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George Zubick-London Scrap Metal Dealer with a Heart of Gold
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By Haydn Jensen

In many ways, George Zubick and John Zubick Scrap Metals Limited are surrounded by contrasts. The scrapyard business deals in physical commodities. Yet, George as a deeply committed Christian maintains a clearly spiritual approach and incorporates biblical standards in how he operates. The scrapyard business is a dirty business and yet the practice of reclaiming waste is undeniably green and environmentally friendly. The scrapyard physically is an unattractive place and yet the Zubick's property frontage on Clarke Road features more than a dozen beautiful and majestic art sculptures created from scrapyard materials by Fanshawe Fine Arts students.

The scrapyard is in a somewhat unwelcoming neighbourhood. George says he can stand on the roof of his building and point out at least three gang turfs nearby. And yet, he takes the time personally to show care to his customers by gently welcoming them and asking how they are. The scrap business is a market driven business where buy low, sell high is the order of the day. Yet, George and his team are known to deal fairly and honestly with people bringing in scrap. It's easy to see that Zubick’s is as much about people as it is about commodities. There they understand that when the customer gets a fair deal, everybody gains.

In 1946 when George Zubick/s father and mother started their scrap metals business, their main concern was supporting their family. Today, George and his brother Bruce head up the company and provide income for families of 55 employees while also benefitting suppliers and buyers of reclaimed metals. For these people at least, George says, "We have a fairly significant impact." The business motto "Reclaiming Canada's Resources" tells a larger impact story. The company benefits everyone in reducing the volume of materials that could end up in landfills and in reducing the amount of raw materials and energy required to produce new metal for manufacture. The business has changed quite a lot over the years, with metals and alloys being recycled today that didn’t even exist in the the '40's. New processing technologies and equipment have also changed. George says his parents probably wouldn't recognize the business now.

Despite the positive benefits, George describes the scrap metal business as dangerous--a minefield even. He uses U.S. Steel Canada’s recent bankruptcy protection news as an example. "They are one of our bad debts." When large steel market players like this are struggling, this puts companies like Zubick's in a precarious position. George says, “We have to be very selective about who we deal with.” Reclaimed metal yards like Zubick's are constantly flowing--like a river--with salvage material coming in, being processed and shipped out to buyers in an ever-flowing 1 to 2-week cycle. They don’t want to see that flow interrupted. With the wisdom that comes from experience, George regards difficulties with major clients as "disappointing, but not surprising." More than this, he sees also that, in his words, "We have only one option. The God who made us has the answers we don't."

Thinking about those we often see cruising neighbourhoods to collect metals from the curbside, I asked George about this practice. He explained that whatever goes into the blue box, once it's at the curb, belongs to the company contracted to pick up the material. So, taking things from blue boxes at the curb is actually stealing from the contractor. But, if the homeowner wishes to give or sell materials to somebody, that's fine. What puzzles George, though, are all the things blue box contractors won't pick up, like aluminum siding for example. Items like this are of greater mass and value as reclaimed metals and yet our municipal recycling program excludes them; bluebox pickup contractors will only pick up materials in certain formats (eg. pop cans). George says that some guys can make a living collecting metals from neighbourhoods and businesses, but a lot of them are on subsidized living, or disability for whatever reason, and are just doing what they can to pick up a little extra.

As George explained this he went on to tell a story which showed both his compassion and his frustration with how challenging "the system" can be for people receiving government assistance. "We had one gentleman who went around with a tricycle and later a motorized cart. This guy could only walk hesitantly with help of full braces. He had customers who would save things for him--businesses and people who don't have curbside pickup. A couple years ago he had saved enough to go to Cuba for a holiday. He was just as happy as a little kid. But, he was penalized by the system for adding to his disability income and put out of business."

As we talked, it became clear that George has observed many instances where he sees government, politics and regulations missing the mark when it comes to fairness. He shared about a battery salvager who had always been careful to follow every regulation. The man was bankrupted after being fined for violating a recent and arbitrary rule change. George also shared his frustration about all the incentives and attention given to attracting new business to London while existing businesses are threatened with stiff penalties for taxes due etc., He wishes instead that governments would say to established business owners, "You're doing a good job. Let us help you." In thinking about the upcoming municipal elections, George reasonably compares civic leadership with business leadership. He feels that we should select our city leaders according to training, experience, aptitude and attitude just like good businesses do when considering candidates for top executive positions. Sadly, George feels that too often the election process is just a popularity race and nothing more.

Dealing fairly with customers, lamenting when hard working 'little guys' are penalized despite their efforts, wanting politicians and business leaders to be treated with equal accountability--you might think George Zubick is all about fairness. True, and yet fairness doesn’t go far enough. George shared that one place in the Bible that he keeps going back to is a lesson about compassion and forgiveness and how we are to live in response to God's compassion and forgiveness. George recounted Matthew 18: 21-25 where we read Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant, a man who owed a huge debt to his master. He begged for and received compassion and forgiveness of debt. Then, the man drew judgement on himself soon afterwards by refusing to show compassion on someone who owed him a much smaller amount. George was particularly struck by the severity of how that unforgiving servant was punished afterwards. With tears beginning in his eyes, George made it personal and started doing the math in almost predictable metals dealer fashion: "My debt to the Master is 10,000 talents, which works out to 750,000 pounds or 375 tons of gold. If He has forgiven me that much, how can I not forgive someone for a smaller debt like 3 months wages?"

Perhaps this deep seated sense of compassion is what has motivated George to travel to parts of the world where people struggle to survive, often under oppressive or indifferent authorities. George has visited places like Rwanda, India, and China, and this gives him a clear sense of the affluence and comfort we can all too easily take for granted here in Canada.

Some Christians struggle to integrate their faith into their professional lives. George Zubick makes it clear that this is the only way he can do it. I’ll give him the last word:

"God has shown me in ways I cannot deny that He is real. I did not accept my faith until I saw that proven true. I have seen him penalize us for abusing His values and I have seen Him reward us for honouring His values. I would rather be blessed for what I am doing. Therefore, we may be unique in the community or the business, but I don’t want it any other way."

For more information on John Zubicks Limited, www.zubicks.com.