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Episode 152: One-on-One Chat with Jon Vander Ark, President and CEO, Republic Services

Enjoy this NothingWasted! Episode with Jon Vander Ark, president & CEO, Republic Services, in conversation with Darrell Smith, President & CEO, National Waste & Recycling Association. Topics ranged from safety and sustainability to the future of environmental services.

June 6, 2022

Enjoy this NothingWasted! Episode with Jon Vander Ark, president & CEO, Republic Services, in conversation with Darrell Smith, President & CEO, National Waste & Recycling Association. Topics ranged from safety and sustainability to the future of environmental services.

Here’s a sneak peek into the conversation:

Smith: What are your primary goals at Republic? Or, years from now, what would you like people to think of your time there?

Vander Ark: I’m blessed to have a great leader who mentored me, and I had time to really spend with the senior team and the board leading up to the role, thinking “where do we go next?” A couple of big ideas include expanding where we go..so, environmental services. Originally, we were just waste and recycling, but we really think about environmental services and sustainability, which expands our market and creates opportunities to grow. And then we want to get world class at three things, which we talk about all the time: customer zeal, so we want to be maniacal about serving customers. That’s a tall task: we pick up something 5 million times every day, so we’ve got a lot of opportunities to delight or disappoint. Also, digital and sustainability. 

Smith: Tell us what you can tell us about U.S. Ecology.

Vander Ark: Our customers said, hey, we want a service provider who can do more. We want you to handle all of our environmental services needs. One unique part of our business is that the customers who buy more from us pay more per product. The more somebody buys from us—rather than getting a discount per bundle—they pay a premium. And the reason they do that is because we’re actually a very, very small portion of their cost structure, and what they’re buying on is the effortlessness and the ease of the experience. So that got us excited to bring these two companies together. 

Smith: What can you tell us about your efforts to get more women involved in the industry?

Vander Ark: I bet my career on this topic. When the board first started having a conversation with me around potentially being a CEO candidate, they said, “well, we want to hold you accountable every quarter, and what are you going to measure yourself on?” We have 170 business units, and one of the things I said I would measure myself on is the diversity of our general managers. Over about two-and-a-half years, we doubled the diversity of our general-manager ranks, and we’re on the path to double it again. I’ve got seven direct reports; four of the seven are women. And we do this because I think it makes the business better.  

Smith: Where do you see the industry going sixty years from now?

Vander Ark: I think we’re at the forefront of a sustainability movement that is only going to grow with steam. You think about this business historically and people thought about garbage and waste, and they still talk about that, but I always reframe it around sustainability.  Society is asking questions of business, and they’re asking questions around circularity. Rather than fighting that trend, I think we ought to embrace that trend. Our last use for something is to put it in a landfill. People say, “Well, landfills are where you make all your money.”  I say, “Landfills don’t pay us a dime. Customers pay us, and they are willing to pay a premium to do the right thing.” That’s where I’d like to see the industry go — thinking more proactively and progressively.

Listen to the full episode above.

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