Holley Sides never dreamed that she would work in the waste and recycling industry, but about 16 years ago, an opportunity was handed to her and she took it. Sides began her career by working at Pratt Industries as an office manager and from there, she moved over to Advanced Disposal Services, where she worked her way up from customer service and dispatch to business system manager.
After working for 14 years in the industry, Sides decided to start her own business with her husband called Three Bridge Partners, which provides consulting services to waste companies. Shortly after launching the company, she consulted with Meridian Waste Solutions on its technology needs, and that consulting job landed her a full time role at Meridian Waste as director of business operations and systems.
In addition to working at Meridian Waste and Three Bridge Partners, Sides is a Solid Waste Association of North America Young Professional. Sides was honored with a Waste360 40 Under 40 award earlier this year and recently spoke with us about her day-to-day responsibilities, how technology is changing the industry and her proudest career moment.
Waste360: What led you to the waste and recycling industry?
Holley Sides: Not many people think of the garbage industry when creating their list of dream jobs, but fortunately for me, an opportunity became available and it’s been an awesome journey for me so far.
I heard about the industry through a temp agency, which had a job listing for a customer support representative at a young recycling company. I decided to apply for the opportunity, and I started off in the industry on the ground floor with customer support, dispatching and being a scale operator. From there, I met my mentor, Wally Hall, and worked under him at Advanced Disposal for about 10 years.
Through hard work and following the leadership of Wally, I have traveled up the garbage ladder and now serve as director of business operations and systems for Meridian Waste, which has operations in both Missouri and Virginia.
Waste360: Tell us about your day-to-day responsibilities as director of business operations and systems.
Holley Sides: Daily, I focus on the improvement of operational efficiency within our organization—from personnel needs to system and process administration. I also support our executive staff with the implementation of acquisition integration.
Meridian Waste is a young company, and while I may be primarily responsible for the tasks listed, I know that it’s my responsibility to do whatever it takes to get the job done with both quality and professionalism. I may be putting together a large sales proposal one day and assembling office furniture the next, but as a lean growth company focused on results, it’s all hands on deck.
Waste360: What made you decide to start your own business, Three Bridge Partners?
Holley Sides: I had been in the industry for 14 years, and my husband and I decided to leave the current company we were at to start our own business back home in Birmingham, Ala. We both wanted to remain in the industry part time and that’s how the concept for Three Bridge Partners, a consulting firm for waste companies, came to be. In addition to that, my husband and I started a food delivery service company called Iron City Delivery, which we still run today.
About two years after launching Three Bridge Partners, Wally got back into the industry after leaving Advanced Disposal, and Three Bridge Partners started doing some consulting work for him. That consulting work eventually led to my current full-time role at Meridian. I still work with a couple clients at Three Bridge Partners, but I am starting to phase them out as my role with Meridian continues to grow.
Waste360: Tell us a little bit about how you consulted with Meridian Waste on its technology needs.
Holley Sides: Meridian Waste has a desire to work smarter for quality results, not necessarily just harder. The garbage industry has come a long way with certain elements of technology automation, but there is significant room for improvements. My goal is to research, implement and maintain those technology systems in which Meridian Waste will gain the best ROI for the technology capital invested, improving the quality of work life for both our team members and customers.
One of our main priorities right now is integrating Soft-Pak, our operations database, with our customer service request interface so that customers can make service requests online. In addition, we are improving our Mobile-Pak tablets used on route also through Soft-Pak. These technologies will help us make sure that we are getting the most efficiencies that we possibly can to automate our productivity so that we don’t have to manually key in everything all day long.
In addition, Meridian Waste is continuously improving its budget process by using rolling forecast data in Adaptive Insights integrated with its Intacct general ledger package. This process allows us to lessen the time that yearly budget meetings take, access information at any time to create timely custom reports and make things easier for customer service personnel by providing them with real-time information on routes and services.
Our Meridian team members and our customers will always be our highest priority, and I aim to use technology to streamline our various operations, whether it’s collecting waste from the streets, accounting for the financials of our business or budgeting for our future growth.
Waste360: How has technology changed the industry over the years and how do you expect it to change the industry in the future?
Holley Sides: If technology is NOT changing the industry, we’re in trouble! Technology is changing the whole world around us—not just the garbage industry. Meridian Waste as a company and the industry as a whole needs to change with it. Our customers demand better, easier access, our investors require faster, more accurate reporting and our team members deserve better, quicker access to personnel information and various company opportunities.
I take the view that technology can and will improve the industry and benefit our customers and employees. But technology is implemented by people for people. I never want to have the human element removed from our company. Our customers do business with our team members because we care about them and the cleanliness of their communities. A truck or computer has no feelings, but fortunately, those Meridian employees operating the vehicles, computers and phones do care—greatly!
We are in a world where people want things right now, and we believe by accessing the technology that we have and tapping into all of the different resources out there, we can respond faster and get our investors what they need faster so everyone can manage the business today instead of yesterday.
Waste360: What is one of your proudest career moments?
Holley Sides: The beginning of my career consisted of day-to-day interaction with field level staff and management, and I enjoyed that interaction very much. To this day, I still enjoy going to an operation and getting to know our drivers and dispatchers.
When I got my start in the industry, I was always up for a challenge and eager to get behind the scenes. The change from field operations to technology and systems allowed me to discover a new side of the industry. I’m thankful every day for what I learned as a customer support team member and dispatcher because it helped me transition successfully from the local level to our systems department. It was a bit of the unknown and a stretch challenge, but Wally Hall had faith in me so I trusted in his judgement. To this day (besides my parents and husband) there is no other person in the world that I would want to disappoint!
That being said, my proudest moment would have to be when I made that transition and was able to see what made everything come together at the company at the end of every day. I didn’t go to college for technology or waste management, but Wally gave me a chance of a lifetime when he didn’t have to and I am forever grateful for the opportunity that he gave me.
Waste360: Now that you have ample experience in the industry, what is one thing that you wish you would have known about the industry before accepting your first position.
Holley Sides: I started working in the industry when I was 18, so there are a lot of things I wish I had known on day one. The most impactful piece I wish I had known at the beginning of my industry career was a financial statement. A smart man taught me that everyone at every level of the organization should see a profit and loss statement and be taught how to accurately read one if he or she so desired. I wish I had asked earlier in my career for this lesson. You cannot manage, and furthermore, improve what you do not know.
Waste360: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to join the industry?
Holley Sides: Be open to opportunities and calculated risks. Life isn’t a guarantee, and sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward, whether it’s in position or salary. But if you believe in the value you can add within an organization, you create your own success.
Many people enter into this industry and other industries thinking that they need to have everything figured out right away, and that’s just not reality. The reality is that you have to put yourself out there and take the opportunities that come your way so that you can continue to grow.
Lastly, leadership matters! Follow those who inspire and motivate you. Being connected with leaders who challenge you and refuse to accept mediocrity will bring out the best in you and your team members.