From the Back of the Truck to the Top of the Fleet

Having spent more than 30 years in the waste industry, Bill Kappel has worked his way from the back of a garbage truck to the front office, and now oversees the city's $45 million, 500-employee operation. World Wastes sat down with Kappel to find out how he's strengthened management's and labor's relationship, and has increased employee productivity.

WW: How do you use technology in your operation?

BK: The city has its own fiber optics, so I can communicate with every major garage. Every manager has a computer. The ratio of computers to mechanics is approximately 1-to-2.

We're changing from a mainframe application to a Windows environment with fleet management software. This will place all information at my fingertips. The software also will be on the garage floor so mechanics can check vehicle history. Paperwork is the mechanic's nemesis. If input is easier, we'll get accurate and more readily available data, making it easier to analyze the direction management needs to take.

When I've asked mechanics, "Don't managers give you the vehicle's history?" the answer has been "no." The managers reply, "it's too much trouble" management has information that could be valuable, yet we're not handing it over. I'm bridging that gap by providing the tool. It's part of our competitive strategy, and as a management tool, putting information into our employees' hands is the best thing we can do.

WW: Describe your employee training program.

BK: I want labor involved up front and recently asked for a union representative to be part of the original set-up team.

Training will be a two-stage process: Managers and laborers will learn simultaneously. By being in the same classes, they'll hear the same information; no one can say one thing was said vs. another. It also will bring them together as a team, rather than dividing labor and management.

We built a large training room in our central repair garage with 10 computers and a teaching unit. My fleet manager came up with the idea of placing mirrors behind the group so the teacher can observe each computer screen.

WW: Describe the CARE program.

BK: CARE is nothing more than CE (clear expectations) that surround A (accountability) and R (responsibility). It's a simple acronym, but it's difficult to practice. The first question I ask when problems arise is, "What did you tell them?" Because if you do not give someone clear directions or expectations, then you can't hold them responsible.

WW: How far does CARE extend in your operation?

BK: It creates a problem-solving atmosphere. If something goes wrong, I'll solve it, then worry about taking disciplinary action. Management needs to create an atmosphere where problems are discussed openly.

Because I tolerate mistakes from myself, I tolerate them from others. Employees know that I care. CARE also translates into 'I care.' Why am I doing this? I care.

WW: What is the Quality Control Coordinator (QCC) position?

BK: The fleet manager and I have been defining the QCC's role. It's a three-fold position that follows the total quality management approach.

The first focus is on the customer. The QCC acts as our front-line customer service representative, giving other divisions and departments a person to address. Next, the QCC inspects work, ensuring that technicians and lubricators are doing a good job. Internally, this person also is responsible for gathering and analyzing data so that management can make good decisions.

The QCC plays an essential role in deciding vehicle replacement, setting performance standards and assuring correct maintenance.

WW: Are there advantages to limited contracting of fleet services, such as your oil change contract for police vehicles?

BK: Losing the oil change contract for police vehicles to a private vendor served as a wake-up call to many employees. This is what can and will happen if we don't please our customers or keep costs down.

It has been difficult to convince the labor union that I am not trying to put it out of business. It used to fix everything, regardless of cost or how long it took. A lot of the rank and file looked out over the yard of equipment that needed repair and saw that as job security. We are trying to change that mindset an available and working piece of equipment equals job security.

WW: Do you contract any refuse truck maintenance?

BK: We do on occasion, especially large rebuilding jobs. We use low Crane Carrier shafts and Leach 2RII bodies. We had outdated White Autocars with Leach bodies. I could not tolerate having them sit unused, especially with tight equipment budgets. So, we took the high-bodied chassis and made dump trucks out of them. Leach mounted our 2RIIs to new Crane Carriers because the switch-out was too large for us.

WW: How have you managed with shrinking budgets for items such as replacement trucks?

BK: Our '99 budget proposal reflects the changing world of public works and the changing attitudes of vendors like Fred Leach. Five years ago, he said he was sticking with the front and rear loader business. Now he's introducing automation because "the world is changing."

We've begun looking at alternatives to full truck replacements and equipment that costs the most to operate. Annual vehicle inspections provide data on maintenance and operating costs. For example, the data shows that we can effectively operate a Leach packer for 11 years. That's a replacement target and is reflected in our operating budget.

WW: Which elements of other fleet operations would you like to incorporate into your own?

BK: I would like to have a separate equipment fund that, through rates, could recapture depreciation and future replacement costs. It would be untouchable except for new or replacement equipment purchases.

I don't mind being part of a larger group, but at times, I have wished to be separate from the public works operation like Indianapolis' fleet manager, John McCorkhill. He reports directly to the mayor and has successfully competed and won against two major companies. I consider his performance-based reward system for employees effective.

WW: How do you find and keep good employees?

BK: Make sure civil service employees are properly tested for the skills they need. For example, we changed our testing process for vehicle service technicians several years ago from a written exam to written and hands-on performance tests.

Keeping employees is a separate issue. I've always encouraged people to reach their highest potential whether it's a step up or a move. When I arrived, I heard, "Our managers want us to check our brains at the door and just do as we're told."

Some of the methods to combat that attitude include:

* Show them you CARE.

* Give more information to employees on how the operation is going - are you meeting customer needs?

* Receive employee input.

* Run project action teams and empower employees.

* Make sure you recognize individuals who put forth the extra effort.

* Treat your employees the way they want to be treated. For example, when I meet an employee socially, I introduce the person as a co-worker not someone who works for me.

A manager's job is to assist each individual to reach his maximum potential. This is not just lip service. We started the first succession planning program in Milwaukee last November with the Department of Employee Relations Project Action team. It allows individuals to be mentored for higher departmental positions. We're beginning to see these mentoring relationships instigated by employees interested in management.

WW: How do you prepare to compete with outside vendors?

BK: Competition is on the horizon. The oil change contract awoke the division to that, but I'm the one who has a sense of crisis. One day we'll have someone knocking on the mayor's door saying, "We can do it cheaper than your fleet manager." I want to prove him wrong. But it's more than a "me" thing. I want the people and the organization to win. I want my employees working for me for the rest of their careers ... being cost-effective.

How do we prepare? Our fleet management software will include data entry via bar coding not just for parts, but also for repair orders, time-keeping, vehicle replacement, etc. The mechanics will be able to check repair histories. Managers will change from service writers to obstacle removers. They will track costs, perform production analysis, control quality and help set budgets.

Getting a handle on costs and productivity are the two most important elements to being competitive. This can lead to solutions for other issues, such as rate-based equipment rentals, proper workforce size and the appropriate numbers of specific equipment. Usually, municipal fleets need more equipment to run their operations than a private fleet doing the same type of service.

Finally, I stay abreast of what's happening in the fleet management industry. I network with peers locally and nationally, stay in touch with the educational system and equipment vendors to see what's new in R&D, and encourage co-workers to get involved with professional organizations.

Employees: Approximately 390 Services: Residential garbage and recycling collection for 200,000 metropolitan Milwaukee residential addresses No. and types of refuse trucks:

* 120 rear load Leach packer bodies mounted on Crane Carrier Co. chassis

* 48 split body G&H packers on Crane Carrier chassis Containers:

* 90-gallon, semi-automated Zarn carts (garbage)

* 95-gallon, semi-automated Otto split carts (recycling) Local tipping fees: $29.03 per ton Most interesting items found in trash: An abundance of bowling balls at transfer stations