Where in the World did you Spend your Summer–Robyn Tsukayama (OA)

TerraCycle Inc.

Trenton , NJ

What did you do this summer?
I worked for the CEO and CAO of TerraCycle in lovely Trenton, New Jersey. It was certainly not a glamorous summer, but when you work for a company whose mission is to “Eliminate the idea of waste” you know it’s not going to be pretty but it can certainly be fun. TerraCycle is one of the only alternatives to landfills and incineration and we view waste as an opportunity not a burden. My summer was not traditional, I wore jeans and flip flops, worked in an office covered in graffiti, sat on furniture made from trash, went to house parties with coworkers and spent the entire summer focused on how to increase impact in the waste industry. It was amazing!

So now you ask.What is this company called TerraCycle? TerraCycle has its roots in worm poop. It was started by Tom Szaky, now CEO, when he was a freshman at Princeton University. He brewed and bottled the worm poop in recycled soda pop bottles and sold it to Home Depot as an organic fertilizer. TerraCycle has expanded into upcycling and recycling of nonrecyclable goods. We make upcycled backpacks from candy wrappers, trash cans made from chip bags and preconsumer diaper waste, fences from drink pouches, pencils from newspapers, kites, shower curtains, pet beds, the list of products goes on and on, all made from waste.

What was your background prior to HBS?
I have a mechanical engineering background. I was a Product Engineer for Procter and Gamble Gillette in Blades and Razor R&D. I qualified new products, dealt with quality issues, manufacturability, product launches, and pretty much anything to do with product integrity. I also spent a couple years in the automotive industry in Detroit. I was a Product Development and Test Engineer for GKN Driveline, a Tier One supplier. I worked on torque transfer devices, constant velocity joints, and developed new high speed sealing systems. I’ll never forget the week I was paid to do donuts and full lock turns in the parking lot for vehicle testing. I had some fun assignments! Regardless of where I worked, I always tried to incorporate environmental sustainability into my work; volunteering to work on side biopolymer projects, organizing earth day events, or just encouraging my coworkers to turn off lights and recycle.being green is in my blood.

Why did you choose to spend your internship at TerraCycle.
I have been a fan of TerraCycle for a couple years. Tom Szaky, the CEO, was the keynote speaker for StartingBloc, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering young leaders in Social Innovation. I was really impressed with the business model; he was pushing eco-capitalism. Clean up the world, make money, and give back socially.who doesn’t love that. I liked the size of TerraCycle (under 100 people globally), since I do not have a business background I wanted to work at an organization that allowed me to explore the different aspects of business from marketing, to operations, to finance, to strategy, etc. TerraCycle gave me the fantastic opportunity to work directly with the CEO and CAO, I sat in Tom’s office! I was involved in various aspects of the business and had a very high-level overview of the day to day operations. The other internships I was pursuing did not afford me that level of responsibility or exposure for the summer. Working for TerraCycle was really a no brainer for me.

What advice do you have for RCs looking for summer internships?
You can break away from the herd! Follow your own convictions and stay true to yourself. If you have something in mind for your summer, don’t give into the pressure to just take the first job you are offered. It is okay to wait. I’ll be honest it was difficult in April/early May when I still did not have my internship. I really had to resist the urge to just interview with anyone and everyone for a job. I also found it really easy to rely on the Job Bank for leads (don’t get me wrong, the Job Bank is amazing, but it didn’t have what I was looking for and I kept convincing myself that these jobs were too great to not apply to, even when deep down I didn’t want them). I was not successful until I really dug deep into my networks and reached out to friends. Once I did that I had a job within days.

Oh also, do not get caught up in the money. Hard to resist but this is your only summer to try something without financial repercussions. Look into the Social Enterprise Summer Fellow program and the Entrepreneur programs. You can do what you love and not be broke, living in your car or couch surfing.

TerraCycle conference room, empty conference room above and end of the summer intern meeting below.