it was like to be on that side of the equation.

“I am so grateful to United Scrap Metal for taking a chance on me. And in return, they have gained a very loyal team member.”

Yessi is a testament that if you show up and live United Scrap Metal’s five core values, you will have as many opportunities as you are willing to manage.

The bond and camaraderie Yessi nurtured on her team and her willingness to elevate others is profound. It was a real watershed moment for her when she appointed two of her long-tenured team members to become Team Leads at the end of last year.

In recent years, Yessi has turned her focus to upskilling her leadership abilities and widening her knowledge of the scrap metal recycling industry in pursuit of obtaining a director-level position at United Scrap Metal. In the words of one of her admired best-selling authors, Amy Cuddy, “Fake it until you become it.” Yessi accomplished just that as she earned her appointment as Director of Customer Excellence in May of 2021.

The next big step for Yessi on a personal level is purchasing her first single-family home, underscoring United Scrap Metal’s commitment to providing opportunities for all team members.

Meet Anahi Perez

If there was one word to describe Anahi, it would be FOCUS. At a very young age, she demonstrated levels of maturity, responsibility, and loyalty that people twice her age would be hard-pressed to achieve.

Anahi was introduced to United Scrap Metal through her sister, Mirna, who at the time had been with the company for three years. Anahi had recently graduated from high school and had plans to be a full-time college student. Without the benefit of financial aid, she was determined to pay for her undergraduate degree without taking out loans. She took on a summer job as a cashier in the recycling center but would need to work two jobs to make ends meet.

“Those years were hard, but I remained motivated and focused on my goals to graduate debt-free. Working at United Scrap Metal provided the additional emotional support and stability I needed to accomplish them.”

After working two part-time summer jobs at United Scrap Metal, she accepted a full-time position and joined the Inside Sales Team in a support role. This provided her with the support and financial stability to finish her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Northeastern Illinois University.

Anahi’s desire to learn propelled her into other areas within United Scrap Metal – she served in the IT Department before joining the People Development Team as the Talent Acquisition Coordinator.

At this stage, obtaining a master’s degree was within sight. With the flexibility United Scrap Metal offers coupled with a tuition reimbursement program, she was able to earn her master’s degree in Human Resources from DePaul University in two years.

“When I reflect on nearly 10 years at United Scrap Metal, I realize that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to attain. My achievements give me the confidence to go farther than I thought possible. I don’t have to look too far for inspiration other than Brad and Marsha Serlin.”

So, what’s next for Anahi? She currently holds a Compensation & Benefits role in People Development and, in her free time, is studying for the coveted Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) certification.

It has been said that behind every successful woman is a tribe of successful women who have her back. Over the past 40+ years, Marsha Serlin has built a tribe of successful women in a male-dominated industry. Following her lead, these women feel empowered to empower other women. United Scrap Metal continues to strive to eradicate the narrow career path and create opportunities for women and men to have career voyages that lead to……….well, anywhere they dream of going.

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