Episode 91: Relationships Drive the Business of Waste & Recycling

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Joe Ursuy, SVP  & Department Manager – Environmental Services, at Comerica Bank. Comerica’s Environmental Services department helps to support the diverse and complex needs of clients across the U.S. and Canada who collect, transport, treat, recycle, process and dispose of all kinds of waste.

We spoke with Ursuy about the state of the industry, the impact of COVID and technology, the outlook for M&A and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: Relationships are so important in business and you’re well known for creating those. Any advice you can give on developing close and productive relationships?

Ursuy: I think it comes down to a lot of different things. In terms of client selection and the types of companies we want to work with, we’re looking for really good, high-character people. We try to avoid people who look at banks as a commodity. And the team, and me, we’re just ourselves — yes, we’re bankers, but we’re plainspoken. It’s a lot of little things done right, doing what you say you’re going to do and delivering. And also, I think our response to the inevitable hiccups sets us apart. We try not to overreact, and we come up with shared solutions that leverage our experience and skills.

Waste360: How has the pandemic had an impact on your business?

Ursuy: It’s been surprisingly positive. The solid waste business, which is about 75% of our loan portfolio, a lot of those companies had fantastic years. We have about 110 customers, and our portfolio performed nicely — so we’re happy about that.

Waste360: You work a lot with mid-sized haulers. What’s on their minds these days?

Ursuy: I think one of their main challenges is finding talent. The industry is getting older, so we need to do things to attract new talent. Also, in some areas of the country, disposal costs are going up. Another challenge we’re seeing across the board is risk management and crisis insurance. We’re talking to clients a lot about safety and things like fire-suppression systems. When we’ve seen things go wrong with other clients, we know what questions to ask. But on the whole, it’s a very strong industry. 

Waste360: ESG and sustainability are obviously a huge focus these days. Are you seeing this, and does it impact how you invest?

Ursuy: It’s a good question. And we’ve actually been doing renewable projects for about a dozen years now. We started studying landfill gas-to-energy and getting people internally understanding it. I think we’re one of the largest bank lenders to this industry. We’ve grown with the industry, and it’s changed and evolved over time. And we want to do more of this — biomass and other such opportunities. It’s a great part of the business to be in.

Waste360: Do you have any advice for young people looking to get into the industry?

Ursuy: It’s a fascinating business and a little underrated. It’s way more than garbage trucks going to a landfill. I tell young people to spend some time and find a good mentor; that’s invaluable. You have to respect the mentor’s time and have an agenda when you sit down and talk to that person. Take notes. And, in my experience, being a part of someone else’s success and growth as a mentor — even if they have to move out of my department — that is super fulfilling personally.

Read the transcript here.

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