Roundtable: Collection Managers On The Cutting Edge

Can you say that you are a good manager, that employees follow your lead because they believe in your judgment and not just because you sign the paychecks?

A team's blind following of its leader may have worked in ancient battles, but in business, this arrangement could be detrimental.

No manager is perfect, and everyone should evaluate their procedures in light of the evolving business climate. This philosophy sounds basic, but here's the catch: If you're busy managing, it's tough to make time to stop and benchmark your managerial practices against others' strategies.

In this year's collection roundtable, World Wastes saves you a step. Following, we introduce three innovative managers with proven track records who discuss the challenges they have faced and their practical solutions. Each has a management philosophy that reflects his or her unique combination of experiences, views and personalities.

This group covers both the municipal and private sectors: Bill Birth is the national marketing director of Continental Waste Indus-tries, St. Charles, Ill., which serves communities in several states; Marilyn McGuire is the recycling and collection manager for Los Angeles, one of the largest municipal operations in the country; and, David Gobin is CEO of Gobin Disposal Services, Claremont, N.H., a large, family-owned operation covering several states. We have asked these successful managers to talk about themselves, how they manage and to describe their management philosophy.

Bill Birth National Marketing Director, Municipal Affairs, Continental Waste Industries (CWI) St. Charles, Ill. To varying degrees, most Americans have accepted the challenge of reducing the amount of waste that is to be landfilled. For the most part, this has meant incorporating an effective and efficient recycling program.

In the autumn of 1995, CWI signed 11 Missouri communities to 5-year agreements, and as a consequence, accepted the state's challenge to assist municipalities in achieving a 40 percent reduction in the amount of solid waste generated for final disposal by 1998.

The state of Missouri suggested its objective should be achieved through recycling, resource recovery, minimization and market development. However, the task is proving to be formidable since the communities CWI acquired had:

* collection service twice weekly;

* no disposal volume limitations;

* bulk/white good item pick-up twice weekly in many cases;

* yard waste collection once per month; and

* curbside recycling once weekly.

The average monthly rate for these services was $8.31.

The objective was to:

* reduce the amount of waste collected for final disposal;

* streamline collections to once a week;

* assist communities in meeting state environmental goals;

* replace dilapidated equipment;

* develop a way to equitably charge for the disposal of additional volumes of household waste; and

* enter into service agreements with terms sufficient to amortize the capital equipment required.

Each community had specific requirements and service expectations, therefore, programs had to be designed to address those needs. To meet those demands, CWI implemented a progressive program, "Recycle-Ease." It's comprehensive solid waste management approach affords residents a high level of service while achieving diversion/recycling objectives in a user-friendly manner.

Getting With The Program Single-family residences are given durable, mobile, fixed-lid, dual-collection containers made by Otto, Char-lotte, N.C. (Experience proved the program was more readily accepted and worked better with 95- and 68-gallon containers.) Residents place household refuse in one section of the container and recyclables in the other.

Specially-designed, rear load, dual-chamber collection bodies from Pak-Mor, San Antonio, equipped with a semi-automated container lift device are used for collection.

The semi-automated process tips materials into the divided chamber truck keeping the commingled recyclables separated from household refuse.

Recycle-Ease is a fixed volume based fee for refuse disposal monthly fee program. It's format handles additional household and other forms of waste on an equitable "pay as you throw" basis.

Here's what we've learned and achieved to date:

* Collection frequency has been reduced to once weekly.

* The need for a separate recyclable material collection truck with one or two people has been eliminated.

* The volume of refuse collected for final disposal has been reduced, albeit not to a satisfactory level.

* Recyclables are being generated to a greater degree under the new format, however, the contamination issue still must be addressed additional education.

* Recyclable material processing issues should be completely resolved and a material processor should be in place early in the process.

* White goods/bulk itemsitems are collected on a "pay-as-you-throw" basis.

* The average per unit base rate has been increased to $10 per month.

* The larger container sizes - 95-gallon family and 68-gallon senior - should be used in all situations.

* Personnel should be thoroughly trained by the manufacturer on equipment usage.

* One-man operation can be implemented in almost every case.

It is critical to evaluate the impact of off-route or non-productive time on the operation. How this effort was coordinated with the municipalities was critical.

The issues facing the customers were of primary concern. A cost-effective approach to meeting their service requirements and the means to generate the revenue necessary to capitalize the program had to be developed.

Fifteen years' experience in city management and county solid waste enabled me to assess the municipalities' concerns and effectively coordinate the effort.

I met with city managers, elected officials, and state and county and solid waste district administrators to identify common concerns, program needs, service requirements and the criteria for the cities to obtain grant funding.

To allay public officials' fears, public information forums were scheduled in a number of communities. The key points covered were:

* why the municipality was considering initiating change;

* how the program would work for each household;

* why the equity concept built into the program makes sense;

* how the positive results would impact the community; and

* how working together with the hauling company would give the community a voice in controlling their disposal costs.

