It’s been just over a year since Hawk Capital, a private equity firm in Pennsylvania, acquired David Ard’s Sanitation in Columbia, S.C. and brought on Michael Deal to serve as general manager of the newly named Capital Waste Services (CWS). Deal says he wanted to join the team in Columbia because he had the same vision as Hawk Capital in growing the new hauling business.
To hear Deal talk about the growth of the company, there is a reoccurring theme—people first. He talks about respect, integrity, safety, and second chances, all in terms of employees he prefers to call team members. Giving guidance to those who need it, leading by example and putting their safety and their future first, is how Deal says the company operates. And in putting employees first, they not only get the work done, they set standards in service and safety that have already paid off for the small business in a residential hauling contract with Richland County.
Team members come from all walks of life from veterans to those who have done time and even some who can’t read, Deal says, they each have his respect, his thanks and his appreciation. Each paycheck is given with a handshake and a thank you. For Thanksgiving he brought a truck full of turkeys for employees and their families, and this week they’ll find themselves with a little extra money in their Christmas bonus.
Waste360: The previous company had a long history, how did you transition the team to the new CWS and what was the biggest change you had to make?
Michael Deal: There was a bit of adjustment between the new company and the old company. The old company had a method of, ‘Hey, no questions. No problems. We’re good.’ In other words they would just pick up anything and everything outside of regulations. So when we came in, the first thing to do was to change morale and the mindset of everybody. Immediately, we let them know off the bat, ‘We are going to follow the contract and we’re going to do this right.’ Which was a hard pill to swallow because it took them several months to catch up on everything. Through no fault of their own and with what they’d been doing for many years, the guys did catch on and begin to get the concept of doing it the right way.
Waste360: How did you make the changes and how did the team work through those?
Michael Deal: The first thing I did is say, ‘I have a story, too. And this is who I am. This is what I’ve done. And this is what I’m capable of doing. And I believe that each and every one of you can have the same opportunity.’ A lot of them didn’t believe that because of the life that they had, but I continued to just coach. Coach, coach, coach. I started to offer extra incentives. Once a week I would ask them a question about the county ordinance and if they got the question right, they got an extra twenty dollars on their check. So I made it enticing to want to learn the methods and the way it should be done. And I got a great reception from that, although there were some who could not read. So what they did is they learned and listened to everything that was presented in the morning meetings. They listened when everyone else was talking about the answers, so when it came their time, they knew just off of what they were hearing and had learned. It was the most amazing thing.
Waste360: You talk about building the business with a people focus. Why is that important to you?
Michael Deal: Well, because America has kind of gotten away from listening to the people who do the work. Or respecting what the people do to help them to be the best or build a good product. And so in order for people to achieve or over achieve or exceed their expectations, they have to know that they are part of this program or the work force. So it’s important that we, and I in the leadership, encourage everybody and also make them feel like they are part of a family. When I speak to them, I speak to them with respect. I don’t mislead them. I speak of integrity. Everyone has to have integrity. If you tell them something and don’t follow through, you begin to lose the people who could become invested in the company. Our main focus is the people. We focus on the team. We don’t call them employees. We call them a team. So each person that comes on board becomes part of our team—our family. They’re still held to standards and policies, but we treat them like they’re somebody.
Waste360: You’ve said you’ve given some team members a second chance in life. What did you mean by that?
Michael Deal: A lot of these people had single parent upbringing or maybe weren’t guided in the right direction and made some bad choices. And we encourage those kind of people to come in because the one thing we focus on is guidance. So at every morning meeting I lead the meetings, and I encourage and I talk to people. I show them that there are possibilities, only if they change themselves. That hopefully breaks them from the cycle, whether they’ve been in the system before or whether they’re living in poverty and just are used to it by their culture. If I can change the culture, I can change the people, which can give them a second chance at life.
Waste360: How did you come to that idea?
Michael Deal: I was one of those people. I was one of those people who got lost, who had the potential to do more, and I got lost. It’s because I was misguided or at times I was never guided. So I never really had the instruction or figures in front of me who could tell me that that was either wrong or that you should invest in this or you should approach things like this. I never did. I had to learn that on my own and it became hard. So naturally, when a guy comes in and says, ‘well you don’t know my life. I’m this way. I’m living check by check.’ Well, I say, ‘you don’t know my life. I’ve been there. I’ve been in my car. I’ve been in an apartment sleeping on the floor with blankets but no furniture. I’ve been there.’ In telling these guys my life, they begin to understand that I know what they’re going through, and I begin to give them hope.
