A Flood of New Ideas

WHEN MICKEY FLOOD FIRST was asked to be chairman of the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), his interest was piqued — but his first response was not a resolute “yes.”

Flood, who founded IESI Corp., Haltom City, Texas, in 1995 and has more than 30 years experience in the solid waste industry, knew from his one-year term as an EIA board of trustee that advancing to the head of the association was no simple task.

Flood already had a wealth of leadership experience. He formerly was the North American president for Waste Management Inc., Houston. At his own company, IESI, he has developed, implemented and managed strategic plans for integrated solid waste companies for most of the top 200 markets in North America, completing more than 300 acquisitions in the past eight years. Nevertheless, the thought of coordinating the EIA's 640 member-companies was somewhat daunting.

“It wasn't a snap decision,” Flood admits. “Being the chairman of the EIA is not a ceremonial position. It requires substantial time and commitment. There always are important policy and financial issues, and oversight responsibilities.”

But Flood says he ultimately “decided it was time to take the highest, volunteer leadership role and share my experience with the industry.” According to EIA's President Bruce Parker, Flood was unanimously elected at the association's November 2002 board meeting.

Tasked with Trash

As chairman, Flood will serve a one-year term (that began in January) and will be subject to the EIA's six-year term limit. While an EIA trustee is elected from year-to-year, the chairman typically serves two to three years in that role. “It takes at least that long to understand how all the pieces of the association fit together and to understand the politics involved,” Flood says.

The chairman is charged with overseeing the association's policies and putting the president's ideas into everyday use, which will require working closely with Parker, according to EIA's charter. But practically speaking, Flood says he will focus on implementing the second year of the association's strategic plan, which primarily concerns marketing the EIA and improving communication with members of the media, industry decision-makers and the general public.

In addition to streamlining the organization's image, Flood says he hopes to advance information technology to make communication with EIA's members faster and less expensive. Another issue on Flood's agenda is promoting safety, a topic of personal significance.

“The trash business is hard on drivers, helpers and employees at transfer stations and other fixed facilities,” Flood says, “and there are several opportunities for injuries. Most EIA members have safety programs, but I would like to see us take a lead role in this area and develop safety films on different operations, such as safe operations on rear loaders.”

The Waste Technology and Equipment Manufacturers Association (WASTEC), a sub-association of EIA, is just one of the ways the EIA promulgates industry safety standards for safe operation of solid waste equipment, Flood says.

Flood also would like to increase association membership among smaller businesses. “I want to see more new, upstart companies become members,” he says. “It's the small independents that can get the most immediate value from membership. They can learn about equipment, best operating practices, and stay abreast of industry trends and information. Also, we have about 33 state chapters in which haulers and other waste professionals can take advantage of educational sessions, work with others to stop bad or unnecessary state laws and regulations, as well as proactively promote good legislation.”

To illustrate “good legislation,” Flood points to the relationship of EIA's sub-association, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., with the New York City Business Integrity Commission. In 1997, the city capped hauling rates at $12.20 per yard. While the rate proved fair for most of the city's customers, it was inadequate for those producing heavier weights of garbage. As a result, those haulers were paying more to dump garbage than they were allowed to charge. “They were losing money before they even turned on their trucks,” Flood says.

The NSWMA subsequently has been in discussions with the commission during the past few years, pushing for a solution. Now, the commission supports an alternative rate cap by weight, in addition to yardage. A hearing on this proposal will take place soon, and the new rule will go into effect later in the year, Flood says.

“That was a very hard-fought issue because we had to convince this municipal entity that it was in its best interest to modify the existing rate cap. But the association is the voice of the industry, and we need to speak up for our members,” Flood says.

Better Self-Promotion

Representing EIA's members properly also means adjusting the public's image of the trash business. “We help keep America clean and we do it in an environmentally safe way,” Flood says. “There are stringent state and local regulations that dictate how the professionals in this great industry must operate. Yet many think making a profit is incompatible with being genuinely concerned about the environment. Management-training programs throughout the industry need to be implemented in order to enhance and promulgate a better grassroots understanding of what makes our industry tick.”

To reinvent the image of the garbage man or woman, company leaders should become involved citizens and be visible in their communities — not only by running clean and safe trucks and equipment, but also by participating in local and state politics, Flood says. He suggests companies reach out to the media and make the first move in telling the industry's side of the story.

“We are beginning to develop better communication with the public sector,” he says. “Old attitudes and belief systems are slow to break down, but I believe this is happening.”

And while the current economic downturn is affecting the industry, Flood believes better days are on the horizon. In spite of what he calls a waiting period for a sustained up-tick in the economy, investment prospects could flourish. “I definitely see more maturity in the publicly traded companies,” he says. “These companies are doing a good job now in integrating and rationalizing their assets following the last major acquisition binge. Shareholders are demanding more disciplined growth and expecting greater fiscal responsibility while enhancing earnings.”

Several new companies will be tossing their hats into the waste ring in the near future, which will add excitement to the industry, Flood predicts. “There are many former owners or operators of both small and large independent firms who are starting up again after finding retirement unacceptable,” he says.

Additionally, “significant new technology” and increased consciousness about safety among waste companies and equipment manufacturers that are promoting voluntary safety ANSI standards are helping to energize the industry. “I see more automation in service and a finer sensitivity to customer communication through increased technology,” Flood says.

Balancing Act

Although Flood has built a long list of challenges for his chairmanship, he does not anticipate that balancing his role at IESI with the EIA will pose problems. He may be embarking on a new leadership role, but his philosophies are firmly in place, and his belief in the future of the waste business is stronger than ever.

“If you love the industry, you can represent it easily because you want what is best for it,” Flood says. “I've worked in the solid waste industry for more than 30 years, beginning on the back of a garbage truck when I was in high school. It's in my blood, as they say. And I like to think that people know I'm a straight-shooter and a hard worker.

“The industry is represented by individuals as well as by the EIA, and both work for the same things,” Flood continues. “And when I wear my EIA hat, I'm representing an industry that I love.”

Writer Eduardo Javier Canto is based in Chicago.