These forums resulted in 11 communities authorizing their staff personnel to negotiate terms of agreement.

A background in negotiating service contracts, drafting language and familiarity with municipal as well as solid waste management operations assisted us in negotiating agreements with the municipalities and, in one case, a home owners' association. The partnership approach assisted us in accomplishing the task without going to bid in all cases.

Obviously, the negotiation process and the cities' position did not allow CWI to negotiate the most favorable terms. For the most part, the trade-offs paid off as long-term service agreements were secured.

As with any new program, communication was a primary concern. Program information newsletters, question/answer brochures and "how-to" instruction inserts were mailed or inserted in the delivered containers.

We solicited the local media to broadcast program information to residents, and we appeared on local radio talk shows to discuss our plan. A liaison knowledgeable about the program was also used to work with the municipalities, customers and operations personnel.

Next, we had to instruct our operating staff. This project taught me the value of devoting more time to orienting personnel to the program. They learned how to respond to questions about the program, how to operate the equipment and information about routing.

The programs which were developed in conjunction with the municipalities should help them meet their environmental and service objectives.

Its format falls in line with solid waste management district and state guidelines, which prompted me to coordinate efforts with six of the cities to gain grants from Missouri Solid Waste Districts.

Also, Illinois has issued a grant for the implementation of the Recycle-Ease program.

We understand all municipalities are not alike, and a "cookie-cutter" program approach will not work in every community.

Even though the core or base of the program is the same in each community, service, education and operations considerations could be different.

CWI has found being out in front is not always easy; we do not have all the answers. However, together with our partners, the customers we serve, we are demonstrating we are willing to explore new methods.

Marilyn McGuire Recycling Collection Manager City of Los Angeles The Recycling and Collection division is responsible for the separate collections of recyclables, yard trimmings and household refuse. We currently employ 650 collection personnel and maintain a fleet of 800 pieces of equipment.

In 1994, we were challenged to reduce our operating costs by 25 percent to help close a budget deficit. Our solution was to implement management-employee teams to develop new ways to solve old problems.

We brought the Truck Operators Union, SEIU, Local 347, into the picture early in the decision-making process. The resulting organization was called the "Joint Team for Work Standards" (JTWS) and consisted of the assistant director, division manager, truck operators, fleet services personnel and support staff.

JTWS identified a major problem in truck availability and maintenance routines which was causing 70 percent vehicle availability and consequently, necessary overtime.

The team developed new inspection procedures and new pre- and post-trip inspection forms, and increased dialogue between field personnel and mechanics. This effort boosted truck availability to a consistent 98 percent.

Ultimately, this rate allowed us to reduce the fleet size, and so far, we have saved the city $1.2 million due to decreased equipment purchases and reduction in fleet service personnel.

However, the road to streamlining government has not always been a path of roses. Even though management has taken the stance that there will be no lay-offs, employee morale has dropped. Although the unions have agreed that we need to cut costs to remain competitive, they also express concern about their membership base.

To bring employees into the process, we make sure all managers, supervisors and employee representatives receive training in team building and quality management theories.

Additionally, action teams have been devised to bring the entire process to the field personnel and to work in the districts to identify success barriers and provide solutions.

We are committed to the long haul, but as attrition takes its toll, deeper cuts become more difficult to make without considering fee in-creases or service reduction. The city is investing in a second generation recycling program, using automated collection vehicles and 90-gallon carts to collect recyclables in a single stream (see sidebar on page 20).

When adopted, this new system will replace the current 16-gallon bin, manually-collected method. To date, set-out rates have increased dramatically in the pilot areas.

In some city areas, the set-out rates have improved 78 to 101 percent, and the majority of residents report being "satisfied" to "very satisfied" with the containers and service. Another benefit of using the 90-gallon carts is the reduction of scavenging in the areas where the carts are being used. We also anticipate that by switching from manual to automated systems, we can achieve personnel reductions, and workers compensation costs will drop.

This bureau believes that without commitment to changes necessary to reduce costs and become competitive, privatization or "managed competition" is inevitable.

The impetus to change, though painful, has created opportunities for field personnel involvement that never existed before. It also has forced supervisors to change their thought and direction and to view this operation as a business, not an entitlement. Such changes will benefit both our employees and the residents of Los Angeles.

Refuse trucks: 47 Peterbilt/Amrep; 46 Peterbilt/Heil; 326 White-GMC/Amrep; 3 Peterbilt/Rapid Rail; 2 White/Maxon; 46 Peterbilt/Amrep conversions; 64 Mack/Heils (RL); 192 White Wayne (recycle); 15 Peterbilt/American; 29 Peterbilt/Amrep; 4 White Peterbilt front loaders; 30 miscellaneous.

