Ann Adams, engineer II for Waste Management and a Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, is one of the company's go-to girls when it comes to big data. If management needs to know how many trucks are in the fleet, what maintenance profiles the trucks have and where problem issues lie, Adams uses business intelligence and her industry knowledge to provide accurate answers.
Adams, who refers to herself as a "data monkey," has been with Waste Management since 2010, where she began as an intern and climbed up the ladder to her current role. Adams currently serves as an engineer and utility player for project support, data analytics, report creation, establishing different controls and performance metrics for projects and more.
"Ann has contributed to a cleaner environment by teaming with leadership to design various reports to help Waste Management manage spend better, recover federal and state fuel surcharges for regen usage and purchase more CNG trucks," says Sue Thornell. "Ann’s participation with data and suggestions has contributed to Waste Management's reduction of emissions by 22 metric tons per year for each diesel truck the company replaces with CNG powered vehicles."
Waste360 recently spoke with Adams about the benefits of implementing CNG trucks, her proudest career moment and some new and innovative ideas that Waste Management is currently working on.
Waste360: How did you get your start in the waste and recycling industry?
Ann Adams: I was attending the University of Houston for entrepreneurship, and I wanted to start my own business. I had the mindset that I wanted to be in control of how I make a living and how I am successful, but then the head of the university's Supply Chain Management department persuaded me to explore the field of supply chain.
I decided to move forward with supply chain because the financial crisis hit, and I knew I wasn't going to get a loan to start my own business when I graduated college. The business side of the trash industry was appealing to me, and the industry itself is really an interesting animal. There are so many moving parts, and I am able to use my passion for entrepreneurship by integrating ideas into an established company.
I started off my career as an intern for Waste Management in 2010. At that time, I was still enrolled in school and I was trying to get my foot in the corporate door so that I could leave Starbucks behind. I told Waste Management that I didn't want to leave, and the company eventually found a full-time position for me when I graduated.
Waste360: In your current role, you have taken strides to add more CNG trucks into Waste Management's fleet. Tell us about the benefits you are receiving from implementing those trucks.
Ann Adams: Waste Management utilizes more than 18,000 collection trucks so it really hurt us when gas prices reached $4.50 for a gallon of diesel fuel. To fix that problem, we had two choices: make our trucks cheaper to buy or utilize a different fuel source. We decided to start with a smarter fuel source.
Around 2010, Waste Management started ramping up its CNG program and applying for grant money from municipalities, cities and state governments so that the company could create actual fuel stations. Eventually, with the help of engineering consultants across North America, we were able to build all of our own stations, some of which have a retail component to it. We worked closely with engine and chassis manufacturers to get our trucks equipped with natural gas engines and delivered on time. There were a lot of moving parts to this process, but we have seen millions upon millions of savings on our fuel line since making the switch and building our own stations.
Currently, we have more than 90 operational stations across both Canada and the U.S., more than 20 of which have retail components.
Waste360: What new and innovative ideas is Waste Management rolling out this year?
Ann Adams: We are currently looking at the future of our trucks. In the last year, we have been focusing on managing different software upgrades and implementation surrounding our maintenance systems.
We are also focusing on managing our trucks and the maintenance costs that go with them. I have been a main contributor toward a lot of new reporting that changes the way we look at maintenance, with new metrics being created that do a better job of aligning performance goals to daily field execution.
Waste360: What is one career moment that you are proud of?
Ann Adams: I would have to say that receiving this award is definitely one of them. I have suppliers and members of Waste Management's corporate communications team emailing me about it, and I was even featured in our newsletter!
This award is a nice testament because I am always heads down, working hard and trying to accomplish what I need to on a daily basis. I was surprised with the award submission from my coworker Sue Thornell, and I would love to give her a quick thank you for believing in me and nominating me.
I would also have to say that getting my Project Management Professional certification is also very rewarding to me because I didn't take any boot camp classes to prepare for the exam. I just studied the way I remember from college, and I was able to nail it.
Waste360: What industry trends do you hope to see grow or die off?
Ann Adams: I really hope that recycling turns out to be more profitable than it currently is. I know there are a lot of issues with contamination at the material recycling facilities, and I hope that the industry can turn that problem around and come up with a different way to make recycling more profitable. Whether it's new technology or better educating customers, a change needs to happen.
I also hope to see less reliance on fossil fuels. Waste Management isn't even an oil or gas company, but we see the benefit of CNG stations in the U.S. and are acting on it. We can see other companies will follow our lead and jump on board.
Waste360: What advice would you give to people looking to get into the waste and recycling industry?
Ann Adams: Think green! I would tell them to try and come up with new and fresh ideas to utilize new technologies. The concept of picking up trash has been around forever, but there are a lot of problems that arise in our industry, and there is always a better way to do something. For example, someone had to come up with the concept of a closed-loop system and make it a reality.
The waste and recycling industry can be a challenging environment at times. There are a lot of mature companies in this industry and high stress comes with that, but I wouldn't call it bad stress. I personally like being constantly busy and always having something to do.
I would also like the future generation to know that they don't need to be a mechanical engineer or a subject matter expert in order to dive into the industry and become immersed in the waste and recycling world. I was a business grad, and I never even thought about waste management as a career until my internship with Waste Management. Over time, I learned to love the industry and now people ask me the same questions that I asked people a couple years ago. That's super cool to me.