[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's Nothing Wasted Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.
[00:00:27] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell with Waste360 and I'm with Willie Goode from WB Waste and Goode Companies. Welcome, Willie, and thanks for being on the show today.
[00:00:38] Willie Goode: Thank you, Liz. I appreciate it. With COVID going on, I'm glad to be anywhere to be speaking, [laughs] but thank you.
[00:00:47] Liz: I'm with you. I agree [laughs]. We normally start in the beginning, Willie, so I would love to hear more about your background and how you found the waste and recycling industry.
[00:01:00] Willie: Beyond being a child of my parents and taking trash out the house, my mother, brother, in the Washington DC area -and this was back in the late '70s- he had three garbage trucks. He sub-worked for some of the bigger companies and had his own little accounts. My parents, my brother, and sister, we grew up in a low-income housing area, which wasn't one of the better neighborhoods in Washington DC. My mother said, "Hey, he's 13, got some size on him, can you come and just get him out the house? And can he just ride on the truck or do something?"
Then, at the age of 13, in the summertime, I was riding on a truck and because I did have some size on me, they had me start throwing trash in the back of the truck. My work skills, I guess, truly came from my parents and my uncles. I just started taking a liking out of that. One thing it gave me, being on a trash truck, which was a real unloader, commercially, at 13 years of age, "I got to get out of my neighborhood and learn the city of Washington DC." From Georgetown to Southwest Waterfront, to the Monument area, to all over, a commercial trash truck puts you in not only the streets, but in the alleys also.
I stayed with it summer in and out, and at the age of 15 and a half, believe it or not, I was driving a truck because I just studied and loved it so much, and the guy that my uncle had employed, I drove better than he did. He said, "Man, look, you drive all day." My uncle saw us about two months later and said, "Why are you driving this truck? You don't have a permit," and I'd been driving the whole summer.
[00:03:13] Willie: I got my permit at the age of 16. I was pursuing football and wanted to do football. I had a major car accident when I was about 15 years and 10 months old, right before 16. I messed up both of my legs. I was in the hospital for 10 days and I couldn't walk for a month or so. The football dream just went away because it's all, "You get impact in your knee, you damage your knee, you might not walk again." I was like, "Do you know what? I'm going to do what my uncles did. I'm going to focus on that. I'm going to own three trash trucks." Liz, until this day, you still cannot tell me I would never own three trash trucks.
That's all I used to write down as a kid. I used to have little matchbox cars where I run around the table. I made my own little trash station in the house, in the bedroom like, "This truck here, this and that." It's just been a passion of mine since that long ago.
[00:04:18] Liz: That's incredible. I can't believe you started so early. That's amazing and I'm still laughing about you driving. [laughs]
[00:04:27] Willie: Yes, that was a laughable moment. My uncle ain't finding too funny, but knock on wood, no accident, the trash got picked up, he said, "Okay, Will. You made it through, so I can't get mad no more". [laughs]
[00:04:41] Liz: [laughs] Exactly. It's fantastic to hear and amazing that you made that dream come true. Willie, you've gone from three trucks to how many now? You have such successful businesses. Tell me about that.
[00:04:56] Willie: Liz, currently today, operationally, is over about 250 collection trucks on the street every day, 13 different sites, four transfer stations, one recycling MRF, two recycling transfer stations to bring to the bigger MRF, a landfill. Me and my partners opened up an organic greenfield site in the West of Richmond Virginia last year. We just saw outbreak our one-year anniversary and we went from zero times, we roughly around 1,200 times a day [unintelligible 00:05:34] construction debris, and we do a recycling component there also.
It's been good. The business has been very good. I've got great people, probably on payroll roster a little over 900 employees. I call them co-workers, by the way, Liz. Nobody work for me. We all work together. I have 900 co-workers and I just smile at it every day. I got great friends in the industry that I deal with. I learn from them and share stories. I like to teach. I like to bring others on. I've been a real big success on having other companies start up and I get them support. I let them sit around the table and they let me be me, and they learn from it.
[00:06:24] Liz: That's amazing. I'm sure you have so much to teach. I can just tell talking with you, you have a wonderful way about you, even just your humility in calling everyone co-workers. I know service is a huge benefit that your customers get from you as well, so I can imagine how well you treat your employees.
