One keynote at WasteExpo Together Online featured “A Chat with the Chairman” in which Ron Mittelstaedt, Founder & Executive Chairman of Waste Connections, who was interviewed by Darrell Smith, president & CEO of the National Waste & Recycling Association.
Mittelstaedt shared his take on leadership, company culture, COVID-19, and predictions for the industry over the coming years. Here’s a look back on some highlights from the discussion.
After a quick look back on his career, Mittelstaedt discussed how far the waste industry has come from the “wild west” of the ‘80s — including the impact of technology and consolidation. He pointed out the “staggering” advances including today’s prevalence of one-man, mostly automated trucks. But, along with such advances, the cost of being in the business is also, he noted, “so much higher” than it was thirty years ago, and particularly on the landfill side.
When asked about COVID-19, Mittelstaedt noted that the Waste Connections leadership has always viewed its front-line employees as “not only essential, but effectively almost superheroes.” But now, this era of COVID-19 has highlighted to the community and customers how truly essential those frontline sanitation workers are. “Never did I see our frontline employees or the industry’s frontline employees panic. They showed up, and they really did what they do on a day-to-day basis — but started to get the credit that’s long overdue.”
Mittelstaedt then discussed the idea of servant leadership, which has been part and parcel of Waste Connections since its founding. He noted that servant leadership is not a program, but “a philosophy, an ideology; something you have to indoctrinate into your DNA...it takes a long time.” At its core, the philosophy is about “the leader, the manager being responsible to the people who work for them; this is about the leader taking personal responsibility for those they have the opportunity to lead — and about employees being able to hold leaders accountable.” The concept takes the traditional management pyramid and “inverts it on its head,” noted Mittelstaedt; he also pointed out that this approach has really stood out and been invaluable to their organization during COVID-19.
In addressing the concept of inclusion and diversity, Mittelstaedt again talked about how this needs to be a “fabric within the organization; a thread within the fabric.” And, at Waste Connections, the company is attempting “to be more intentional”— not setting specific targets for ethnicity or gender “because we actually think that’s counterproductive” — but taking a hard look at biases.
On the topic of safety, Mittelstaedt noted that advances including automation and driver-assisted technology, lane control, and breaking awareness technology are coming in real-time to heavy-duty trucks, and that is a good thing. But, “coaching and training is really the only way to address driver behavior” and stop preventable accidents from happening. He also reinforced that accidents and injuries are not “a cost of doing business” in the industry.
Mittelstaedt rounded out the discussion by talking about his industry mentors, the upcoming M&A outlook and more.
Don’t miss any other fantastic sessions happening this week at WasteExpo Together Online. It’s not too late to register! https://www.wasteexpo.com.