How John D. Bruno of Key Metal Refining Overcame Adversity to Become a Platinum Man

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As a pioneer in the recovery of Platinum Group Metals from catalytic converters, John D. Bruno has been a staple in the automotive recycling industry.

Spanning across four decades, as a business owner and consultant, Bruno has helped large and small companies grow. 

Bruno is the President of Key Metal Refining LLC, a company that purchases catalytic converters for the recovery of Platinum Group Metals. The catalysts are then sent to its parent company, DOWA Metals and Mining, for smelting and refining and later sold on NYMEX. 

Business Innovators (BI) interviewed John D. Bruno and got some very candid answers about the state of the industry, and the topsy-turvy journey that eventually led to his success.

BI:  What are the challenges today that people face buying and selling catalytic converters?

JDB:  It’s sad to say, but over time a culture of corruption developed. There’s a lot of deceptive practice within the scrap industry. For suppliers it’s hard to sort through all that noise. As time went on and it became more competitive, sellers became more distrusting of buyers as buyers took advantage of them.

Even if they have a good deal there’s an uncertainty about doing a transaction where the buyer knows so much more than the seller. It makes them feel uneasy.

From a buyer’s perspective, I deal with people that I can trust. I don’t want to buy from people that are trying to beat the system, or trying to get over.

I try to deal with people that run their business in an honest way. Those are the best people to work with, because they’re going to watch out for you and you’re going to watch out for them. It’s good to have trust. If you can’t trust somebody you’re doing business with, you’re wasting your time.

BI:  You’ve had a fascinating career. Let’s jump into the time machine and learn about how you got to where you are today.

Where were you born and what was your household like?

JDB:  I was born in Denver Colorado. I had four sisters and we lived in a low working class neighborhood. My father was a big fisherman, so we spent a lot of time in the mountains fishing and skiing and I loved it, it was a great childhood.

BI:  After high school, growing up with four sisters and living amongst the mountains, what did you do?

JDB:  We didn’t have a lot of money, so I was going to go to a state school. I was really good in math and science, so I figured I’d be an engineer, even though I didn’t know any engineers and I wasn’t sure what they did.

I was either going to go to Colorado University or Colorado School of Mines, I was accepted to both. I wanted to play football, but I wasn’t serious enough about that to play a big school like CU, so I went to Mines and played.

BI:  How did you choose your major at Colorado School of Mines?

JDB:  I didn’t know what mining metal and geophysics, chemicals were, but I figured it didn’t matter. Luckily, I discovered metallurgy, I loved it, so I lucked out.

BI:  What was your college experience like?

JDB:  It was a little bit of a culture shock going there at first, because if you can imagine, in any high school you have the guys with the pocket protectors and the taped out glasses that go walking around talking to themselves. You take those guys from all over the country and you put them there, all of a sudden it’s a big party. Everybody’s like that.

BI:  What did you do after graduating?

JDB:  I decided after I graduated that I wasn’t done yet, and I was just starting to get the hang of this and everything was coming together. I wasn’t the best student in the first year or two, and then I really embraced it and so graduate school helped me.

I was involved in electrochemistry and was a research fellow with the Solar Energy Research Institute. I loved that, and thought when I got out of college, I was going to work for them.

BI:  And did you work for the Solar Energy Research Institute?

JDB:  Well, right about then the funding was slashed for the program and I hadn’t interviewed with any of the mining companies I was groomed for.

I was adrift for the first few months. Then I got a chance to work with AMAX, Extractive Metallurgy Research and Development. It was a great experience too, because AMAX was a big mining company, they were involved in operations all over the world.

BI:  Was that your dream job?

JDB:  No, because something inside me wanted to do my own thing, I wanted to take and use the thing I love, metallurgy, and try to find my own niche. I was exploring.

BI:  Is this when you got involved with catalytic converters?

JDB:   Actually yes.

BI:  What lead you to begin extracting metals from catalytic converters?

JDB:   A friend of mine sent me some beads and said “Hey, it’s out of a catalytic converter, this stuff is just starting to hit the junkyards- there’s platinum in it. Can you figure out how to extract it?”

BI:  Were you able to figure out the extraction process?

JDB:  I did. I played around on the bench and came up with a process. Then I built a small pilot plant and developed a pretty good idea for a plan to get into buying catalysts and refining.

Using my processes as an advantage, I quit my job, hit the streets and tried to raise money to advance this. I ran into some guys quickly that loved the idea and wanted to get involved in it.

BI:  Did you partner with them?

JDB:  Yes, we started U.S. Platinum. But with the excitement we moved faster than we should of.

I should have done my due diligence and picked the right partners.

We bought a big operation that was closed down and were able to buy it pretty cheaply. It had millions of dollars in capitalization and equipment. I retrofitted the plant to fit my process.

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A. Ralph Thomas

A. Ralph Thomas is a Contributing Writer to Business Innovators Magazine and a Host on Business Innovators Radio covering Business Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Business Success.