[00:06:43] Willie: You hit it on a point because I was taught service from my uncle and my dad. My dad, he broke off when he got hurt on construction and my uncle helped him with a small open body truck. I'm closer to my dad and that's why [unintelligible 00:07:00] me and my brother used to work with my dad. The only thing about his customer service was if he was scheduled three days a week, he wanted to go six days a week.
At that age, I was saying, "Dad, I don't think we're doing this right. We ain't going to get no more money if we keep picking them up six days a week".
He said, "But no, we doing good service." Me and my dad had that day and I was like, "Okay. You are the father and I do live here, so I'm going to do it your way." [laughs] Customer service, for me, is important. I've serviced the customer and then, we work from there. We work after that to get everything else done.
[00:07:39] Liz: Yes, and I'm sure that's what sets you apart as well.
[00:07:42] Willie: Yes, absolutely.
[00:07:43] Liz: Here we are, 2020, this crazy year and pandemic, how has it affected your business? Because I know you're commercial and residential, right?
[00:07:53] Willie: Yes, we were like a 65% residential 35% commercial and that, it's a reverse. 65% commercial, 35% residential. Residential waste, of course, at the resident home. I tell people the story that the resident home has now became the extra hotel extended stay, the restaurant, the club, everything is at the residential home. The waste, oh my God, it just has grown tremendously about anywhere from 25 to 30% but, do you know one thing that affects a little bit of our safety?
We had to catch ourselves on safety meetings and we were like, "Why did this certain driver nick this car or scratch that bumper?" Do you know what we noticed? Was like, everybody at home, when they were going to work. When you bring a trash truck down the street -and in the DC area we have a lot of on-street parking, by the way- and the cars are there, everybody probably trying to run to the store to get coffee, breakfast, whatever curry up they can get, or visiting each other, it caused the havoc with safety.
We had to bring our crew in and really retrain them. Not only continued COVID safety by cleaning our units, making sure people are with their masks on, and making sure that they're okay, the family okay. Early on, I gave an incentive to my co-workers immediately. I said, "Look, you successfully make it to work Monday through Fridays, we're going to give you extra $50 to $75 a week because we want you to be able to wash your clothes more, we want you to be able to help your family stay safe and you stay safe, and we can't take that out of your regular wages".
I did it from the heart, so I wasn't looking for any brownie points or, "Oh my God, Willie trying to score high." No, I did it because that's what our love for company do for me. Then, it hit our books, but the same token, the smile I got, and the respect that I continue to get from my co-workers, I trade that in any day.
[00:10:12] Liz: I bet. I'm sure the loyalty they feel for you for doing things like that, especially human to human level.
[00:10:20] Willie: Absolutely. Another thing about COVID was when everybody had the chance to stay home, and the district, Washington DC is a big government town, instead of your wife, your husband, your daughter, or son, they stayed home, and you because we didn't get a chance to stay home. That was another part that we had to play a big part in. I've been 30 years in business next year, I started when I was age of 23. My birthday is next week, by the way, next Wednesday, and I'm celebrating 30 years in November of 2021.
I have so many people been with me from day one, that's over 20 years. When I see them, not only I'm worrying about COVID, I'm worrying about somebody getting hurt, getting ill, or not going to be here, but they're my family. I had two things going on, I had to really show my presence, my safety, and my caring. Good thing they had a part of my style that will weather the storm. That's what we continue to do every day, is weather the storm.
[00:11:36] Liz: That's fantastic. Happy early birthday, by the way.
[00:11:39] Willie: Thank you, did you sent me the gift?
[00:11:44] Liz: I got to get on it. I'm [unintelligible 00:11:45]
[00:11:47] Liz: As soon as we hang out, I promise.
[00:11:50] Willie: Thank you so much.
[00:11:56] Liz: I know you're in DC and Maryland, how do you think that part of the country's fair would say compared to the West Coast? I'm in the Northeast, in terms of COVID it hit us hard. For the municipalities, and stuff it was tough initially. How did it go for you guys? Are you feeling somewhat back on track?
