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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Trash to treasure: How one man quit his corporate career and built a recycling empire

Through sheer grit, determination, and a commitment to quality, BR Metals has grown from a three-man team working in a small room in Guangzhou, China, and to a recycling powerhouse.

In 2009, Frank Chen was at the career crossroads which would change his life forever. His first step was the bold decision to leave his lucrative and high-flying career as a business consultant at one of the world’s largest multinational professional services companies. Soon after leaving the comfort of his corporate office, he rolled up his sleeves to collect spent catalytic converters and other auto parts to recycle. In particular, he focused on precious metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium and others.

BR Metals has grown from a small team working in a cramped office in Guangzhou, China, to a recycling powerhouse with offices in Singapore, Guangzhou, China, and Cambodia.

Investing in the right technology
When Chen started his recycling business in 2009, he wanted to not only professionalise the industry in China, but also set a new standard in the collection, processing and recovery of these precious metals. From the onset, Chen has spared no expense in investing in the latest technology and acquiring the latest tools of the trade.

At present, BR Metals has a complete set of cutting-edge sampling equipment to analyze, grade and process scrap materials containing platinum group metals (PGMs) quickly, accurately and cost-effectively. These tools are designed to precisely measure the precious metal content in any batch of catalytic converters. “This was what differentiated BR Metals from the competition, and the professional approach soon paid off,” Chen says. “Within a few short years, the company has captured about 40% of the market share in China.” Unlike most competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, BR Metals has its own laboratory in Guangzhou, equipped with the latest testing equipment, production workshop and a complete production management system.

Reaping the fruits of success
BR Metals has grown by leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings. Backed by its staff of experienced professionals, it is committed not only in investing in the latest technology but also in building a loyal network of suppliers.

“We have 21 suppliers across the globe. They have chosen us for our exceptional service--we offer convenient on-site collection, free accurate analysis of precious metal content, fast payment and even financial assistance to help suppliers collect more materials. Our price quotes are also based on the latest market information,” explains Chen.

In 2014, the company established a branch in Singapore as part of its expansionary plan in Southeast Asia. And in 2017, BR Metals Pte Ltd (Singapore) acquired BR Metals Limited (Guangzhou) as a fully-owned subsidiary, and set up a new representative office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It employs 40 staff across its three offices.

Today, BR Metals has become the leading PGM recovery company in Asia with a turnover of over US$30 million, of which $6.5m is from the Singapore operations. It recovers more than 2,000 kg of Platinum and PGMs each year.

Recently the company has developed and implemented a new production system to raise productivity as well as to address the labour shortage faced by the recycling and waste management industry in Singapore. It will also collaborate with local universities and think tanks on research projects, and develop new analytical methodologies and techniques.

Bright future
“Over the next five years, BR Metals plans to expand its presence with local offices or representatives in neighbouring developing economies including but not limited to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos,” Chen says. We also plan to leverage Singapore’s well-established precious metal trading platform, infrastructure and strategic geographical location to market our metals directly to the industry and end-users in the region,” he adds.
In 2018, BR Metals became a member of the prestigious Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) - the first and oldest international association in the recycling industry. “The membership is not just a recognition of our market strength, it will also open up new opportunities for collaboration and networking on the global stage,” Chen says. “Our core values-professionalism, accountability and attentiveness–drive us to deliver the best possible customer experience and commercial outcome, every time.”

Born Francis Chan, Frank took on the name Frank Chen because his Chinese colleagues cannot pronounce “cis” in “Francis”. As for Chan, every one he met calls him Mr. CHEN. To blend into the Chinese industry, he took on his business name and built BR Metals as Frank Chen.

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