Brian Leen was appointed to the Board of Directors of Gopher Resource, LLC, in early 2018 and joined the company as President and CEO in December of that year. Previously, Mr. Leen served as President and Chief Executive Officer of ADA Carbon Solutions, LLC, a leading producer of activated carbon for the mercury control industry. Mr. Leen has over 25 years of experience in the specialty chemicals and materials industry. Under his leadership, ADA Carbon Solutions grew to become the largest provider of mercury control technology to the coal fired power industry, increasing its market share of activated carbon fivefold in eight years. Prior to joining ADA Carbon Solutions in 2010, he was President of the North American printing ink operations for Sun Chemical Corporation, a global provider of printing inks and pigments with approximately $3.5 billion in revenues and 10,000 employees. He also led the Performance Pigments Group of Sun Chemical. Mr. Leen has a diverse background running global businesses and a track record for driving growth. He serves on the Board of Directors of Advanced Emissions Solutions, Inc. (NASDAQ:ADES) and has participated on a number of private boards. Mr. Leen holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Kentucky and is a graduate of the Executive Management Program at the University of Michigan.
How did you get involved in the lead battery industry?
In my previous role as the CEO for ADA Carbon Solutions, its private equity sponsor, Energy Capital Partners, asked me to help with its diligence of Gopher Resource. I was immediately drawn to, and impressed by the lead battery industry, the company and the management team. I was surprised to learn that lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product in the United States, with a recycling rate of over 99%. I was also impressed with the long and successful history of Gopher Resource and its reputation for quality, environmental leadership, productivity and customer focus.
Shortly after Energy Capital Partners successfully acquired Gopher Resource in March of 2018, I joined the board. Then, after the sale of ADA Carbon Solutions, Energy Capital Partners asked me to join Gopher Resource as President and CEO, and I happily agreed. The lead battery industry is not without its challenges; however, I see a bright future for the industry and the role of Gopher Resource in it. I’m excited to be part of this important work and to have joined a terrific team.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
I’m new to the industry, but I’ve been told that the pace of change has been dramatic and continues to accelerate. Although my perspective on the past is limited, I can see the change in front of us, and it is significant, presenting challenges as well as opportunities. One opportunity that I see is the continued development of new and diverse applications for stored power and the pace of innovation among battery manufacturers to meet those demands. Our role in supporting those efforts is in producing the alloys necessary to enable these new technologies.
Additionally, I see environmental activism against our industry intensifying. Although the examples often cited pertain to practices in other countries, it has become very clear to me that this is a global issue that will impact us all. I believe that we need to address these issues proactively in three ways.
First, we need to adopt a continuous improvement approach to environmental stewardship. Gopher Resource has done that. Emissions of SO2 and ambient lead have continued to decrease, while our volume of spent batteries processed has increased. Second, we need to educate people domestically about the positive contributions of lead batteries to the environment. Few people realize that the reduction in CO2 emissions due to start/stop technology would not be possible without advances in lead battery technology. Plus, the lead battery industry is arguably one of the best examples of a closed loop, circular economy and a model of sustainability. Lastly, and coming back to the global issue, I believe we need to do all we can to proliferate safe and environmentally responsible recycling everywhere it is done. Lead exposure is inarguably harmful. We have proven in our plants and in our domestic industry that we can recycle batteries safely and prevent harmful effects in those who work in our plants, as well as in the communities where we operate. We can and should share those best practices with others and work toward achieving the same standards of environmental stewardship everywhere batteries are recycled.
What do you value about BCI?
Having worked in many other industries, it’s reassuring and exciting to see the level of activity in BCI. I am most excited about the recent announcement of cooperation between BCI, ILA, EUROBAT, and ABR on the Materials Stewardship Program. It’s an important first step in establishing standards and sharing best practices related to the safe and environmentally responsible handling of lead. As I mentioned earlier, I believe this is an important responsibility of our industry and critical to our collective future.