Before joining Casella Waste Systems, the company his family founded in the mid-70s, Michael Casella followed his passion of marketing by working for an ad agency. After working in that role for a while, he decided to make the switch to the waste and recycling industry, where he could make a difference and where people shared the same short- and long-term goals.
He joined Casella approximately 10 years ago and has since risen through the ranks to become a division manager of one of the company’s largest territories. In addition to his role as market area manager, he is an active member of the National Waste & Recycling Association’s Future Industry Leader Association and serves on a number of industry boards and committees.
“Michael is known throughout the company and industry for his innovative approach to business and creating alternative solutions for helping his customers advance materials management in a way that is both environmental and economic,” says Dennis Pantano, Casella’s supervisor. “Beyond his customer-, community- and solutions-centric approach, Michael has a proven track record for operational and financial performance, and his divisions consistently hit strong EBITDA numbers and regularly outperform budget.”
The Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient recently spoke with us about how he got his start in the industry, what he hopes to accomplish in 2017 and the challenges that come with managing a division in an all-season state.
Waste360: How did you get your start in the waste and recycling industry?
Michael Casella: Once I graduated from college and built up a background in marketing, communications and business, I started looking for different employment opportunities. I worked at an ad agency for a while, and then I made the switch to Casella once a marketing role opened up. In that role, I put together customer newsletters and various marketing materials. From there, I transitioned into a sales role and eventually a general manager role, which is my current position.
I made the switch from marketing to management because I have always really liked being close to the business and close to the street. Being in a management role gives me an opportunity to work closely with the staff members who are doing the work out in the field every day and to understand any challenges and struggles they may be having so I can work with them to resolve those issues.
I am always striving to make the company a better place, and working hand-in-hand with the drivers, mechanics and other workers who support what we do helps me do just that.
Waste360: You manage one of the largest territories at Casella. How do you efficiently manage two collection operations, five transfer stations and approximately 150 employees?
Michael Casella: There is a lot that goes into it, but the biggest thing I have to do is make sure that I have all the right people in all the right positions. I am very fortunate that Casella has great, long-term employees and mentors who continue to grow with the company.
Since joining the company, I have been surrounded by great people who have helped me grow both at Casella and in the waste and recycling industry. As I bring new people on board, I always make sure that they have the same core values that Casella has as a company. Those core values, which include service, trust, responsibility, integrity, continuous improvement and teamwork, is what Casella is based on, and it’s important that everyone believes in those values so that we can grow as a whole.
In my role, having good people below me who I can trust and rely on is key to ensuring that everything gets done in a safe and timely manner. I strongly believe in open communication, and I try to visit our sites as often as I can to talk to the employees and figure out where the company can improve.
At Casella, a big part of our culture is taking care of one another and treating each other like family. Our employees get up early, go to bed late and make a lot of sacrifices for their families. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them. Last year alone, we had an employee win a National Waste & Recycling Association Driver of the Year award, and this year, one of our employees won an Operator of the Year award. We are very proud of those employees, and I am glad to see that some of our employees are getting the recognition they very much deserve.
Waste360: What are some of the challenges that you face while covering a territory that has unpredictable weather changes and various local and state public policies?
Michael Casella: The biggest challenge right now with the State of Vermont is that it’s a very progressive state. We are trying to push new initiatives and new ways of thinking, and the most challenging part of that is figuring out the economics and how to balance the goals of the sustainability efforts with the economics behind those efforts. We are working through the challenges and continuing to test things out to understand how to do things more efficiently and cost effectively.
One of the fun parts of my job is working with customers to come up with solutions for their needs, such as turning material into compost or other resources. I enjoy finding new ways to keep useable material out of the waste stream so that it doesn’t get sent to landfill.
From a weather standpoint, we are in Vermont, and we are used to the snow. A week ago, we got about 33 inches of snow, and our drivers, mechanics, support dispatchers and other staff members worked safely and efficiently to ensure that our customers received collection services. We don’t worry about the snow too much; it’s really the black ice that causes delays and challenges.
Waste360: What goals are you working toward for 2017 and beyond?
Michael Casella: Personally, I am working on improving training and professional development for our employees because they are a valuable asset to Casella. I am also exploring the new technologies that are out there to see if they can improve our operations, and I am trying to develop unique solutions for our customers to divert more material from landfill. In addition to providing customized solutions, I would like Casella to be more of a consultant to the businesses that we service.
On the maintenance side of the business, I am working on figuring out the main causes of common issues, such as breakdowns. We run a downtime report each month that shows us how many hours of downtime that we had and what the major component failures were for that downtime. Recently, we discovered that hydraulics is one of the main culprits, and we are looking at putting sensors in the hydraulics to help us detect when a hydraulic might have a failure in the line. In addition to helping us detect failures, this technology could help us replace hydraulic hoses in a timely manner, reduce costs and protect the environment by minimizing hydraulic spills.
Waste360: Last year, you helped launch Casella’s first Safety Rodeo. Tell us a little bit about that event.
Michael Casella: The event went really well, and we are planning to do another one in June this year. Last year, I invited all of the divisions that I oversee to participate in the event, and we ended up having about 35 employees participate in the different challenges that we set up. One of the challenges that we had was an S-shaped driving course, and another one required employees to pick up beach balls placed on cones with an excavator and move them onto a toter.
We had a strong judging committee that consisted of the lieutenant governor of Vermont (now governor-elect), the Vermont commissioner of the department of motor vehicles, Casella’s CEO and COO John Casella and other local leaders.
In the end, one of our drivers and equipment operators ended up winning both the driver and equipment operating challenges, setting the bar high for this year’s participants.
Waste360: You serve on a number of boards and committees. Can you highlight some of your roles and responsibilities?
Michael Casella: I serve as the chairman for Green Up Vermont, an organization that works with the communities in Vermont to pick up litter along roadsides. On the first Saturday in May, a lot of the roads are shut down so that more than 40,000 volunteers can go out and clean up litter in a safe manner.
I also serve on the board for Wheels for Warmth, an organization that collects and recycles tires to raise proceeds for emergency fuel assistance. We work with the department of transportation to inspect the tires to ensure that the tires are ending up in the proper places. If the tires have one year of usable life or more left in them, we don’t charge the citizen for the tires and resell them at a discounted rate. If the tires don’t have any usable life left in them, we charge the citizen $4 per tire and recycle the tires.
All of the money that is raised from the tires is donated to the State of Vermont for emergency heating assistance. Since the development of the program in 2005, we have raised more than $365,000 for emergency fuel assistance, put 16,950 safe donated tires back into use and recycled 27,869 unusable tires.
I am also involved with other boards and committees, including the Vermont Business Roundtable, the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame, Ski Vermont, the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce and the State of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
Waste360: This industry is ever-evolving. As we progress into the future, what do you hope changes or doesn’t change about the waste and recycling industry?
Michael Casella: This industry is a tight-knit industry, and I think a lot of the people in the industry are what make it so much fun. I really hope that aspect of the industry doesn’t change because it’s great to work with people who share the goal of making the industry more affordable, efficient and safe.
Waste360: What advice would you give to someone looking to have a career in the waste and recycling industry?
Michael Casella: My advice would be to continue to work on yourself and to find good mentors to surround yourself with. If you love what you do and surround yourself with the right people, you are going to be successful.