[00:12:17] Willie: Yes. The district Prince George's, Northern Virginia area did very well. We have a small operation in Halifax, North Carolina that done well, we have operation in the Norfolk Virginia, Richmond Virginia area. I don't know if you do know, we're in Palm Beach Florida. We successfully celebrated on October 1st, my first franchise contract in Palm Beach Florida.
I got all the different divisions to go to around me, especially around this area, the DMV has done well. Baltimore City has taken an impact, after a lot of study we get up, we are helping Baltimore City collect some of their residential trash, we service about 10 to 12,000 homes for Baltimore City right now. Under contract, because they had a lot of cases of COVID, and they weren't getting the trash up in the recyclables up. I had to make sure my crew was safe, not for going in, and do a bad job. We end up helping them, and Baltimore City is very thankful for what we bring to the table.
[00:13:34] Liz: I'm sure they were, my goodness, what help. I know you talked about safety earlier in terms of the pandemic, and what's going on out there. It's distracted driving months, I know you started as a driver, do you have any advice for drivers out there now? I know it's a different world, but you're seeing this day to day as an owner-operator yourself.
[00:13:58] Willie: Yes. I still mess when we have meetings and safety meetings, I say, "I know I'm still the best driver", they're like, "Yes, whatever." I say, "Give me the truck keys," they're like, "No. We're not letting you drive." [unintelligible 00:14:12] Driving it's so much more different than when I was driving 30 plus years ago, 40 years ago because us, probably me, with distractions in your vehicle, that's called the cell phone. The cell phone just not what you talk on, but you can watch social media, you can text, so much more.
I'll just be riding in traffic, and looking at cars with nobody in front of me. Of course, when I ride [unintelligible 00:14:43] they hit into their phone, trying to look up. We try to let our drivers know, "Please, continue to take your time, continue to stay a good driver." We reward them for their good driving behaviors, and we continue to teach them that there's so many distractions. Every time I hear or read, we try to put distractions up on all our local facility boards to say, "This is a new distraction", and COVID was one. New distractions, more people are at home, the kids are not in school, you have to continue to be safe.
At the same time, understand that they worry about their health and safety like, "Oh my God, I'm touching this trash, I don't know if the people in the house have COVID, or the person to come and trying to walk to the truck got COVID." It's been a task, Liz, if I tell you it was easy, I don't think I'd be doing this call right now with you. It's been a major task. Once again, we continue to get through it as a team.
[00:15:53] Liz: That's great. They're lucky to have you as the leader to keep them motivated, and moving forward. Willie, I know you've embraced technology, can you talk about how it has helped your company, and how it's keeping the industry itself moving forward?
[00:16:10] Willie: Yes. I just spoke on that, we called them, a lot of the new millennium, the drivers of that age of 35, and under, they can adapt more to the text world or technology of the systems. We have some systems in place for routine, we have 3rd Eye camera systems on a majority of all our units, which has been very helpful. A lot of the co-workers were like, "You are all looking at me", I said, "No. It's not about you, it's about the world, about safety around. Yes, starts with you, but it's everybody around you".
The technology has helped our company with help routing people that don't know an urban city, or a commercial route as well, we can help them with that. The gadgets of the camera system for safety meetings, and training- because when you see something and is your co-worker, and the truck that you represent, it impacts more. I can show them a video of a truck from ABC, or Joe Holland Service, and they're like, "Oh, that's them", but when this happened to be WB Waste or a Goode Companies' truck, they're like, "Oh, that was us." It put a little bit more thinking into, "Well, we all got to be careful, and we got to watch out for each other." Technology has been working for us, pretty good.
[00:17:47] Liz: That's great. I love your take on it, how you said this workforce embraces it because of their age, they're digitally savvy, right?
[00:17:57] Willie: Yes.
[00:17:58] Liz: Next year you'll be in business 30 years. We talk about technology, how has the industry changed in your eyes over the years?
[00:18:08] Willie: The industry had to change. I went through seeing recycling being source separated at the curve, and not much on commercial business lesson, but just cardboard only to being a single stream component. Now, with China doing what they're doing in that part of the business, not just a collector, but a processor, we're trying to help cities and communities to recycle. It's been a big change with the single stream. Single stream has really been a challenge.
