Mike Ricci agrees that his most recent career choice might appear to represent something between an anomaly and a dichotomy.
Educated as an electrical engineer, Ricci went on to build a résumé heavily salted with management positions in the electronics industry. From Intel and JDS Uniphase to Optichron and Ikanos Communications, Ricci has earned a reputation as an executive who can promote corporate growth while exploring digital frontiers.
He has now turned to books. Real books. Words on paper.
Following the retirement of CEO Phil McMullin, the board of directors at Thrift Recycling Management hired Ricci to lead the company into and onto its next stage – which will include a total rebranding and rebirth of TRM as Discover Books.
The company, familiar for its ubiquitous book-donation bins, sells, recycles and repurposes books supplied by the public.
The company has developed software that allows it to quickly analyze the value of any given book and immediately determine whether to put it up for sale online, donate it to a literacy charity or school, or send it for recycling.
The News Tribune spoke with Ricci last week at Discover’s Lakewood processing plant.
Your résumé catalogs a career where you worked at Intel and JDSU, then grew profits at Ikanos and took Optichron from $8 million to $32 million in revenues, and then orchestrated Optichron’s sale to NetLogic Microsystems. You’ve been heavy in tech, and now, what, books?
I took some time off. I reflected. This is a software-logistics company. It is a technology company at its roots.
Also, this is a company that is philanthropic in its mission. I stood back. I wanted to make a value decision.
I wanted to do something that helps the world.
I’d sold this company (Optichron), and I looked at a lot of startups – high-tech, and TRM. So here’s this company that’s a book company. I thought I could scale it up dramatically.
Just in saving books from landfills, and if we can put books in the hands of young children, it can make a dramatic difference. I really led with my heart.
Did you come from a business background?
We had a family business, a few restaurants. At 18, I ran the business. I was the youngest. I have an appetite for that.
I started looking at TRM, I started digging into it. I was seeing that the world is all e-books, but there’s a huge (demand) for paper. We have the best software in the business. We can outperform anybody in determining the value of a book. We have a national footprint, and a philanthropic mission.
There has been some criticism that you are not a nonprofit business.
Being profitable lets us do a lot more. The scale we get from being profitable is huge.
You live in California. Will you be moving the Discover Books plant and headquarters from Lakewood?
This is the hub. We are moving to a new site (in Pierce County) for the corporate headquarters.
In your career, you’ve had to make some decisions that may not have made employees happy. How does that play into your new position?
I like to think that I’ve always been fair with people. I’m not happy about what I’ve had to do – we’ve downsized on my watch. It’s still the nature of the beast.
Companies need to reinvent themselves. This is a family-run business that has made it a long way. It’s a company that needs to go to the next level.
Are you here to make a quick turn?
I was brought in to build the company. The re- branding is important. The company just is not known. There is so much potential tied to the mission.
To me, this is a place where people really get into what they’re doing. There is a sparkle in their eye. It’s nice to be in a company where people believe in the company.
Where do we take it? To be the best in class. To build logistics using technology. We can scale more, give more, we can earn more. Scaling the company up is what is exciting to me. We have 30,000 (donation) bins in the U.S. We should be expanding.
Any negatives here?
The company has to look at the future. We were built looking in the rearview mirror. The company wants to do the right thing but doesn’t realize they are tied to the old habits. We have to change some things. Financial management. There has been a short-term focus, and not enough forecasting.
Change can be difficult to manage.
That’s one of the biggest fears for someone coming in – to a company that is resistant to change. But what we have here is a group of people who want to move ahead. There is a thirst for growing and learning.
Will you be making any personnel changes?
We’re looking at bringing in some talent, a CFO, financial management. We’ll put more focus on marketing and partnerships. What I’ve found is that people are naturally realigning themselves.
What’s been the reaction to your move among colleagues in high-tech?
One of the guys I expected to say, “You’re doing what?” said “That’s cool.” So many are burned out on high-tech.
You have to stand back. What’s our value? We seem to be using artificial means to communicate. We’re using technology to substitute for human communications. I’m proud of what I was involved in. It just wasn’t fulfilling.
Title: CEO of Discover Books.
Education: Electrical engineering degree from Stanford University.
Started at Discover Books (formerly Thrift Recycling Management): May 1.
Family: Married; one daughter and three sons.
Reading: “The DaVinci Code.”
Quote: “I’m an engineer because I like putting things together and taking things apart.”