Stephen Greer visits future entrepreneurs

Global entrepreneur and writer of Starting From Scrap, Stephen Greer lectures to students in Carnegie Mellon’s Entrepreneurship Club. (credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor) Global entrepreneur and writer of Starting From Scrap, Stephen Greer lectures to students in Carnegie Mellon’s Entrepreneurship Club. (credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor)

Last Thursday, entrepreneur and budding writer Stephen Greer spoke to Carnegie Mellon’s Entrepreneurship Club, sharing his business experience and his new book, Starting From Scrap: An Entrepreneurial Success Story.

In Starting From Scrap, Greer recounts his story of almost 20 years in the scrap metal recycling business in Asia. A Pennsylvania native, he graduated from Penn State in the early 1990s, but found that jobs and internships were scarce due to the recession. So in 1993, after hearing from a friend that the Asian market was booming, Greer set out on a mission to succeed abroad.

“I couldn’t find the jobs I wanted in the United States,” said Greer in Thursday’s lecture. “A friend told me that he had a friend in Hong Kong and that there were so many business opportunities in Asia’s booming economy. I knew my dad had a lot of free airline miles he’d been saving up, so I asked him for a free ticket to Hong Kong.”

Greer got the ticket, headed to Hong Kong, and was soon immersed in a business market that was strikingly different from what he had experienced in the United States.

“Hong Kong is a very entrepreneurial town — everyone in one way or another is their own boss,” Greer said. “I became completely caught up in that and fell in love with the city.”

However, Greer’s entrance into the Asian market wasn’t without its flaws. He started his own business, registering it as “Hartwell Pacific,” because, as he said, “Hartwell was my middle name, and I decided to use it because I didn’t want everyone to know that I was the only one involved in my business.” From there, he began to search for his place within Hong Kong’s booming economy.
“I looked at anything and everything: Christmas ornaments, wood, hairnets, work gloves. There was a world full of opportunity; I just had to choose something and go for it,” Greer said.

Greer eventually landed a deal with scrap-metal suppliers in Asia, initiating his entrance into the scrap metal and recycled metal business. There he found success, first in the sales of scrap metal and, eventually, in adapting his company to also recycle used metal, melting it down and reforming it into new stainless steel.

With this adjustment, Greer’s business soared, opening eight operations in seven countries in one and a half years. As he put it, “By 28 I was a multi-millionaire, which was of course a good thing.”

In 2008, after achieving a turnover of $250 million, as well as selling Hartwell Pacific to Australia’s Smorgon Steel Group and Smorgon Steel, he resigned from his position with Hartwell Pacific and became a senior adviser to Oaktree Capital, a global investment management corporation.

However, financial gain, Greer stresses, is not his ultimate concern. “Success is living the life you want to live on your terms — and I’m not talking about money. The reality is that there is a limit to how much money can improve your happiness. But, if you find something that you like and that you’re passionate about — that will take you a long way,” Greer said.

Entrepreneurship Club member and Tepper graduate student Justin G. Shaka introduced Greer as having an “important outlook on entrepreneurship across the globe.”

This holds true for many of the students in Entrepreneurship Club, as Greer’s lessons are especially applicable in today’s global market. The current economic recession bears some similarities to the recession in the early 1990s, when Greer first arrived in Hong Kong.

According to Greer, periods of recession can drive further exploration and valuable risks. “It’s a hard time to find a job in today’s poor economy,” Greer said. “But it’s also a great time to start your own business. Bad economies can be great times to be entrepreneurs.”

Greer also expressed the valuable business lessons he learned due to his experiences across the globe. “It’s a big world — a global economy — and people need to be thinking about how they, and how their country, fit into that.”

These thoughts are echoed by Marc Faber, world-renowned economist and author of the Gloom, Doom and Boom Report. In his review of Greer’s book, he wrote that Greer “proves with a fascinating account of his business life that there are even more opportunities in Asia as countries such as China, India, and Vietnam open up and liberalize.”

Greer’s book is available now and has been listed on the South China Morning Post Bestsellers List.