We got our area city that they still do source separation, we use the split body trucks full and they smile on them because we didn't quite get caught in a single stream park. That portion had happened. Another part has happened, which I'm happy about, there's different type of jobs versus just industrial jobs. The work pool, the work staff, and getting the workers on the trucks has not been as easy as it has been 20 years ago. Training and keeping people to be with your company, to help you do a good customer service, keep accounts and keep a good safety record has been challenging because there are other opportunities out there.
That big blue earl truck with the A on it, there's many opportunities there that they'll come and say, "Hey, we can go handy. Not only work for them, but be self-employed." That's been a lot of change, keep adjusting our rates of paying, which I'm for people getting paid very well to live. You got to live, you got to support yourself and your family, the American dream. That part has been the challenge. I see it going forward, I was like, "How are we going to plan with female X here and male X here that been with us 25, 30 years? Who do we replace them with?" That's been some of our targets. To be honest with you, there's a project out for all my senior managers right now to work on that to see, how can we go the next 10 years to 2030 and more with that type of change?
[00:20:34] Liz: Yes. That's absolutely true. You've seen it all. Is the driver shortage a big issue still with COVID?
[00:20:43] Willie: It has calmed down more, I just asked this on a call with my managers and they say, "Willie, we have more applicants coming in later than what they were." I guess, certain jobs have not opened back up. The only thing is you just can't go get your CDL and come drive a truck, especially for my company type insurance I have. That's one hinder because, usually, we prefer you had two years or three years of experience. You got to learn somewhere and I understand that, but you have to come in and be a laborer on our trucks, the real loaders they have labored on it or you have to do some maintenance training, you have to come somewhere else in the industry.
That's been tough because really what we all doing is trading the driver from company X to company Z. You're trying to do everything you can to retain them. For my company, I could speak for mine because everything we've done, and I did that incentive way before. Really, I probably still doit if any other company didn't do, that really kept. I had a funny story, [unintelligible 00:22:03] was calling me saying, "Man, what are you doing?" I said, "What you're talking about?" "Man, my crew is saying you're giving your guys an incentive." I'm like, "Well, I'm trying to survive and keep my employees safe and happy [laughs]. I'm sorry, I can't count your budget and run your company at the same time".
[00:22:25] Liz: [laughs] It's so true. They should have thought of it, right?
[00:22:30] Willie: Yes [laughs] you got to do what you got to do to keep your doors open. If I'm set out to be an entrepreneur, I'm going to have people working with me, working around me, and we all got the same purposes to go somewhere where we can support ourselves, raise our family and live the delight to retirement and enjoy it. That's, obviously, my focal point.
[00:23:02] Liz: Yes, that's a great way to look at it. Do you think the industry is more diverse now, Willie? I felt like even me, I started with Waste360 eight, nine years ago, and just being at WasteExpo it didn't look so diverse back then, but then over the years we started to see more young people, more diversity, more women. What do you think? Especially at your level now.
[00:23:28] Willie: I will say this just to be direct and transparent because it is what it is. I'm a minority individual. I have afford the opportunity to teach and have a lot of more spots from minority workers to women workers and all that to teach to another level. I'm not saying that other companies don't, but I know my door is open and I understand it way more.
I feel everybody, sure, you put in your resume and you write down your application. If you qualify, you qualify. I know I have done that. Then another part I have done is I have been teaching others how to be entrepreneurs, and a lot of them has been minority owners. Have been bringing that up, and I feel a part of at the WasteExpo because I let them know I've been going to WasteExpo probably over 25 years, I've been there every year. I haven't missed a year. First of all, is one of my vacation spots when I did take a break to go to Chicago or Vegas, all the places like Dallas, Atlanta, and all that.
The opportunities are opening up a lot more to bring in. It's good talent idea, it's great talent idea. Like anything else, you give a person the chance, you'll be amazed how that worked out just giving that one chance instead of just being your friend, your niece, your nephew, somebody like that. I can go on for days on that because I speak it from one side and I look at it on to the other side. I'm at peace with it, and I like the way it's going. Did that address your question?
