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March 29, 2016
The waste and recycling industry has its giants: Waste Management, Republic Services, Waste Connections and among other publicly-traded firms that sit atop the Waste360 Top 100 list. But there remains a robust roster of small and mid-size haulers that dot the landscape, who have growth aspirations of their own.
Milton, Ga,-based Meridian Waste Solutions Inc. is one example. The firm provides solid waste management and environmental services for small to medium sized municipalities.
Meridian, a public company traded on over the counter markets. In a previous iteration, the company was known as the Brooklyn Cheesecake and Dessert Company, before its founder, Jeffery Cosman, made a move to establish a business in the solid waste space. In late 2014, a subsidiary, Meridian Waste Services, was founded to serve residential and commercial customers in that market.
Cosman is no stranger to the waste industry. His father, Jim, worked in the industry for many years helping companies like Browning Ferris Industries, Republic Services and Advanced Disposal grow and thrive.
Brooklyn Cheesecake and Dessert Company officially became known as Meridian Waste Solutions in April 2015. Later that month, it closed on a $13.67 million, five-year first lien debt instrument to support future acquisitions. In December, it won a five-year hauling contract from the City Council of Webster Groves, Mo. It provides provide services to an estimated 7,500 residents and the arrangement is expected to generate an estimated $1.6 million in annual revenue for the firm.
In December, the firm made another step by securing a $55 million credit facility from Goldman Sachs Specialty Lending Group. Simultaneous with the financing, it closed on the acquisitions of all of the membership interests of Winfield, Mo.-based Christian Disposal LLC and of certain assets of Eagle Ridge Landfill LLC related to hauling operations and a municipal solid waste landfill in Bowling Green, Mo.
Most recently, the firm appointed industry veteran Walter H. Hall (Wally) as a new director on the company’s board. In addition to his role as director, Hall will also hold the positions of president and COO of JS Cosman Enterprises, a management company that manages holdings in telecom, mobile apps, parts and materials and upcoming transactions for Meridian’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Cosman.
Hall previously worked on growing Advanced Disposal and his addition to Meridian is aimed to boosting the company’s growth strategy.
Waste360 recently spoke with Hall about his new position and how he plans to help turn Meridian into a small but mighty hauler.
Waste360: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into the industry?
Wally Hall: I was the assistant baseball coach at the University of Mississippi, and I was about to get married and support a family. I couldn’t make ends meet on a coach’s salary, and Jim Cosman, the former Vice President of Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), always told me that if I wanted to make a career change to come see him. I didn’t know what BFI did at that time, but I went to see him on a Thursday and he told me to be in Birmingham on Monday morning. I reported to Birmingham on Monday morning, and he put me on the back of a garbage truck. That’s where my career began.
I worked for BFI for a number of years, and then I went to work for Republic in 1997. I watched what the leaders did when they put together Republic with Jim as the COO, and in November of 2000 we started Advanced Disposal, where I stayed until 2014.
Waste360: What does your new role entail and what types of efforts will you be making to help Meridian become a strong hauler?
Wally Hall: I certainly didn’t have any illusions about getting back in the business, but Jeff Cosman approached me and I saw a lot of his dad in him. His dad hired me way back when, and I felt like Jeff had the right vision to build another company.
Essentially, I’m going to help him build not just a waste company but other companies alike. We did over 170 acquisitions when I was with Advanced, and I was involved with about 90 to100 of those acquisitions. I’m going to help drive the cost out of the business, and I am going to help him make sure that our employees buy into the ownership piece of the business where they feel like they own part of the business. These efforts are what drive results.
I am also going to help Jeff build a business that we can be proud of so that we can give a return to shareholders and take care of both employees and customers. All parts of the business have to be equal and sometimes some of the pieces are forgotten. We just have to make sure that when we grow our company that we find the right people who can carry out what we want done. We need to give them the tools to work with and hold them accountable. I think that’s what I am going to bring to the table.
Waste360: As the company’s leadership team grows, is the plan to grow more or is it ultimately to grow the company until it becomes an acquisition target for one of the larger players?
Wally Hall: At this time, we want to grow the company and be in that sweet spot of around $400 to $500 million in revenue. That is our vision now and in two years’ time, I am sure that we will have to adjust the vision based on what the market dictates.
We do not have an exit strategy right now, and we just want to build a quality company that we can be proud of and that employees can be proud of. We want to be the best out there, and that’s really the only goal we have right now.
I have built a company, and Jeff has built some companies. Whether you sell or run it long term, you have to understand where you are at on a day-to-day basis. As far as selling it to Waste Management or some other company, I don’t care about that right now. We just want to be the best company that we can possibly be and take care of our customers.
Waste360: When it comes to waste and recycling, how do you compete with the bigger haulers in the industry?
Wally Hall: You have to focus on having a good mix of business. I have been in the recycling business before, and it’s a good business if you can get the right services for the right amount of money. The pricing on the commodities side is something we are held hostage by in the waste business. We believe that we understand it and that we back that into our pricing, but we seem to be surprised by what that final number is every time.
Right now, we do not have a lot of recycling business. We are going to focus more on growing the residential, front load and roll-off pieces and mixing some landfills in there. I am sure that we will eventually get into recycling because we are in the service industry.
Ultimately, we will provide any service that people will pay the correct amount of money for for it to be a profitable business for us. As far as commodities, it is what it is. I don’t follow it, and I cannot control it. You cannot make a lot of impact in the commodity pricing so it’s not something that you should go to bed worrying about every night.
Waste360: What are Meridian’s goals for 2016?
Wally Hall: The first thing we have to do is get an infrastructure in place. We have to hire a CFO, and we have to understand the back office needs, system needs, staffing needs and equipment needs for the diverse marketplaces that we have. We also have to figure out how to get better pricing on trucks and equipment and how to manage costs in both our landfills and hauling company.
We have to have systems in place, and we need to understand our business. Once we have the information to manage our business, we can make on impact on our business.
While we are doing that, we have to continue to grow through acquisitions, municipal bids, new marketplaces, etc. We are evaluating what marketplaces we would and would not like to be in. We are also evaluating where we do and do not want to have a landfill. I used to always believe that you need to have a landfill everywhere you can. I ended up with 43 landfills, and I am not sure I believe that anymore because the price of some markets is not where it needs to be at the landfills. If you are going to own landfills in different marketplaces, the pricing needs to be right.
Vice President of Member Relations and Publications, NWRA
Mallory Szczepanski was previously the editorial director for Waste360. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where her research focused on magazine journalism. She also has previously worked for Contract magazine, Restaurant Business magazine, FoodService Director magazine and Concrete Construction magazine.
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