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Waste Pro’s Lockwood Advances as One of the Company’s Youngest Leaders

Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient Chris Lockwood explains how he climbed the Waste Pro ladder and discusses the qualities he feels a good leader should possess.

As one of the youngest members of Waste Pro’s management team, Chris Lockwood continually seeks ways to be a more effective and efficient leader.

Lockwood, who has a degree in finance and real estate from Florida State University, began working as a financial analyst in Waste Pro’s corporate headquarters in Florida. Lockwood assisted the team in reorganizing the company’s capital structure, which led to a recapitalization deal in 2014. Shortly after, Lockwood joined Waste Pro’s Management Development Program and went on to become division manager of the company’s Hattiesburg, Miss., location the following year.

In 2016, Lockwood was selected to be a member of the inaugural class of Waste Pro’s Leadership Initiative, a mentorship program designed to develop a second generation of young leaders. He was promoted to the role of divisional vice president in 2018 at age 29, making him the youngest member of Waste Pro to receive such a promotion.

“Chris is very humble. Great leaders don’t feel the need to boast about their accomplishments or background; rather, Chris lets his work speak for itself,” says Ralph Mills, regional vice president at Waste Pro. “With every success that has happened during his time as division manager and now as divisional vice president, Chris never accepted all the credit; he praises the work of his colleagues in every project because he truly believes every accomplishment is a combined effort. Chris is relatable and, through his experience in many different roles within the company, has garnered the respect of his staff and peers.”

We recently sat down with Lockwood, a 2019 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient, to discuss how he got his start as a financial analyst at Waste Pro and worked his way up to divisional vice president, as well as some of the qualities he feels a good leader should possess.  

Waste360: How did you get your start in the industry?

Chris Lockwood: I started at Waste Pro back in 2013. Before Waste Pro, I was working with a large electrical contractor in Florida as an electrical estimator. At that point, I was fresh out of school and trying to build experience, and I was looking to go more in my field of study, which was finance and real estate. I noticed there was a financial analyst position posted at Waste Pro. I had known Mr. [John] Jennings for a very long time, so I was indirectly involved in the garbage business growing up. I had known a lot about Waste Pro, the opportunity was there and it was something that I was looking to build experience and knowledge in. 

I came aboard as the financial analyst, and I kind of mastered my basic job functions within the first couple of months and worked on a lot of special projects. I am someone who constantly wants to learn. At one point in time, I talked to Mr. Jennings and told him that if I’m going to be in the garbage business, I want to know more about operations and get out in the field. He took that to heart and gave me the opportunity to go out and train in operations. I got my CDL [commercial driver’s license] and learned how to operate all of our equipment. I realized that with operations, there is always a lot going on; it’s very fast paced, so it keeps me engaged.

When I first moved into operations, I moved to Mississippi, trained under one of our senior division managers and really took to operations and increased my skillset. My boss told me there was an opening for a position manager in Hattiesburg, I accepted it, and we moved on to Hattiesburg from Meridian, Miss. While I was training, I had the opportunity to visit a lot of our different operations. We were looking at increasing oversight in south Mississippi, and I had already had a lot of experience dealing with those divisions. So, that’s how I got to where I am today, and they promoted me to divisional vice president in July.

Waste360: Please discuss your current role as Waste Pro’s divisional vice president.

Chris Lockwood: I am overseeing our locations in Natchez, Brookhaven and Hattiesburg, Miss. We really increased oversight for our operations that impact customer service. We are making sure we are operating properly, getting the right people in place, restructuring and rebuilding those locations. 

Hattiesburg is still in my area from where I originally started, and we really got everything fine-tuned and free flowing. For a very small market, we are growing at a very fast pace—we are actually the only residential provider in that area.

Waste360: What is it like being one of Waste Pros youngest leaders?

Chris Lockwood: It’s a really awesome opportunity. We have a lot of discretion to make our own decisions out in the field. Mr. Jennings has done a really good job with providing us with proper training and direction. Being a young leader at Waste Pro, there is just really a lot of room to grow within the organization. It is very exhilarating and a fun experience.

We have a young leader initiative, and I was in the inaugural class. It is interesting now because we have a second generation of young leaders who are working with the original class. Actually, one of the new young leaders in the new generation works under me in Hattiesburg.

Waste360: What are some of the qualities you feel a good leader should possess?

Chris Lockwood: A good leader needs to be extremely positive, communicate very well and be able to paint the bigger picture to their staff to get everyone on the same page and working in the right direction. You have to be a person with very high integrity and willing to look out for your people and provide them with a rewarding career.

Waste360: What are some challenges you’ve encountered throughout your career?

Chris Lockwood: Staffing issues—being short staffed is a big one. One of the bigger challenges is kind of with my age; I sort of got second guessed a lot. So, having to manage a multigenerational workforce was a challenge right off the bat, but that ties into being patient and painting that vision for everyone and being able to build a good rapport with employees. Once I did that, I transitioned very well over the first couple of years. But now, employees look to me for guidance, whereas in the past, they looked at me as a young kid.

Waste360: What are some of your greatest accomplishments so far?

Chris Lockwood: I would say the first one is being able to transition from an office job into the field and into operations. It was really different for me because when I moved to Mississippi, one of my motivations was being able to make that change and be successful.

The young leader initiative is a really big accomplishment, as well as some of what I have been able to do in the community in the Hattiesburg area and dealing with the community. When it comes to garbage, they look to me for guidance. So, it was establishing those relationships with the community. I really was able to step up and take on more area and make a bigger impact for Waste Pro.

Waste360: What do you find most appealing about the industry?

Chris Lockwood: There is a lot of opportunity in the garbage industry. We provide a very good career path, and it’s very fast paced and exhilarating. It keeps people engaged. At the end of the day, everyone needs garbage pickup, so we are providing a necessary service. It is rewarding providing that service in a municipality and for the customer, especially when you’re doing a good job.

Waste360: Why should the next generation of workers consider the waste and recycling industry as a viable career path?

Chris Lockwood: We provide a good career for individuals in the communities that we work in. Garbage changes, but it’s always going to be there. If you really do a good job of opening your pipeline, individuals can progress and also improve their skillset. There is no secret that there is a major labor shortage, so people coming in and willing to learn will have opportunities to progress—whether it is starting as a helper and becoming a driver, working as a driver and moving up as an operations manager or working as an operations manager and moving up to a division manager. The industry as a whole is in need of really good individuals, so there is a lot of opportunity out there for those who are open-minded to join the industry, learn and be able to progress and have a viable career.

Waste360: What are some of your hobbies/what do you like to do in your free time?

Chris Lockwood: I’ve always joked that one of my hobbies is garbage. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my wife. We had our first child in November, so I just really enjoy spending time with my family when I am not working.

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