[00:25:26] Liz: You definitely did, it's nice to see that you're actually seeing the change occur. Especially with current events. I'm hoping the industry is more aware. It seems like they are, it's just it has to be action and not just talk, right?
[00:25:45] Willie: Yes, absolutely.
[00:25:46] Liz: That's what I hope the future is, for sure.
[00:25:49] Willie: Absolutely. I deal with a lot of the CEOs; their companies are larger sized than me. I'm in the Detachable Container Association and I have an awesome time with the family. We call it the family, that's the family. They're [unintelligible 00:26:04] to it, they're like, "Hey, Willie, how can we?" Because like I said, I'm a minority person, they can like, "What do you think?" I'm like, "You can work this way, that's what you do. Call me anytime." Especially in our industry, the waste industry, that's been a real good hit. That organization, that's now is becoming having more diversity in it also.
[00:26:33] Liz: Good, that's great to hear. You've built so many good businesses and you have such good partnerships, and you really lead with heart. What's next for you and your companies?
[00:26:46] Willie: [laughs] It's always that big [inaudible 00:26:50] contract, right? It can be the contract you want to service or the contract you get. You know what I mean by that? That's the exit plan.
I spent 30 years in it. Liz, it's been 30 years in it, and I had to share with you, yes, do have I thought of an exit plan? Of course I have because it's the biggest contract. My Willie Goode world, when I step back and say, "Okay, if you have an exit plan or a plan to the biggest contract, what are you going to do with it?" You can do it for so many trips, and hours, and boats, or whatever you can ride on and enjoy.
My thing is, I'm looking to develop and teach. I want to teach and give back. I want to speak at inner-city schools and say, "Guess what? I have all this and guess what I built it from? I'm not just your athlete, or your singer, or a movie star, I drove a garbage truck." You know what I'm saying? And get their attention that way. Saying I lived the life that I've seen some things and I enjoy a lot of things. That's one of my purpose now. I do love this industry. How you ever heard of it? "If it wasn't in your bloodstream, it's in your blood." I tell somebody, "You cut me, you get trash bags to fall out first, then blood".
[00:28:22] Liz: I love that. What a great way to say that too because it's so true. I think so many people feel the same way.
[00:28:31] Willie: Liz, I mess with the doctors. When I go to the doctor, do my physicals and all that, I always say, "Watch out there, you might see a can or a bag roll out." [laughs] [unintelligible 00:28:42]
[00:28:44] Liz: [laughs] I love it. They must crack up.
[00:28:50] Willie: Yes, they love it. They love when I come in, they're like, "Oh, love. Got Mr. Goode coming in today. Comedy hour".
[00:28:58] Liz: That's awesome. Willie, do you have anyone in your family working with you? I know it's such a family-oriented industry too.
[00:29:06] Willie: Yes, I do. I have a lot of my cousins and members that grew up with me and we're always doing this, so have a lot of them driving, they've been managers and all. Some of the important people. My brother that grew up, he's three years younger than me. Great operator. His name is Kirk. We go to Palm Beach, I said, "All right, Kirk, we got to put out 18,000 cars and 600 dumpsters." He's, "All right, consider it done." I go do the other side and Kirk make it happen.
He's at special projects anywhere I need to go because he knows my style and our work ethic. I know and I trust in him doing that. I have my oldest son. I have five kids, by the way, four boys and a baby girl. That's my life, the daughter. My boys hate me when I say that, but they take it the same way. I have a 31-year-old. He's operating the Palm Beach operation for us and my 24-year-old, he's in Charlotte, North Carolina doing some work remotely. He's looking to [unintelligible 00:30:16] his career.
I have my 21 and 20. My daughter is 20. A daughter to go to school in [unintelligible 00:30:24] in Florida and my son go to Old Dominion in Norfolk, and then I have a high schooler [unintelligible 00:30:28]. The boys, I tell you, and the girl, when you come age to 16 you have to do two summers on a truck. You have to be on the truck away from me. You got to smell it, touch it, feel it. I move them around each month to a different segment of the business. Not to say you got to do this, but you need to understand how our family got to where we at.
