Episode 76: How the Waste Industry Saved My Life

Liz Bothwell, Head of Content & Marketing

September 21, 2020

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Michael O’Connor, Owner of Premier Waste Services. Based in Phoenix, AZ. Premier Waste Services is a roll-off dumpster service provider offering waste removal and trash bin container rental for both commercial and residential customers.

We spoke with O’Connor about his amazing journey through the waste industry, financial discipline in building a business, the importance of a safety-first approach, employee retention and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: How did you get into the waste industry?

O’Connor: Before I can tell that story, I need to back up a bit. In 1993, I was 16 years old and pretty misled, getting in and out of trouble. I sold ten pounds of marijuana to an undercover agent and was given four years in state prison. I met a guy there, and his sister was the office manager of an independent garbage company in the Phoenix area. When he got out, she got him a job there. He and I would write, and I would tease him, “ha-ha, you’re a garbage man.” But when I got out, I needed a job and contacted him. I was hired on as a welder with no welding experience. After about 90 days, this little company called Allied Waste acquired us, and from there things took off. It was a time when I just learned so much, and we also had a lot of fun. I eventually got my CDL and just learning every aspect of the business. That was my beginning.

Waste360: Thank you for sharing your amazing story. It seems like you were really open to taking advantage of learning experiences, and you were meticulous and had great mentors along the way.

O’Connor: You and I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if I didn’t go through all that. One of the things I’ve always said is the waste industry saved my life, and I really believe that. The industry welcomed me and said, “come on over here, we’ll teach you everything you want.”

Waste360: Would you tell us more about how you started Premier Waste?

O’Connor: In 2006, Cheryl (my business and life partner) and I realized that, as we had helped a few people build their businesses, and they sold it and did very well —there’s no reason we can’t do this for ourselves. We started talking with Larry Hanks, who was the president and chief operating officer at Allied Waste. We ended up buying three trucks, a couple hundred dumpsters, and never looked back. We put eight trucks on the road in 12 months, and things really took off in 2007. There was so much to do, and we wanted to build this as a long-term proposition — not just build-to-sell. We now have 17 trucks and 12 fulltime routes.

Waste360: How have you and Premier Waste fared in the pandemic?

O’Connor: We were initially confused, a lot of uncertainties. But we wanted to keep everybody — our drivers and office employees — in a comfortable manner where they felt safe. So it was one day at a time. We had some “perm accounts” put their service on pause — probably maybe 25-30% of our business. So that was a little scary. But, soon after, with everyone at home, we saw an uptick in temp dumpsters going out (for people’s backyard cleanouts, bathroom remodels, etc.), which is generally a higher margin item for us than the perm business. And now we’ve had the stuff that went on pause reopen, so we’re working toward a light at the end of the tunnel.

Waste360: You seem to be a natural with teaching and mentoring; is that something you enjoy?

O’Connor: I still enjoy learning. When we started Premier, I felt like I knew more about what not to do than what to do. There’s always something to be learned every day, whether something to do or something not to do. But yes, I do love seeing people grow both personally and professionally. 

Listen to the full episode with O’Connor above. He has a remarkable story to tell.


Read transcript here.

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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