Getting to Know You: T.J. Walker, Sales and Purchasing Director

T.J. Walker is the Sales Director for Elgin Recycling, a company founded by his family in the mid-1980s.

Hailing from Boulder, Colorado, T.J. pursued the discipline of Economics in post-secondary school, completing a bachelor’s degree at Colorado State University in 2001. After graduation, his credentials earned him a position at a local startup. In 2004, T.J. relocated to Chicago upon accepting a position in tech sales at the information technology company CDW. Over the course of his employment at that firm, he received several awards for his accomplishments in both sales and customer service.

About a year later, T.J. Walker chose to join his family’s business, Elgin Recycling, taking on the role of Sales and Purchasing Director. In preparation for this, he spent a considerable amount of time learning every aspect of the company’s operations, including how each of its retail locations work, as well as its office support division and sales division. Among his major achievements at Elgin Recycling is creating a totally new division that deals with buying and selling old and obsolete electronics—a division that is now responsible for a substantial percentage of the company’s business. T.J. has something of a fluid role at Elgin Recycling, shifting his attentions to wherever they are needed on any given day, and contributing to most all facets of the firm’s overall operations.

When he finds himself with free time, T.J. Walker enjoys collecting sneakers, and spending time with his wife, daughter, and rescue husky.

What do you currently do at your company?

At Elgin Recycling, my title is Sales and Purchasing Director, but that might be a little misleading. I have a hand in most of the major activities of the company. So, depending on how the day breaks down, I might be making decisions regarding day-to-day operations, finances, project development, human resources, or any one of a handful of other areas of the business.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

Although I wasn’t present when the company was initially conceived, I think a lot of it had to do with a realization the recycling was going to play a big part in how this nation could tenably deal with the huge amount of waste it produces. My mother and father-in-law thought recycling was the wave of the future and founded the company in 1986 after coming to just that conclusion.

These days, recycling accounts for several billions of dollars in the economy every year. Beyond the environmental benefits, it helps many companies balance their books by saving on raw materials through the recycling of resources, as opposed to paying for brand new sources of whatever minerals or component materials they require. Recycling is a growth industry and undoubtedly one with a bright future.

What defines your way of doing business?

I pride myself on my thorough attention to detail, as well as my approachability. The good people who work at Elgin Recycling always know that they can talk to me about anything.

What keys to being productive can you share? 

Although I think this might be conventional wisdom, simply staying focused on the task at hand and delegating work appropriately are my own personal keys to productivity. I will say this, though: following this advice is not quite as easy as it sounds.

What would you tell your younger self?

That it’s okay to fail. More than that, from a certain point of view, failure can be a valuable exercise, in that it enables you to learn from your mistakes. Failing every once in awhile is also a pretty good indication that you’re pushing your personal limits, which is important to do in the business world.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

Keep an open mind, and know when to listen rather than speak. I don’t know everything about everything, so when someone who has a greater grasp of a subject than me is speaking, the most valuable way I can use my time is to remain silent and listen intently.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work? 

Primarily, I love to spend time with my family; my wife, daughter, and my dog. Whether it’s taking a long walk, playing a board game, watching a movie, going out to dinner—whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. I’m just grateful for their love and companionship. I also collect sneakers.

How would your colleagues describe you?

I can’t speak for them, of course, but I would hope that my colleagues describe me as honest, hardworking, and observant.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

Eating healthy and getting a proper night’s sleep are the number one and two things I do, in that respect. Maintaining a work life balance is, in many ways, innately connected to one’s physical health. If you’re physically healthy, then you’ll have the optimal amount of energy on any given day, which means that you’ll be both productive at work and mentally present during time with family.

What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

Superhuman Email Service is a web service that I use all the time. It helps immensely with organizing and managing my inbox, which can easily get out of control if left unattended for any stretch of time. I highly recommend it.

What advice would you give to aspiring to succeed in your field?

My advice to anyone interested in a career in business always has the same central theme, and that is you have to push forward when others give up. That’s the only true way to achieve success. There is a quote that’s often repeated in my family which pretty much sums up this mindset: “Things happen for us, not to us.” Ed Mylett said that. What he meant is that there’s always some wisdom to be gained from any challenges you experience, and that it’s much better to embrace setbacks as teachable moments than obstacles or catastrophes.