Executive of the Year: Arnold Gachman has built a proud legacy in business and community

Arnold G. Gachman (Photo by Glen E. Ellman)

As part of a family that owned one of Fort Worth’s oldest businesses, Arnie Gachman was positioned since childhood to carry on the legacy that his immigrant Jewish grandfather began 109 years ago.

After all, he came to know a lot about the scrap metal business from tagging along to work with his father when he wasn’t in school. His grandfather would keep him by busy by giving him scrap parking meters to break apart to salvage the various metals.

“I would separate the different metals in different piles,” he recalls.

He learned his lessons well.

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Today, Arnold G. Gachman, 80, is chairman of Gamtex Industries and this year’s honoree as Fort Worth Business Executive of the Year. He will be honored Nov. 1 at the 52nd Fort Worth Business Hall of Fame event sponsored by Texas Wesleyan University, the Fort Worth Business Press and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. The event will be held at the Fort Worth Club with proceeds benefiting the Thomas H. Law Scholarship Fund.

Those recollections of his youth are fond memories for Gachman, who never minded the dust and dirt of the scrapyard, even though his mother directed him straight to the bathroom to clean up the moment he walked through the door at home.

But as he was approaching high school age, Gachman had different thoughts about his future. He imagined a life in military service and attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

An only child, Arnie convinced his parents to send him to a military academy in Florida for high school. He was one of only two Jewish students attending the school, where he first encountered anti-Semitism.

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Gachman returned home at the end of his freshman year because he realized he couldn’t qualify for the service academies due to his eyesight.

That summer, he took a part-time job at the scrapyard and enrolled in R. L. Paschal High School for his sophomore year. He also joined the school’s ROTC program.

When it was time for college, Gachman chose the University of Texas and joined a fraternity.

“I failed to make my grades the first year,” he said.

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He returned to Fort Worth and enrolled in Texas Christian University, where he hunkered down and successfully completed his education, earning a degree in finance in 1964.

But he continued to cling to his dream of military service, even though a different medical condition stood in his way of a military commission.

Ultimately, it was an uncle on his mother’s side of the family who convinced him to abandon that dream. Gachman admired his uncle, Allen Klotzman – who flew in four theaters while serving as a Navy pilot during World War II – and wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“He told me ‘you’re part of a family with a very successful business here, don’t be a fool and miss an opportunity to better your life,’” Gachman recalls.

He took the advice to heart, acknowledging that a military career wasn’t as much his passion as service to others, which he could achieve in other ways.

From that time on, Gachman has made a priority of giving back through generous philanthropy, involvement with humanitarian causes and shepherding reforms through his industry to make it more environmentally sound and open to local government regulation. It was also his goal to help transform and create a credible reputation and eliminate unscrupulous business practices from the industry.

“As a result, the scrap industry in recent years has committed to a much higher standard of business governance,” Gachman said.

Going into business was both a practical and logical choice, since both his father’s family and his mother’s parents were entrepreneurs. His mother’s parents, Irving and Lillian Klotzman, operated Martha Washington Candy stores along with ice cream and soda counters in Fort Worth.

By the time he decided to join the Gachman family businesses, the operation had undergone several significant changes and expansions. He had the option to work for his father, Leon, who was head of the new steel operation or his grandfather, Jacob “Pop” Gachman, who ran the scrap metal part of the business.

Gachman chose to work for his grandfather in the recycling side of the business because he felt that “scrap was more hands-on” and “every day, there was something new.”

He also admired his grandfather’s work ethic even though he had to adhere to his grandfather’s insistence that he learn the business from the bottom up.

No one knew the business better than Jake Gachman, who was about 14 years old when he left his hometown near Kyiv in Ukraine in 1908 to seek a better life in the United States.

After he “jumped ship” in Galveston Jake set out on foot for Waco to check out a lead on a job there, Gachman said. The journey was long and difficult, made even more problematic because Jake didn’t speak English.

Finally, he arrived in Waco and found the synagogue, where he inquired about the job opening. He learned the job wasn’t in Waco but in Fort Worth.

“Someone was taking a cart with oxen and loaded with furniture to Fort Worth and he caught a ride,” Arnie said.

In Fort Worth, Jake Gachman got a job loading scrap metal onto rail cars. He began learning to speak English, learned how to buy scrap metal and eventually got married.

By 1913, he took steps to start his own business, which successfully opened in 1914. The scrapyard was first located on the square downtown close to other prominent businesses such as Leonard Brothers department store. Later, it was moved to South Main Street to be next to the railroad line.

In time, Jake Gachman began buying scrap metal and transporting it by train back to Fort Worth. He then began opening scrapyards.

After World War II, he and his sons, Leon and Dan, opened a steel fabrication and distribution business next door to the scrapyard on South Main.

