Global VP of Trenton-based 'upcycler' to speak at campus, Nov.29
From unpaid intern to 27-year-old global vice president of media relations at TerraCycle, Inc., Albe Zakes will share his journey, which began as an inspired college kid looking to make a difference in the green industry, during his visit to Penn State Brandywine on Thursday, Nov. 29 at 11:30 a.m. in the Tomezsko Classroom Building, room 103.
Encouraged by his father during college, Zakes said landing an internship requires simple persuasion. “You go to the company [where you want to work], tell them you love it and that you will sweep the floors and work your way up.” That is exactly what he did.
In Zakes’ case, the company was Trenton-based TerraCycle, Inc., the world's leading "upcycling" company, which converts waste materials into eco-friendly, affordable products available at major retailers worldwide. With no prior public relations experience, Zakes said he learned through a lot of trial and error. Though he admits, “I’m embarrassed about some of the things I did in the early days,” he has worked his way all the way to the top of the public relations department.
His personal success story is the perfect example of the importance of internships and for this reason, Zakes made a promise ahead of his visit to the campus. “Any student who comes to the talk and asks me an intelligent question or makes me laugh will get an internship” at TerraCycle, he said. His department hires approximately eight interns every summer.
Considering his business model, this could be a valuable experience for any undergrad. Zakes runs wildly successful public relations and marketing campaigns without spending one advertising dollar ... ever. He relies on brand ambassadors, social media, grass roots campaigns and strong media relations to spread the word about TerraCycle.
The campus learned about TerraCycle while reading the book, “Start Something That Matters,” by TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, as part of the annual Campus Common Read Program. The theme of this year’s program, inspired by the book, is social enterprise and its place in not just today’s society, but also the future.
“I think beyond the money donated and the waste diverted, what is the most impactful part of [TerraCycle’s] mission is the education and engagement and inspiration that we provide to younger generations in the hopes that more and more of the future generations will look to start or work for or support the social enterprises that will be so vital to the success of our planetary health in the 21st century,” Zakes said.
The campus is collecting old pairs of shoes to be donated to TerraCycle for recycling and upcycling. Zakes said the shoes that are still wearable will be donated to those in need around the world. Heavily damaged or dirty shoes will be broken down so various parts can be sent to TerraCycle’s partners. For example, the rubber material used to make the soles will be broken down and used on playgrounds, while the fabric will be sold to a fabric recycling company.
Zakes’ talk is titled “TerraCycle: Finding the Marketing Magic in Your Local Landfill” and he said, “It will be ruckus, there will be a lot of poop jokes.” Of course, there’s a reason for the vulgarity. TerraCycle was founded by Tom Szkay, who was a freshman at Princeton University when he came up with the idea to have worms eat organic waste to make fertilizer. Or as Zakes put it, Szkay “dropped out of Princeton to liquefy worm poop.”