As Vice President of American Waste Control (AWC), Paul Ross leads the day-to-day operations of AWC’s fleet of 185 trucks. He also works on AWC’s recycling initiative with Mr. Murph in North Tulsa, as well as the company’s renewable energy landfill, American Environmental Landfill in Sand Springs. Paul has also been very involved in AWC’s initiatives to promote sustainability throughout the Tulsa area.
In recognition of his work, Ross was named a 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient and recently spoke with Waste360 about how AWC was able to weather 2020, the importance of earning employees’ trust and more.
Waste360: How did you first get involved in, and develop a passion for, the waste industry?
Paul Ross: My passion for the waste industry started when I developed the mascot for American Waste Control's recycling program. In 2010, AWC built Oklahoma's first Material Recovery Facility (MRF), so I created Mr. Murph, a lovable recycling mascot with a giant smile and conveyor belt on his back. Over the past decade, we took Mr. Murph all over Northeast Oklahoma, teaching people about recycling. It was the journey and process of taking a complex machine like the MRF and turning it into a relatable recycling mascot, accompanied by school curriculums, jingles, hundreds of school field trips, and facility tours. It was witnessing inspiring moments for thousands of children, parents, and educators. When they realized recycling with our Mr. Murph mascot was not just easy but fun; this was where my drive and passion for the waste and recycling industry took flight.
Waste360: You've been with American Waste Control for more than 10 years now; what is it that makes the company so special?
Paul Ross: American Waste Control is the product of two things. First: our visionary leader and founder, Kenneth Burkett. He's not only the inspiration behind the company, he is also a great boss and amazing friend. Kenny is what makes our company special. The second thing that stands out is our people. They are the heart and soul of our company, the salt of the earth of our city.
Waste360: You're responsible for the day-to-day operation of a fleet of 185 trucks; during this challenging year, how have you kept your staff motivated and empowered?
Paul Ross: There is no question 2020 was a challenging year; the way we kept our people thriving during this time was to let them know how much they mattered to us. Not just with lip service, but with actions. Kenny and I decided to give everyone an essential-workers bonus to thank them for not giving up during this difficult time. It cost our company, but it was a small way we could thank them for serving our city. Because our employees know that we genuinely cared for them, I believe it went a long way in keeping our people driven to perform their best, despite the challenges of 2020.
Waste360: Throughout the COVID crisis, you've emphasized the care AWC has for its customers and clients—and you've encouraged the entire community to respond with courage, determination, wisdom, and compassion. Can you talk about this approach and its effects?
Paul Ross: The COVID crisis has taught us that when you cannot control what is happening around you, you can control how you respond to it. The effects of responding in this way brought our company closer together. Despite being distanced to keep safe, our company is stronger and better than ever, together as a family.
Waste360: Sustainability is a big part of your business; can you tell us more about AWC's waste-to-energy landfill, Oklahoma's first?
Paul Ross: Sustainability is why we do what we do. As a company, we actually made more money by selling credits for flaring the methane gas at our landfill. Still, Kenny insisted on installing the technology that converted landfill gas into energy. Clean, renewable energy is a goal for Oklahoma, and because of the non-recyclable material we process from our MRF, we were able to dispose of the waste in such a way as to create a clean, renewable energy source for more than 20,000 residents in our beautiful state.
Waste360: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Paul Ross: I love helping our employees and management team discover ways they can become their best. Kenny has always surrounded himself with the industry's best drivers, technicians, and managers. As a result, I am most proud when we can equip our people to become their best, move up, and become successful with their talents.
Waste360: What excites you about the future for AWC and the waste industry as a whole?
Paul Ross: The opportunities for growth, expansion, and acquisitions into new territories excites me the most. I love meeting with competing haulers with the goal of having them join our family. People love what Kenny has built, and it is my joy to bring other customers and employees into our family.
Waste360: Any advice you want to share for young people who are considering a career in this industry?
Paul Ross: Trust has to be earned, and your people shouldn't be forced to trust you just because you have a title; you should work to earn it.