Waste360: How do they respond to your story?
Michael Deal: New people are very shocked because here’s the guy who’s in charge of the company, the guy who’s running the show. I may be that man, but I’m no different than you are. I will get on the back of a truck. I’ll drive the truck. I’ll do what you can do, but I’ll give it my all and I won’t complain about it. Every morning I come in, I’m just as tired as you guys. I go home late. I still work when I get home. I work 24/7 because I only want better for people. I don’t think about myself. I don’t think about the money. I don’t think about the big houses or the fancy cars. I think about how I can help others. So that’s why I give the second chance. That’s why I believe in it. Now, if they’ve been convicted of a serious crime, then there’s nothing I can do. Because I don’t want that potential to come back and either harm somebody here or cause someone in the public any kind of harm. But if they’ve got a minor offence or if they did something 20 years ago and haven’t done anything since, people deserve a second chance.
Waste360: How do you know what to do?
Michael Deal: I interviewed a guy who left a waste company I used to run. During the interview I asked him if there was anything that he could work on. And the guy was upset about the former employer because the way they had done him. During the interview, I noticed he had some tension and I was able to ask the right question and find out what the problem was. I told the guy, ‘Listen, just take a deep breath, let it out and let it go. You can’t change it. It’s done and over with. You’ve got to move forward.’ And before he left I asked him to take three more deep breaths. I walked him back out to his car. I said, ‘Just let it go, because if you come here, this is so much better for you. We will treat you like you want to be treated.’ And so the guy came back today to fill out his paperwork, and he pulled me aside and said, ‘Thank you for that.’ He said, ‘I’ve let it go.’ So you know the thing about it is, we care about people.
Waste360: CWS recently bought 11 new Loadmaster trucks with team member safety in mind. What is different about those safety features?
Michael Deal: The main thing was the guys on the back of the truck. What could I do different protect them and their lives? So we went with a unique paint scheme, which the whole rear of the truck now becomes like a safety bulletin board. There’s chevron tape on it. There’s multi-strobes, not just two on the top and two on the bottom. We’ve painted the rear of the truck bright colors. We’ve painted the step that they stand on bright colors. We’ve changed the handles on the truck that the guys on the back hold onto to a diamond cut, which means that it is slip proof. And no one has done this.
We did all of that to benefit the guy on the back of the truck. It had nothing to do with the company. It had nothing to do with us trying to outshine everybody else or make our trucks look different. It had everything to do with the guy on the back of the truck. When those guys are dumping those cans that’s their main focus. And if they see cars coming up behind them, they expect them to stop. And there’s a lot of times when they have not stopped. So it is my goal to prevent that going forward, especially with our company and set the standard for everyone else to look at these options. Instead of just saying that you’re buying the truck, really think about the people in the truck and on the truck.
Waste360: What else do you to reach out to your team members?
Michael Deal: I always teach something. I teach it especially to a lot of young people. B plus B equals R. It’s something I came up with that’s gotten me where I am today. It stands for Belief plus Behavior equals Results. If I come in everyday and I tell you something, and I’m doing it, I’ve giving you the belief that I have in what I’m telling you because I’m giving you the integrity of it. I’m sticking by it. I am diehard believing in this thing. Then if I act as such. If I tell you that I’ll get on the back of the truck or if you need help or I’m going to do this, and I behave as such, then I get what I’ve got, which is an awesome team that produces results. And the record shows it. Right now we have 9,700 homes, and for every 100 homes we get .32 complaints. I mean that’s ridiculous. It’s unheard of. The next company behind us is at 2.62. That’s huge.
Waste360: What have the results been so far?
Michael Deal: We just acquired a new Richland County contract, which is one of the largest contracts in the county. They currently have seven areas. Each hauler can only have two areas at a time. So we’ve acquired their largest area which is right now at 14,716 residences and growing. It’s expected to be at the 20,000 mark in the next five years. That will put us right around 24,740 or somewhere right in that area starting Feb. 1st.
So when we do that we’re going to grow from currently running six trucks to 17 trucks. We have two spares that will run a couple of days a week. We’re going to start commercial hauling in the Columbia surrounding area also, so that’s another 10 to 15 trucks. And we’ve only been in business a year and two months. That adds another 32 employees—altogether about 90 people by Feb 1st. Then a few administrators and mechanics will make 105 team members.