Matt Spencer wears a lot of hats for Houston-based WCA Waste Corp. As senior vice president of operations, Spencer oversees all field operations, fleet and procurement, sales and organic growth, engineering and the operational and analytical team for the hauler.
Spencer, along with the rest of the WCA team, was recently directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey. For WCA, services were shut down for nearly a week—starting the Saturday the storm hit through the following Thursday, Spencer said. Routes and operations got back up and running as soon as it was safe to do so.
During and after the storm, WCA found out which employees were impacted so it could assist them. Overall, more than 60 employees had cars and/or homes damaged and the company has started a GoFundMe campaign to help its employees recover.
On the operational side, WCA identified the state of its assets and communicated to customers about the state of its services. Internally, the company held three calls a day with its team and updated its website and automated phone messages to keep customers informed.
Spencer’s colleagues have lauded him for his persistence and perseverance, traits he tries to instill in the teams he manages. Based in Houston, at WCA’s corporate office, Spencer has been with WCA for nearly two years. He was recently named as one of Waste360’s 40 Under 40 award recipients.
In this interview, Spencer discusses his role in aligning WCA’s operations, the company’s focus on employee development and engagement and the exciting challenges he has tackled throughout his career in the waste industry.
Waste360: What are your major responsibilities?
Matt Spencer: My primary responsibilities are to ensure that we are aligned with the corporate strategy; that we have the appropriate people in place and that we’re working on their growth and development; and that we’re building or have sustainable processes in place to drive execution for the business.
Waste360: What are some of the sustainable processes that you have been focused on?
Matt Spencer: The first thing is starting with safety. A lot of the processes were already in place with our organization. We’re also developing a robust onboarding plan. Addressing employee retention and turnovers are very important for us as well.
From an operations standpoint, we’ve built a system where we can look at our routes’ profitability. From a fleet standpoint, we are very focused on PM compliance. From an engineering standpoint, we are focusing on ensuring that we are doing everything to be environmental stewards and staying in compliance with company regulations and state regulations.
Waste360: I think a lot of companies don’t know how to keep people in the business, so what are some things that WCA is doing to work on this?
Matt Spencer: If you look at our industry, that’s an area that we’re all trying to figure out. We have been focusing on our recruiting materials and being proactive. We’re looking at the different markets and institutions we can align ourselves with such as the military, truck driving schools and technician schools. We are trying to build those partnerships so that we can bring people in right out of school.
For interviewing, we have created a standardized interviewing guide, and we are conducting training on how to utilize that. It’s more of a behavior-focused interview. The next piece is understanding compensation and doing market studies to ensure that we are compensating appropriately for the position that we are trying to hire for. All of that is standard issue. I think for the most part, the industry has done that. I think it’s the next piece that we struggle with at times: the onboarding, training and the employee engagement. We created a standardized onboarding package. We are focused on telling employees about the culture at WCA. We want to have them start off on the right foot.
The next piece is the training piece. A lot of our employees are drivers so we are working towards having a standardized driver training program. The next one, for me, is good old-fashioned employee engagement. That means treating all of our employees with dignity and respect, ensuring that we have open-door policies and a good line of communication, and that we really understand our employees’ needs.
Waste360: You were with Waste Management previously. What were some of your responsibilities?
Matt Spencer: For the first six months, I helped to do some audits; I worked with the sales team; I worked in operations. I did a little bit of everything. I became a route supervisor for one of the hauling companies in Columbia, S.C, for a couple of years. I became a regional safety manager. Then, there was an opportunity for me to take a role as an operations manager. There was a district in Columbia that had some challenges with safety, employee engagement and customer service. I became the district manager in 2007. I put together a really good team and we had a successful turnaround. We won District of the Year in 2009.
There was a restructure at Waste Management and Georgia became part of the market area that I was in. They were having a lot of similar problems type problems in Atlanta, with safety and customer service and organic growth had stalled because of employee and service problems. I went over to Waste Management as a senior district manager, and oversaw a couple of hauling companies and some transfer stations for that group.
Again, we were able to put a good team together and create a successful turnaround. I spent four years in Atlanta with them and a total of nine years with Waste Management. It was a very good experience.
Wast 360: In your nomination application, you were described as having the traits of persistence and perseverance, why do you think those qualities are important in the position that you have?
Matt Spencer: I think you have to set your goal of what you’re trying to achieve. You don’t always get there on the first at bat. If you strike out the first time, I think you’ve got to evaluate what might not have worked and continue to try to work on the tactics and the strategies to arrive at your goal. You just have to have that persistence to constantly stay after it and work towards achieving your goal.
Waste360: How do you encourage your team to be persistent? How do you motivate people?
Matt Spencer: One thing that I always tell them is that you don’t have to be the expert on everything. You’re going to experience roadblocks along the way. You’ve got to be willing to engage with other team members—whether that’s with me or whether that’s with other people within the organization. There is a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done. We encourage teamwork and working together to try to lift those rocks out of the way.
Waste360: What would you say is something that you are really proud that you have gotten to work on throughout your career?
Matt Spencer: The thing that I have always enjoyed the most is developing people. I get the most excited and I’m the most proud when I see someone I have worked with—and helped to work on their growth and development plan—graduate to a new level in the business. Working with people, working on their growth and development, and seeing them move their career forward has given me the most gratification.