WM’s Heather Miller on the Science and Art of Investor Relations

In this Q&A Waste360 40 Under 40 Award recipient Heather Miller discusses finding opportunity; the art of asking questions; and advancing sustainability leadership. Miller also sheds light on what it is that investors most care about in the fast-evolving world of waste.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

June 14, 2024

6 Min Read

At age 39, Heather Miller holds the high-ranking position of director, Investor Relations at WM,

the world’s largest waste management company— having climbed quickly from her early roles with the corporation as senior financial analyst and senior manager, Investor Relations.

In this Q&A the ambitious Waste360 40 Under 40 Award recipient discusses finding opportunity; the art of asking questions; and advancing sustainability leadership. Miller also sheds light on what it is that investors most care about in the fast-evolving world of waste.

Waste360: What’s key to climbing as high as you have at just “30-something” at such a large, high-profile corporation?

Miller: I am 39 years old, and I’ve been part of WM’s Investor Relations team for the past six years. I sought out my first position in Investor Relations nearly 10 years ago after working for several years in both Corporate Communications and Finance roles and wanting a job at the intersection of those functions.

This idea of finding opportunity at an intersection has been a theme for me in my career. Because people tend to stay in their lane, I think being able to bridge information across different topics or ideas can be powerful in unlocking unique insights and opening up new opportunities. For example, as many investors have increased their focus on companies’ sustainability goals and performance in the last several years, I’ve worked very closely with our ESG & Sustainability Impact team to stay up to date on ESG topics so that I can credibly share all the great work the WM team does to advance our sustainability leadership.

Waste360: Who are the investors and other stakeholders you work? How do you stay on top of their expectations? 

Miller: Our role in Investor Relations is to enable communication between WM’s management team and our investors, potential investors, and sell-side analysts in order to achieve a fair valuation for WM securities. The vast majority of our shareholders are institutional investors, so that means that in addition to regular dialogue with our sell-side analysts, much of our time is spent with professionals who work for investment and asset managers.

I’ve participated in more than 1,500 investor meetings during my time at WM. This experience has been valuable in so many ways, and one of my favorite things I’ve taken away is an appreciation for the art of asking questions. It is a skill to be able to identify a question or set of questions that get to the crux of an issue and determine the best way to frame and ask the questions. We meet with so many smart and thoughtful analysts, and tens of thousands of questions later, I have gotten much better at asking my own questions.

Waste360: What does it take to be truly successful in Investor Relations? And what do you most like about this work?

Miller: I see Investor Relations as being the perfect combination of science and art. It requires a fundamental understanding of a company’s operations and how performance translates into financial results; yet it also requires the ability to synthesize information and package it into a compelling narrative. I love the balance of spending time analyzing data or researching a new topic and then getting to switch gears to determine the best way to convey the results.

Waste360: What’s unique about working in Investor Relations in the world of waste management?

Miller: Prior to joining WM, I worked for about a decade at a midstream energy company. What I found so exciting about joining the waste and recycling industry is how it opened my eyes to things that had been invisible to me before. I started noticing the different types of trash and recycling trucks on the road. I recognized landfills when I drove past them. But more importantly, I started to think about the value chain for different materials and what happens to them at the end of their lives. It’s pretty remarkable that our industry operates so efficiently that it’s not something I had given much consideration to before. Now, not only do I enjoy sharing about WM’s business with investors and potential investors, but I also love teaching friends and neighbors about the industry—particularly myth-busting on recycling. 

Waste360: WM’s Investor Relations team is growing! How do you stay on your toes? Do you have mentors helping you along the way?

Miller: Yes, we’re hiring! Ed Egl leads the Investor Relations function at WM and has for the past 13 years. He is a phenomenal leader and dedicated professional who has taught me much of what I know about the company.

I’ve heard you should surround yourself with people who would mention your name in a room full of opportunities, and I’ve found someone even better—Ed just invites me into the room.  We’ve worked together for the past six years, and as we each take on additional responsibilities within Finance, we are adding a third member to the investor-facing team. It’s certainly an exciting and busy time at WM as our technology-led cost optimization efforts gain momentum and we progress our strategic investments sustainability growth.

Waste360: What is changing in the world of waste management? As these changes occur, what do your investors and potential investors want to know?

Miller: As I alluded to earlier, our investors increasingly want to deep dive into our sustainability performance. When I first joined the team, we might get one or two requests a year for a focused conversation on sustainability goals and progress. Now, about 12 percent of WM’s shares are held in funds with sustainability criteria, and we have dozens of meetings each year with stewardship teams at investment managers across the globe. We have a fantastic ESG & Sustainability Impact team that prepares and publishes comprehensive sustainability disclosures and partners with us to discuss our goals and performance with the investment community.  

Waste360: Who do you work with and how? What are your thoughts on collaboration?

Miller: A great part of my role is how much collaboration it allows across the organization. Any given investor meeting could be focused on our latest quarterly performance, the investments we’re making in growing our renewable energy and recycling business, industry M&A activity, our climate targets, our company culture, an overview of our business lines, our capital allocation priorities—or any combination of these topics and more. All of that breadth means that we rely on a network of people across the organization to help us stay current on all of the different topics the investment community asks about. I enjoy getting to work with such a diverse group of colleagues across so many different functions and geographies.

I also have the privilege of getting to work directly with our senior leadership team, particularly in preparing for earnings announcements and other investor engagements. This provides the valuable opportunity to hear firsthand from the management team about their priorities and understand decision drivers, which allows me to connect my day-to-day work to the big picture at WM and focus my effort on high-impact activities.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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