May 10, 2021
In the latest episode of the Waste360 NothingWasted! podcast, we catch up with waste industry veteran – Bill Caesar, who is now operating partner at Generate Capital.
Learn what Caesar has been doing since the GFL acquisition, the evolution of the circular economy, investing in sustainable technologies, human-centered leadership and more. And did you know he was in the CIA?
Here is a glimpse into the discussion:
Waste360: Could you tell us a little about your background before you joined Generate?
Caesar: I was formerly the CEO of a company called WCA waste — a traditional solid waste collection, disposal, and recycling company headquartered in Houston, Texas. We were owned by a private equity firm, and we took that business from about $250 million in revenue when I got there in 2014 to a little over $400 million in revenue when we sold the business in 2020. Before WCA, I spent four years at Waste Management and ran the recycling business. I also had responsibility for their portfolio of investments in early-stage technologies and services. For the 13 years before Waste Management, I was a partner at McKinsey & Company; spent some time at business school; and for the six years after college and before business school, I was at the CIA.
Waste360: Can you tell us more about Generate and the work you do there?
Caesar: Generate was set up to meet the needs of customers, entrepreneurs, and technologists who are on either side of developing technologies that have a real sustainability element to them—as well as entities that want to use those technologies. The founders saw a bit of a gap between when a technology is identified as something folks are willing to fund as a venture investment—and when customers are willing to invest in it. So Generate is set up to meet that need. We like to call it ‘infrastructure as a service.’ If you are a municipality or a large corporate and you have a need for a piece of sustainable infrastructure—something like an anaerobic digester or electric buses—we step in and provide the capital to acquire those assets. We will operate the assets and, in return, the customer will pay us a fee, which turns into an operating expense for them (rather than a capital expense). It’s a real win-win because the customer is getting an asset that they didn’t have to shell out a lot of capital for; they’re getting the benefit of whatever the asset is doing; and our investors are getting a return that meets their needs. We’re filling a gap between traditional bank lending or private-equity investing and where venture capitalists play. It’s both financially attractive and sustainable.
Waste360: What is Generate’s primary driver?
Caesar: We see our business as one that is designed to address challenges associated with sustainability and tackle that in a way that leverages what we like to call distributed infrastructure. We try to get into things where you can make a difference at a scale that is appropriate both for the technology as well as for the customer.
Waste360: The world seems to be realizing that its economies need to be less linear and more circular. You’ve been doing this a long time in the waste industry and now with Generate. When did you start to see this becoming really tangible and something we all need to work toward?
Caesar: In the mid-2000s and early 2010s, there was a lot of activity and effort around reuse. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘reduce.’ But, coming out of the 2008 economic crisis, there started to be a transition — as a lot of manufacturing companies and retailers started to realize there were savings available to them by reducing the amount of either packaging or raw materials. I think that was when we first started to see changes in these companies’ practices — that looked at not only ‘what can we do with this waste material that we’ve created, in order to extract value from it?’ But ‘can we reduce the amount of waste material that we’re generating?’ And I think a lot of companies sort of got religion on that.
Waste360: You spoke at our last live WasteExpo — and I was really touched by the human side of leadership that you discussed, related to your work at WCA. Do you miss that aspect at all?
Caesar: Running a business is the hardest thing I have done in my professional career — and it wasn’t because the business problems were so challenging. It was because managing people is a hard thing to do, and in a big organization you have all kinds of people and all kinds of situations. But it’s also extraordinarily rewarding to be put in a position where you can help create a culture and help develop people personally and professionally — and to feel like you’re making a difference.