When John F. Howard III arrived at the DeKalb County, Ga., Government Public Works Department Sanitation Division in 2017, his special collections unit faced a long list of challenges.
The primary challenge was the significant delay in completing special collection requests. Howard was able to use his leadership skills to close out requests and improve efficiency through a new gold standard in collections.
“Mr. Howard's leadership philosophy is to strive to clearly communicate the ideas and ideals he strives daily to live up to and inspire in his employees,” says Tracy Hutchinson, sanitation division director for the DeKalb County Government Public Works Department. “He views this as a psychological contract that empowers both his employees and himself to understand who he is and who they are, what he aspires to become and how he and his team can best work together to ensure each other’s personal and professional growth, as well as ensure their unit’s operational efficiency.”
As the special collections/grappler unit supervisor for the DeKalb County Government Public Works Department Sanitation Division, Howard continues to tackle challenges through collaboration.
“Mr. Howard continually strives to achieve strength and empowerment through collaboration. By sharing his operational challenges and successes with his peers, Mr. Howard gains valuable insight into others' approach to similar challenges,” says Hutchinson.
We sat down with the Waste360 2019 40 Under 40 award recipient to discuss his career and overcoming the challenges he's faced in the waste and recycling industry.
Waste360: What is your background in the waste and recycling industry?
John F. Howard III: My career in solid waste spans about eight years, all of which have been with the DeKalb County Sanitation Division. My initial position with the division was in one of the most basic roles within the collection area.
I started as a refuse collector. I was promoted two years later to driver and then to a special collections driver one year later. Subsequently, due to my diligence, hard work and excellent work ethic, I was promoted to the driver/crew leader position, supervising several special collections workers for two years.
In 2015, a special collections crew supervisor position became available, and my desire to succeed, strong focus and ambitious nature inspired me to apply. At the end of it all, I was offered the special collections supervisor position and have successfully served in this role for four years to date.
Waste360: Describe your role as special collections supervisor for Dekalb County.
John F. Howard III: I am responsible for overseeing the special collections operation. This includes collecting tires, appliances, furniture, bulky yard trimmings and dead domestic animals. Further, I directly supervise 13 equipment operators and crew workers to ensure we are meeting our service level agreement, safe practices for operating equipment and providing excellent service to our residents.
Waste360: What type of challenges did the special collections unit face when you began as supervisor, and how did you tackle them?
John F. Howard III: The DeKalb County Sanitation Division’s special collections unit, which I currently oversee, faced many challenges when I began serving at the helm of this critical operation. The primary challenge was the significant delay in completing special collection requests, which were extending beyond five to six weeks as opposed to the standard seven to 10 days.
There were thousands of open special collection requests, including completed but not closed-out requests and requests that had not been completed in the field. This created a loss of confidence within the DeKalb community.
I was tasked with streamlining operations and introducing a much greater level of operational efficiency. My approach included working directly with the division’s customer service team to close out completed requests. My efforts resulted in closing out thousands of outstanding requests and establishing a service level agreement (SLA) of within 10 business days for special collection and bulky items requests.
The special collections area continues to be one of the most expansive and high-paced operations within our division’s operations. This SLA currently serves as our operational unit’s gold standard in collection excellence and has led to significantly improved confidence levels in our ability to serve DeKalb residents in a timely and efficient manner.
Waste360: In your opinion, what is the future of waste collection?
John F. Howard III: I believe that technology is and will continue to be instrumental in streamlining all operational aspects of the solid waste industry, particularly in the areas of data analysis, routing, GIS [geographic information systems] and autonomous fleets. This will successfully facilitate more mergers and partnerships aimed at repurposing and reusing materials to extend a landfill’s useful life.
Waste360: How would you describe your leadership style?
John F. Howard III: My leadership style is more along the line of transformative leadership. I strive to clearly communicate my ideas and ideals and encourage my teams to emulate them. I view this as a psychological contract that empowers both my employees and me to understand who I am, what I aspire to become and how we can best work together to ensure each other’s personal and professional growth, as well as ensure our unit’s operational efficiency.
As a leader, I strive to create a culture and environment that encourage employee investment and a simultaneous approach to personal and professional development, as well as one that inspires employees to achieve success.
Through integrity as a principles-based leader, humility, teamwork, proper communication, earning credibility, setting measurable and achievable goals, recognizing others’ success and leading by example by aligning actions and words with values, I can keep my commitment to my team as a dedicated and transformative leader.
Waste360: What is the most important skill you seek when hiring a new team member?
John F. Howard III: Intrinsic motivations or taking pride in what you do.
Waste360: If you had to choose another profession, what would it be?
John F. Howard III: Musician or a songwriter.
Waste360: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
John F. Howard III: Playing and listening to music and watching movies. I also enjoy playing and watching sports and spending time with family.
It is truly a blessing to have a family (my wife, Sequoya; two sons, John and Ethan; and daughter, Ari) with whom I can share and celebrate the joys and blessings of life.