The business prospered and in 1951 was relocated to its current location on Shamrock Avenue.

As a newlywed still attending TCU, Arnie Gachman decided to go to work at the scrapyard.

“My grandfather gave me two rules: you can’t play golf because you won’t have time and you don’t get a haircut on company time,” he said.

In 1969, at age 27, Gachman became general manager of Gachman Metals & Recycling. In 1974, following the death of his grandfather, Gachman took over as president.

Arnie’s father, who started working in the business at age 13, became chairman of the board.

Eventually, Arnie bought out his family and renamed the business Gamtex Industries, which has become one of the largest and most successful metal recycling businesses in Texas and hauls in tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year.

In addition to running the business, Gachman took on top leadership roles in industry trade groups.

He served as president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), was past chair of the National Association Supply Co-Operative, founding board member of the Texas Cast Metals Association, and vice president of the Recycling Council or Texas.

Gachman also is a recipient of the ISRI Lifetime Achievement Award.

On the civic front, Gachman has served on numerous boards and supported many community causes.

“Arnie Gachman is not only a Fort Worth business leader, he also is showing the path to success for the next generation of business owners and business leaders,” said Fredrick G. Slabach, president of Texas Wesleyan University.

Gachman’s community involvement includes serving as a member and chair of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, which is charged with enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance and federal laws that support the disabled.

He has also been a longtime supporter of health care advances in Fort Worth, among them helping to lead fundraising efforts for the Joan Katz Cancer Resource Center at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center. He has served as past chair and longtime member of the board of Baylor Scott & White All Saints.

He also has served as a board member of the Sammons Transplant Institute at Baylor Medical and the Presbyterian Night Shelter. He is a past chair of the University of North Texas Health Science Center Foundation and a member of the UNTHSC Advisory Board.

In addition, he has been an advocate and founding donor of the Burnett School of Medicine at TCU, supporting its goal of creating “Empathetic Scholars.”

“Arnie is a true Fort Worth leader,” said Dr. Stuart D. Flynn, founding dean of the Burnett School of Medicine at TCU. “He knows what is important to our city and contributes time and energy to create excellence.”

“From day one, Arnie has been a champion for the Burnett School of Medicine and has gone to extraordinary measures to understand and support our school,” Flynn said. “His impact on our school goes far beyond being a donor. He advocates for our school in every way possible.”

Among his many honors, Gachman received the Person of Vision Award from UNTHSC in 2012. Gachman and his wife, Harriette, were honored with the All Saints Foundation Moncrief Heritage Award in 2013 and recognized with the Rosenthal Spirit of Federation Award in 2018 and TCU’s 2022 Royal Purple Award for outstanding alumni and community service.

The Gachmans are members of Congregation Ahavath Sholom and Beth El Congregation as well as the Exchange Club, Jewel Charity Ball, Shady Oaks Country Club and the Fort Worth Club.

“Arnie Gachman exemplifies the idealism and responsibility our Jewish faith teaches,” said Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, rabbi emeritus of Fort Worth’s Beth-El Congregation. “Indeed, whenever we at Beth-El, or for that matter Ahavath Sholom and the Jewish Federation, have needed him, Arnie has been there not only with his keen mind and legendary generosity, but as leader and friend. Living up to a great family tradition, for the Jewish community as for the community at large, he is a treasure!”

Arnie and Harriette have been married for 59 years and have two children, Iric Gachman and Lesha Carlson, and four grandchildren. Harriette Gachman is a graduate of TCU as is the Gachmans’ son, Iric, who now serves as president and CEO of Gamtex. Grandson Ben Carlson is enrolled in a master’s program at TCU.

Gachman and his family have long been devoted supporters and advocates of TCU.

“Arnie Gachman and his wife, Harriette, have generously made an enduring impact on students and programs at Texas Christian University, often in honor of beloved friends and classmates,” said TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini Jr.

“Arnie also has dedicated much of his valuable time serving Horned Frogs on committees and boards on campus throughout the years since his graduation, Boschini said. “Arnie very much deserves this award, not only for being one of the best business executives in his industry, but also for his passion and commitment to the citizens and the city of Fort Worth.”

In celebration of Gamtex’s 100th anniversary in 2014, the Gachmans commissioned a metal sculpture to be placed in Fort Worth’s Rockwood Park. Created by artist Mike Ross and the Rebecca Low Studio, the nine-foot-tall work is titled Eonothem.

The piece represents the long history of the Gachman family business, incorporating recycled auto wheels and pieces of cast aluminum into a contemporary work of art. The sculpture took several years to complete and was dedicated in 2022.

For Gachman, the sculpture, like his business, will remain an enduring legacy in Fort Worth.