2016 Waste360 40 Under 40
Progressive truck

Cooperberg Used Her Communications Skills to Help Grow Progressive Waste Solutions

Waste360 recently spoke with Chaya Cooperberg about how she helped develop an award-winning investor relations program at Progressive.

Cooperberg was selected for her work as vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Progressive Waste Solutions, which was acquired by Waste Connections earlier this year. After her selection, Cooperberg moved on to take a position as chief communications officer and senior vice president of corporate affairs for AmTrust Financial Services, Inc.

For approximately 10 years, Chaya Cooperberg managed corporate communications, public relations, investor relations and employee communications at Progressive Waste Solutions, which was recently acquired by Waste Connections. As vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, Cooperberg helped grow the company in a positive way by building strong relationships with investors, employees, stakeholders, key industry associations and other members of the industry.

In addition to her role at Progressive, Cooperberg sat on the National Waste and Recycling Association’s (NWRA) Communications Committee and provided support and guidance to NWRA’s communications team by identifying key industry issues for NWRA to focus on. She also worked on community relations outreach programs organizing donations and driving support to local schools, nonprofits and communities.

Waste360 recently spoke with the Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient about how she helped develop an award-winning investor relations program at Progressive and how she has seen the waste and recycling industry change over the years.

Waste360: When did you know that you wanted to work in the waste and recycling industry?

Chaya Cooperberg: As a career communicator, I have always worked for large public companies doing work in corporate communications, public relations, investor relations and employee communications.

In 2006, I was working in the funeral home and cemetery services sector, and I was looking for a new role in a different sector that was just as financially stable. Additionally, I was seeking an industry filled with people from all walks of life who were passionate about the work they did, and I ended up finding that in the waste and recycling industry.

The fact that the waste and recycling industry had very positive and solid financial characteristics combined with a passionate workforce was very appealing to me. On top of that, I saw that the industry needed help building a positive image and reputation in the communities that it served, and I felt that I could help them do just that. Many companies and individuals in the industry have wonderful stories to tell, and I wanted to help those companies and individuals tell their stories.

Waste360: What did your role as vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Progressive Waste Solutions entail?

Chaya Cooperberg: The role was encompassed of all three pillars of communications: investor relations, public relations and employee relations. For investor relations, we were traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange so I worked closely with investors in both the U.S. and Canada. For public relations, I managed our proactive communications programs and media relations for both United States and Canada. For employee relations, I worked to make sure that our executive team’s vision and message got translated to the frontline of the organization.

Overall, I really had a front seat during the journey that Progressive took as it grew to an approximately $2 billion company and got acquired by Waste Connections. I was there at a time when we had a very exciting story to tell, and I was glad to be a part of that.

Waste360: How did you help develop an award-winning investor relations program at Progressive?

Chaya Cooperberg: As a public company, we were competing for investors within our sector and for investors across the spectrum of industrial companies. We were always looking for new ways to better deliver our narrative as a growing, financially healthy company to get investors on board to grow with us.

One of our successful tactics was holding investor and analyst days to gather some of the top investors and potential investors together for a comprehensive day filled with presentations and content to help them understand the potential value of Progressive. We explained the strategy that we had in place to be safer and to improve margins and become more profitable.

Additionally, we helped bring investors and shareholders into a sector that they had never been in before, and I think that is one of the reasons why we had such a great investor relations program.

Waste360: While working in the industry, how did you see it change over the years?

Chaya Cooperberg: When I first joined the industry, members were just beginning to realize that there were opportunities beyond the traditional way of managing waste and recycling, such as integrating new technologies.

During my time at Progressive, I saw recycling technology evolve dramatically as the level of scale in the recycling industry boomed. Even during the recession, recycling rates grew at a rate of 50 basis points as gross domestic product shrunk, and the appetite amongst customers for recycling services continued to grow. That moment really demonstrated that unlike any other economic contraction period in American history, consumers wanted to recycle and they were willing to pay the cost to make that happen.

I also saw that strides were being made to make the industry safer, both when I entered the industry and when I left. The waste and recycling industry continues to be one of the most dangerous industries out there, and it has really become a priority to everyone in the industry to try and make it safer.

In addition to working at Progressive, I sat on the NWRA’s Communications Committee. I was the chair, and I worked closely with other colleagues and counterparts from other major companies in our sector to help encourage safety both within our sector and out. It was very important to help municipalities, haulers and politicians come to the realization that there is a safer way to collect municipal waste, which is automation.

When I was at Progressive, we were investing in automated vehicles and putting standardized containers out on the routes to boost safety for both our employees and customers. One of the good things about automation is that it opens up more doors, especially for women. Young people often get their start in the waste and recycling industry by working on the back of a truck and working their way up to driver or a managerial position, but that task can be bearing. For example, managing a couple hundred pounds a day of waste is a difficult challenge that most women cannot do physically. By moving to automation, women can be placed in the driver’s seat and trained on a higher-skilled job or recruited from other sectors, such as the transportation sector.

Recruitment is a challenge within the industry because the waste and recycling industry isn’t the easiest one to get to know and love. Students graduating from school may not see the waste and recycling industry as an industry where they could have a successful career, but companies in the industry are doing a better job of building a positive profile of the sector to recruit young people to the industry.

Waste360: What advice would you give to young professionals looking to break into the waste and recycling industry?

Chaya Cooperberg: The waste and recycling industry is unique because I think there is a place for every profession, whether its operations, frontline management, driving trucks, working at a landfill or materials recovery facility or working in a corporate role. The industry can be incredibly gratifying, and it’s an essential industry that will be around for a long time.

The industry is always looking for young people to mentor, grow and promote. And people in this industry have long, successful careers because they have had help along the way from those who have made a career for themselves in the waste and recycling industry. It really is true when people say the industry is like one big family.

Right now, exciting things are happening with new technologies and trends, which makes the industry an industry that you can grow with and continue to contribute to. Even though there are a lot of traditional elements that make up the industry, it’s always evolving and changing for the better.

The industry sometimes gets a bad rap because of things like landfills and their assumptions, but I think that those who enter the industry now will help shape the reputation of the industry to come and that in itself is meaningful.

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