[00:30:53] Liz: What a fantastic concrete lesson. Did they all handle it differently? From my kids, I know exactly how they handle it.
[00:31:04] Willie: Yes. My daughter's been the toughest one. Remotely, I wish I was still as driving the truck back then more because I would have, of course, took her with me. I'm not separating it just because it's a dominant male field and I just wanted to make sure she's okay. She did a lot of office work and ride with me a lot to site visits and do things like that. One day, she was riding with me and we went to a transfer station and it was pretty smelly that day.
She had a nose coming up. I looked at her and I said, "Girl, cover your nose, you don't have to smell our money." She's like, "Yes, whatever, dad. That stinks".
[00:31:52] Liz: She's like, "Dad, you can't sell that to me."
[00:31:55] Willie: Right, but she shared that story when she speak. She's looking at being in criminal justice so when she talks, she's a great talker. Just stand up and when she talk, she'll wave her hands in front of the nose and like, "My dad one day took me to this place and I was like, 'Oh my God, I can't', but that's the smell of money." It's so funny when you hear her say it and act it out. I get [unintelligible 00:32:20] on it.
[00:32:22] Liz: [laughs] I bet. Hysterical. What a fun memory for her too. She'll be telling that story forever, I love it.
[00:32:29] Willie: Yes.
[00:32:30] Liz: The most important question, are you a Washington football team fan?
[00:32:36] Willie: Yes. [laughs] I am a Washington football team fan, Washington Wizards, Washington National, Washington Captives, Washington [unintelligible 00:32:46]. I'm a Washington-based homegrown. My kids, we all Washington football team. It's hard to roll it off our lips, we will challenge anybody. We do, if you have an area for a game, you like football, we do one of the best tailgates there is. We have a tailgate sometimes up to 300 plus people that I tailgate for the Washington football team. To answer that, yes. [laughs]
[00:33:16] Liz: I will let you know. I'm scared to tell you my team.
[00:33:21] Willie: You [unintelligible 00:33:21] Dallas?
[00:33:21] Liz: The Eagles.
[00:33:23] Willie: The Eagles? I have a lot of co-workers that are Eagle fan. We love when the Eagle bird fly to town and we can clip a wing, so come on through.
[00:33:35] Liz: Such offering. All right, how about if I come to the tailgate, I'll bring cheesesteaks. Is that fair? Is that all right?
[00:33:42] Willie: Absolutely. Have all your Eagle gear on because we want to make sure when you not feeling as well you start crying, you can soak it up in that jersey.
[00:33:54] Liz: [laughs] That's scary.
[00:33:55] Willie: You know I'm talking trash right now, right? We're not talking about baseball; we're talking trash [crosstalk]
[00:34:02] Liz: Yes, for a laugh.
[00:34:03] Willie: -so everybody hearing, don't take it personally.
[00:34:08] Liz: No, that's fair. It's always a good rivalry. I love it.
[00:34:12] Willie: Yes, absolutely.
[00:34:13] Liz: I am happy to see Alex Smith back out there, though. What a story of resilience with that guy. Even just to be walking again, let alone out there, is awesome. Willie, I had so much fun talking with you. Is there anything else you want to share before I let you go?
[00:34:34] Willie: Liz, first of all, I really appreciate this. Anybody that shared a story to you and to the group, I appreciate them. The people that know me, they know Willie loves the passion. I love Washington DC, this is my hometown, but they know I love this industry. I study it, I'm a hard worker, and I just want everybody to continue to practice safe measurements. Let's get through this together where we can bring our 2020 parties back. Can't wait to see WasteExpo on a grand level of us all doing what we always used to do.
[00:35:16] Liz: Yes, I'm with you. It'll be worth the wait, that's for sure.
[00:35:20] Willie: Absolutely.
[00:35:21] Liz: Thank you so much and good luck with everything. Your story is amazing, I'm so proud of all that you've done. We can't wait to see what's next with you. I love that your family is involved too, that just makes it even more special.
[00:35:35] Willie: Okay. Thank you so much, Liz.
[00:35:37] Liz: All right, have a great day, Willie. Talk soon.