Types of containers: 32 gal, 64 gal, 90 gal, manufactured by Otto, Zarn, Shaffer and Plastopan.

Number/type of customers: 3.1 million residents, residential and municipal building collections.

Employees: 655 collectors

Service area: Within city limits: 467 square miles

Services provided: Recycling, tree trimmings, yard waste, household refuse, bulky items, dead animal collection.

Local tipping fees: $27.54/ton

Dave Gobin CEO, Gobin Disposal Systems Claremont, N.H. I enjoy getting up in the morning to go to work, and I have surrounded myself with talented people who apparently feel similarly. However, this wasn't always the case.

In the early days of building this business, I knew - and did - every job. As I hired new employees, I would treat them with kid gloves for fear that if they left, I would have to reassume these tasks.

As the company grew, my philosophy changed. I realized I was lacking many key skills needed to run a multi-faceted waste company.

My hiring practices had to consider adding management strength in several areas where I was deficient. Concurrently, the jobs I had done constantly needed to be filled as new opportunities were created through expansion.

I struggled with the idea that I could not be all things to all people and made a pivotal decision in my career: allowing peers to hire peers while I focused on adding the additional talent. This strategy required secretaries hiring secretaries, drivers hiring drivers and so on. We are pleased with the results.

It is gratifying to watch the growth of my employees. I'll admit I have learned a great deal from those who possess the skills I lack. Now, I am better focused on the company's direction and my own leadership abilities.

One thing that 20 years in this industry has taught me is to have a vested interest in the success and reputation of everyone involved in the company.

It is important to develop working "collegial" relationships with others of similar or advanced backgrounds. This concept could be expanded to include experienced executives from other industries as well.

I am a firm believer that we must cooperate as a collective unit, be-cause when the tide rises, so do all the boats in the harbor.

This is why I strongly advocate subscribing to the new ethics program soon to be released by the National Solid Waste Management Association.

Historically, this industry was founded by many family-owned companies which excluded outside influences for fear of collusion or outside competition.

The business decisions in the family-managed companies often are made subjectively, rather than objectively.

Early in my career, I decided that I was going to develop a rubbish company based on professional business techniques and not the stereotypical family-run garbage collection operation.

My father owned a pick-up route which grossed $300 per month. When my father, brothers and I decided to expand the company, I learned quickly that someone nearing retirement views things differently than someone who is in his twenties.

This realization was healthy because it taught me to consider other perceptions when making business decisions.

Over the last five years, I have eliminated the family involvement on the Board of Directors and have enlisted several key mentors and business executives to an advisory board to assist with strategic and business decisions.

My advice is to get actively involved with your industry association chapter. Share your ideas with others and be proud of your career choice.

Refuse trucks: 6; RDG 100, Dual Chamber Pak-Mor bodies, mounted on two Mack and four Navistar chassis.

Types of containers: Otto Industries Inc. 32-gallon, 68-gallon, 95-gallon all in one containers.

Number/type of customers: More than 11,000 residential customers served under the Recycle-Ease program.

Employees: 7 personnel involved with the Recycle-Ease service program.

Service area: Rural municipalities (incorporated) S.E. Missouri being served by this program.

Services provided: Residential solid waste, recy-cling, yard waste, bulk item collection.

Local tipping fees: $45/ton.

Point 1. Labor-saving technology can open the door to new business opportunities. The personnel and new technology can now be used to serve residential/commercial business not previously marketed.

Point 2. If a company is serving a market that is demanding comprehensive solid waste programs and equipment must be purchased, then the balance between buying two pieces of equipment and placing two operators out on the street must be weighed against conventional collection productivity. Each situation must be judged individually.

Point 3. Solid waste management companies must temper their decisions with common fiscal sense, have a comprehension of the trends in their market area, be receptive to innovative operational ideas or they will face the possibility of going out of business or being bought by their competitors.

Point 4. When capital equipment, operations, personnel and margin are amortized into the rate over the term of an agreement, cost-effectiveness can be achieved. The operating team also must be properly trained and oriented to the task.

Refuse trucks: Nearly 40 vehicles, mostly Mack trucks with Heil front load and leach rear load bodies, and Galbreath roll-off hoists.

Types of containers: Commercial dumpsters are primarily front load; roll-offs include open-tops, stationary compactors and receiver containers, we supply 65- and 96-gallon carts (Rehrig Pacific) to our residential subscription customers.

Number/type of customers: We have more than 40 municipalities and a few thousand commercial. We provide very little subscription residential services.

Employees: Approximately 50.

Service area: Eastern Vt., across N.H., Southern Maine, and Northern Mass.

Services: Recycling, construction & demolition debris removal, business and industry (commercial) waste collection, municipal waste service provider.

Local tipping fees: Vary from the mid-$30s/ton to more than $100/ton in the defined geography.