Sabin Metal Sizes Up Catalysts
June 4, 2001
Small, Closely Held Companies Often Thrive By wheeling and dealing where their larger, publicly held counterparts fear to tread. Sabin Metal Corp. (East Hampton, NY) is one of them.
“We’re surviving because we don’t look for the same ROI that a public company looks for,” says Andrew E. Sabin, 51, the precious metals refiner’s hard-charging president and sole owner. “We have seen several competitors that were divisions of larger companies close their doors.”
Today, Sabin is casting his eye toward greater penetration into the chemical industry. His immediate target is expanding recovery of carbon-based catalysts, especially for the pharmaceutical industry, where the company already claims a 35%-40% market share.
It is a slice that is bound to grow, reasons Sabin, “because people will always use aspirin and antibiotics. We aim to be a major source in the chemical catalyst recycling business and plan to keep expanding into other industrial markets that we see as having a future.”
As the nation’s largest privately owned precious metals refiner and recycler, Sabin posts annual sales in the $75 million-$100 million range. But there is an added dimension: Sabin Commodities, a free-standing but symbiotic company headquartered in New York City’s financial district, is also wholly owned by Andrew Sabin. The commodities company trades in precious metals and Eurotop 100 futures. (The Eurotop 100 tracks the prices of 100 blue-chip issues traded in Western Europe. “If we took every contract as a sale, it would turn into billions,” Sabin says.
Sabin Metal is also making a push into the alumina-based catalyst recovery market. “We’re building on our success with carbon catalysts,” he says. “We may also expand our line of platinum metal group products.”
Sabin’s core business is reclaiming and refining gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium from spent catalysts and other materials generated by chemical processors, makers of electronic and micro-electronic gear, manufacturers of jewelry, photographic and x-ray film—even dental laboratories.
Low-grade scrap is just that, often the broken-up floor of a precious metal processor’s plant or even a dismantled brick wall. “We incinerate the organics then smelt the residual metals,” says Sabin.
He sees the precious metal reclamation business as past its prime, “mature,” in his words, with fewer players and profits that are ever thinner. One reason is miniaturization. “Remember those giant mainframes?” he says. “We used to buy outmoded IBM systems that contained large amounts of precious metal for recycling.” Currently, Sabin Environmental Processing, an affiliated company, will purchase 2000 computers from a major bank, which we dismantle, reclaim the precious metals, and recycle the chips, the glass from the monitors and other non-metallic material.
“The smaller PC network systems that replaced the old-style leviathans yield less recyclable materials, however. But their life span is shorter “More and more, companies want new systems every year, so there is still a lot of salvaging and recycling going on,” says Sabin.
Today there are fewer players, largely because of a decade of tougher and costlier environmental regulations that have priced many precious metal recyclers out of the business. Sabin calls it “a consolidation because of the high environmental management cost involved. He adds, “Companies that comply fully and commit major resources for necessary plant and equipment will be the leaders of the industry.” Clearly, Sabin Metal has survived and prospered by embracing, even advocating, the new regulations.
Andrew Sabin and his father Samuel T. Sabin, the now-deceased founder of the company, took the first decisive step toward total environmental compliance in 1976. That was when their company bought a bargain-priced gypsum plant in Scottsville, NY, near Rochester, some 360 miles northwest of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, where Sabin was started in 1945.
Says Andrew Sabin, “We reasoned that if we were going to be big in the film business, we had Kodak, DuPont and Xerox nearby in Rochester.” At the new site the Sabins began building what grew into the 500,000-sq.ft., zero-discharge plant that Andrew Sabin now hails as an industry model. Of the company’s 250 employees, 200 are in Scottsville.
Today, Sabin sees the Scottsville plant as a showcase for his ardent environmental concern. A recognized naturalist and conservationist, Sabin is active in the affairs of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other conservation groups.
Sabin’s interpretation of zero-discharge at Scottsville is just that: “The only materials leaving the site are metal, slag, and filtered or scrubbed air.” The plant boasts a high capacity, state-of-the -art baghouse that collects the particulate discharges from the rotary, crucible and thermal reduction furnaces. Along with the baghouses, afterburneres are used to eliminate harmful vapors.
As to the purity of the water and air near the Scottsville plant, he says, “We’re located beside a thriving trout stream that supplies water to one of the oldest commercial fish hatcheries in North America a few miles downstream.”
Sabin’s environmental zeal has paid dividends, since the overall aim is to “extract the highest possible value from precious metal-bearing materials in the most cost-effective manner, and provide the highest return to customers to help assure long-term business relationships,” according to a company manifesto.
Another growing segment of Sabin Metal’s business is its presence its Eastern Europe and Russia. “We were the first to start recycling electronics and technological by-products from there,” he says. “I’ve made more than 25 trips over there since 1991.”
At Scottsville, Sabin Metals takes in containerloads of material shipped from the Baltic ports. “They send us scrap, and we ship back platinum sponges, gold bars and silver bars to their central banks.”
He finds dealing with the various bureaucracies is difficult, especially in the Russian Federation. And the language barrier is even worse. “I have two interpreters with me at all times,” he says.
But Sabin encounters none of the crime problems in Russia that many U.S. businesses encounter. He explains, “I deal with enterprises that are government-owned. Crime is more interested in retail busnesses, kiosks, nightclubs and banking. Scrap metal is not their bag. There’s not enough profit for them.”
DANIEL J. McCONVILLE in New York