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 that need to be made, even in the waste and recycling industry.
Industry veterans Larry Henk, Vice President, Rio Grande Waste Services; Willie Goode,CEO, The Goode Companies Inc. and Michael O' Connor, Managing Consultant, PWS Consulting Group, recently chatted with Waste360 about how, while their individual journeys in the industry were distinct, their successes were realized with a shared drive and passion inherent in entrepreneurs throughout the United States.
Goode has been in the waste industry since he was 13, eventually starting his Maryland-based companyand growing it 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?
Goode: My mother's brother had three small commercial trucks in Washington D.C, the nation's capital, and she asked him, you know, to come get me in the summertime because of the neighborhood I was in so I wouldn't get into any trouble due to the fact of the surrounding area. And so we're on the garbage truck. I was just supposed to been riding in the middle. Because of being a large guy back then, 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 suspended my football dreams. So, I figured that I'm good with numbers and reading and I said, well, you know what? I'm gonna be like my uncle. I'm going to have three trucks.
One day I will own three trucks and my brother would drive one. My cousin would drive one. And they're still with me today after 30 years. My brother is my right hand. My cousin drives the front loader around every day. He does not want to come into the 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 from even your competitors - and it's fun to work with good people and see lives change. And for me and [being from] the inner city, we help a lot with people that come out and have a second chance. It's great to see men and women come and get a second chance, make good money, afford homes and support their families and kids go to college. It's been a rewarding moment for me and still to this day - I'm in my 30th year - I got some way more to smile about even after losing some loved ones and a couple of people that worked with me.
Waste360: What was the biggest obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?
Goode: The learning curve of not just driving a trash truck and throwing garbage on the back, but changing from being an operator to being a business owner. Running a business that turned into what it is today - a corporation - and having a lot of different levels. One of my weaknesses was price increasing. I was scared to lose the work I just got. The other one was sending my bills out not only on time but collecting the money. I got bruised really bad in my first five years and what saved me was just working hard seven days a week. I did one stint where we were in the same truck for three days for 24 hours because my trucks went down. I had to drive. Somebody else tried to do their route in the day, take a small mini-break, and do our route at night with the same truck. And that was one of the hardest ones.
Waste360: What barriers to entry do you see today?
Goode: When I talk with new people or people that want to get in the industry, I'd say use all capital letters when you spell out 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 time, the only times you gotta look forward are getting to bed on time and making sure you're within the contract timeframe from start and finish. Trucks come into the yard and it never stops, especially for us today. For any startup, it never really stops. It is an ongoing, moving machine in the waste industry, and it all depends on how you startup.
You can do the three trucks like I experienced, or you can come in and get a contract that takes 20 trucks if your credit gets your 20 trucks, which is kind of hard in this day and time because most packages want to see a history. Most people ask me how do I build to get that and I say well, you hear my stories from 30 years back. This day and time I will say it is a lot more difficult than what I did, especially if you don't have the experience, the capital, the knowledge, know-how or willpower. And mainly it ain't all about smarts; it's about common sense.
Editor's Note: This article has been edited for length and clarity. This is part one in a three-part series exploring the paths industry veterans have taken to succeed in the industry. Part One features Willie Goode, CEO, The Goode Companies. Part Two will feature insight from Michael O' Connor, Managing Consultant, PWS Consulting Group. Part Three will profile Larry Henk, owner, Premier Waste Services.
Goode, Henk and O'Connor will be sharing their stories at WasteExpo, May 9-12, 2022 in Las Vegas during the session "NothingWasted! Unique Beginnings."