Career transport: How three waste leaders are tackling industry challenges
Hasbro’s classic The Game of Life allows each player participating in the board game to choose their own path.
It goes without saying that many parallels can be drawn between real-life situations and decisions to be made, even in the waste and recycling industry.
Industry veterans Larry Henk, Owner, Premier Waste Services; Willie Goode, CEO, The Goode Companies Inc. and Michael O’ Connor, Management Consultant, PWS Consulting Group, recently spoke with Waste360 about how, while their individual journeys in the industry were distinct, their successes were achieved with a shared drive and passion inherent in entrepreneurs across the United States.
Goode has worked in the waste industry since he was 13, growing his business from three trucks to more than 200 trucks serving nearly 120,000 residents and 11,000 commercial customer stops. Here is his story.
Waste360: What was your background before waste? How did you become involved in the industry?
Good : My mom’s brother had three small commercial trucks in Washington DC, the nation’s capital, and she asked him to, you know, pick me up in the summer because of the neighborhood I was in so I didn’t have to trouble because of the fact of the surrounding area. And so we’re on the garbage truck. I was just supposed to roll in the middle. Because I was a big guy at the time, they put me to work with a pair of gloves and when the truck stopped I got out and just grabbed the trash. I focused on that and then at 15 I had a car accident that put my football dreams on hold. So, I thought I was good at numbers and reading and I said, well, you know what? I will be like my uncle. I will have three trucks.
One day I will own three trucks and my brother will drive one. My cousin would drive one. And they are still with me today after 30 years. My brother is my right arm. My cousin drives the front loader every day. He does not want to take office. He doesn’t want to be a manager. So when I started, I had a little help.
The industry is just phenomenal – the workplace and the support system you get even from your competition – and it’s fun to work with good people and see lives changed. And for me and [being from] downtown, we help people a lot who go out and have a second chance. It’s great to see men and women come and have a second chance, earn a lot of money, buy a house and help their families and children go to university. It was a rewarding time for me and still to this day – I am in my 30th year – I have even more reason to smile even after losing loved ones and a few people who worked with me.
Waste360: What was the biggest obstacle you faced and how did you overcome it?
Good : The learning curve of not only driving a garbage truck and dumping trash in the back, but also growing from operator to business owner. Running a business that has become what it is today – a corporation – and having a lot of different levels. One of my weaknesses was the price increase. I was afraid of losing the job I had just received. The other sent my bills not only on time but collected the money. I was very bruised in my first five years and what saved me was working hard seven days a week. I did a stint where we were in the same truck for 3 days for 24 hours because my trucks broke down. I had to drive. Someone else tried to do their route during the day, take a little mini-break and do our route at night with the same truck. And it was one of the most difficult.
Waste360: What barriers to entry do you see today?
Good : When speaking with new people or people looking to enter the industry, I would say use all capital letters when spelling capital. And then I say every clock – even the clock on your phone, the watch on your arm – throw it away because there’s no more time. And when I say on time, the only times you have to look forward to getting to bed on time and making sure you’re on contract time from start to finish. Trucks come into the yard and it never stops, especially for us today. For all startups, it never really stops. It’s a constantly moving machine in the waste industry, and it all depends on how you start.
You can do all three trucks like I experienced or you can go in and get a contract that takes 20 trucks if your credit gets your 20 trucks which is pretty hard these days because most packages want to see a historical . Most people ask me how can I build to get this and I say well you hear my stories from 30 years ago. Today I will say it’s a lot harder than what I did, especially if you don’t have the experience, capital, knowledge, know-how, or willpower. And above all, it is not only a question of intelligence; It is a matter of common sense.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited for length and clarity. This is the first part of a three-part series exploring the paths taken by industry veterans to succeed in the industry. Part One introduces Willie Goode, CEO of The Goode Companies. The second part will present the ideas of Michael O’ Connor, management consultant, PWS Consulting Group. Part 3 will introduce Larry Henk, owner of Premier Waste Services.