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Lessons from Icons in the Industry

TAGS: Haulers
businessman hero
Waste360 was able to sit down with three National Waste & Recycling Association Hall of Famers to discuss what it means to be an industry icon.

Each year, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) inducts leaders into its Hall of Fame, recognizing individuals who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions in their careers. The NWRA announced its latest Hall of Famers in March. Ronald Mittelstaedt, John and Douglas Casella and Kenneth Burkett will be recognized at the annual NWRA Awards Breakfast at WasteExpo taking place Tuesday, May 9.

At this year’s WasteExpo, several past inductees will discuss their successes and the issues of leadership and professionalism in the waste and recycling industry during the “Leadership Tips from Industry Icons” session on Monday May 8 at 3:00 PM.

Waste360 was able to sit down with three of these Hall of Famers to discuss what it means to be an industry icon.

“It takes a lot—integrity, vision, perseverance, guts, and most important, passion. The people who are on my team understand my passion to win,” says Joe Winters, chairman and CEO for Winters Bros. Waste Systems in West Babylon, N.Y.

Ron Bergamini, CEO of The Action Environmental Group Inc. based in Teaneck, N.J., says an open mind, constant learning, listening skills, the ability to learn from when you are wrong and quickly moving from that position rather than trying to prove yourself right are most important.

“Ultimately you need to hold yourself and others accountable. Leadership in any industry requires these attributes,” he says. “In our industry in particular, you need to relate to bankers, lawyers, regulators, mechanics, drivers and helpers. A diverse group and when you realize they all have contributions to make, you are more likely be a genuine leaders. Leadership may start with a title but it’s your actions and ability to articulate a vision, a concept and a plan of execution that carries the day.”

Never stop learning and listening to others are what Michael R. Paine Sr., president of Paine’s Inc. in East Granby, Conn., says has the biggest impact on being successful in this industry.

“I believe that you must be comfortable with both challenging yourself and getting others to challenge your thinking to achieve a better outcome,” he says.

Industry leaders also face many challenges every day.

“The key is to remain flexible and stay nimble to react quickly. Because we have a great team, there a very few challenges that we cannot overcome with hard work and determination. To win you need a ‘get it done’ attitude,” says Winters.

Communicating to and with customers so that they understand why his company is not just a service commodity is a challenge Paine say he often faces.

According to Bergamini, influencing the team approach culture and raising the significance of safe working conditions while still efficiently from an operational standpoint is a big industry challenge. In addition to, from an administrative standpoint, managing the great deal of data we collected and putting into a useable format.

To tackle some of these day-to day challenges, the hall of famers cite technology as having the biggest influence on the industry since they began their careers.

“Technological changes have and will continue to have the biggest impact on our industry,” says   Winters. “Technology has improved every aspect of our business—from trucking, to recycling, to safety to administration—the amount of technological changes has been amazing.”

Bergamini agrees.

“From in the office to on the truck to the way we communicate to the way we recycle have all been greatly impacted by technology,” he says.

As for the future of the industry? Bergamini says technology will be key.

“We are only beginning to understand how to apply existing technology to our industry. The next leap is most likely to be in ways to communicate with customers and equipment,” he says. “The technology of things has made its way to our industry and the way we maintain fleets is changing and is about to change materially in the near future.”

According to Winters, focusing on the fundamentals is important for the future of the industry.

“I think the future is bright as long as we remain focused on the fundamentals—operating safely, providing great customer service, and complying with the rules and regulations that govern the business,” he says. “And, because the business is constantly evolving, successful companies must have a willingness to adapt and change to the environment around us.”

These three executives share a long history with the waste and recycling industry.

Winters purchased his first company at the age of 25. Since then, he has been involved with numerous start-up companies and the acquisition of more than 90 companies. His first venture began in 1994 in Vermont where he grew his business to become the second largest solid waste company in the state. In 1998, Winters, along with his brothers, started a second business with one truck on Long Island.

His third large-scale business venture was in 2011 when he and other family members acquired the assets of multiple solid waste and recycling companies operating in the western Connecticut and Hudson Valley marketplaces. Today, Winters Bros. is one of the largest recycling and solid waste company in the region with 524 employees, 300 trucks, and 16 facilities serving residential, commercial, industrial and municipal customers.

“Working with my Mom and Dad and my four brothers to grow a successful family business is something that has been a big accomplishment,” says Winters. “I also am proud of the investment we have made in people. I love watching people on our team as they develop into talented business people who care about customers. My family and I have always understood the importance of surrounding ourselves with smart, dedicated and hard-working people. Developing a team of winners is hard and it takes time—however, it is incredibly rewarding to watch people grow.”

Bergamini has been representing businesses in the industry as an attorney from 1988 until 2007 when he took the position he is in now.

“I represented several businesses over those years however from 2001 until 2006, I was general counsel for Interstate Waste Services, then headquartered in Sloatsburg, N.Y.,” he says.

When Bergamini started in Action along with Mike DiBella in 2007, the company had about 90 employees and a few dozen trucks. Today they have more than 860 employees and nearly 300 trucks.

“We have been particularly focused on safety and worker conditions and respect for the professionals who work in our industry. On a specific project, we opened a state of the art optic sorter recycling facility in 2012,” he says.

Paine started on the back of one of the company’s trucks and progressed as the company grew—initially as a picker, then to driver, doing occasional truck repairs, salesman, ultimately to president of a third-generation, family-run business.

“I believe the future of the industry is huge if we take care of our folks,” he says. “This is a great industry and people really care about what we do.”

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