Whether it's at the dinner table or behind the wheel of a truck, TJ Troiano demonstrates pride, loyalty and commitment as chief operating officer of Troiano Waste Services, Inc.
The Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient grew up around his father's business, which quickly grew from a small truck operation to more than 50 trucks with a concerted effort from family and employees alike.
"I was just a little kid used to ride on the back of the truck with him and help out where I could in the summers, or, like any family business, got to be told to come to work to help out," Troiano told Waste360.
After a few years at college, Troiano returned to Maine where he hopped right back into the family business. His innate ability to pinpoint and determine top priorities has helped produce results under challenging circumstances and has often exceeded expectations as the company has grown.
Waste360 spoke with Troiano about growing up in a family business, his dedication to continual improvement and his passion for the waste industry.
Waste360: Do you have any favorite memories from growing up in the family business?
Troiano: I always enjoyed not knowing that I was working, but getting right out in the trucks with the guys. You don't know that you're actually working for the family business when you first start. You kind of help, go on and do other things like, "Oh, I get to go to work with my dad today." You end up just kind of learning the job. Things I've learned over the years are ingrained, looking back, especially when you're training new employees. I forget that I just know, and it's been in my brain since I was six years old that I knew how to back the truck up. It was really more experience than memories that help you grow your brain a little bit quicker.
Waste360: What values have you learned?
Troiano: Customer service was a huge one being a family business. If you treat your customers the way you should and always keep them up front, I think the rest of the pieces that people try to pull together fall into place on their own. You don't always have to be the cheapest company out there as long as you can give an added value to your customer base. We're still a company that when you call us, somebody gonna answer the phone. It might take three or four rings, but you're not getting an automated attendant. It''s amazing how I push that out to my customer service reps and my dispatchers, but that's probably the biggest value I've learned growing up in a family business.
Waste360: What leadership qualities have you learned along the way?
Troiano: Growing up and working my way to get to spots that I wanted to be in, you take a lot from the small company management style. Any small business is kind of a micromanaged business. As we grew, we learned that micromanaging isn't always the best way. Let your employees grow with you; let them make their mistakes. I'm definitely a macro manage type of guy - let the workers make their mistakes, watch their logic. I really try to be the out-of-the-box manager thinking, let the guys do their thing on the ground and follow it, watch it sometimes. You have to let their decision play out to be able to go, "alright, well, next time, what will we do better? How will we change the outcome of this decision?" as opposed to micromanaging right out of the gate and going "alright, I know this isn't gonna work. I've done this mistake before." As we all know, learning the hard way seems to be a better way that people remember things.
Waste360: How have you seen the business grow throughout the years?
Troiano: My dad started the company with a pickup truck with high sides, picking everything up by hand and slowly bought a rear loader. He really did grow the business in a way I never could. I sit back and say he's a business starter and grower. I'm kind of a take what we learned and make it more efficient and effective person. We've grown leaps and bounds in our area. Again, I believe a lot of it is customer service and our crew's morale, keeping employees happy. The growth that we've been able to achieve hs just been phenomenal, going from a pickup truck with the high sides to over 6000 front load cans but still keeping that family aspect. We really believe in keeping the family aspect. I know most of the employees by name, their kids names, what their kids do. A big part of my life is getting around to all the employees and talking to them, getting their opinions out there. We can fix everything or take care of all their complaints, but it's really just keeping them involved in helping us grow our business.
Waste360: How have you seen the waste industry change growing up?
Troiano: I don't know when we decided to complicate the waste industry. Obviously, it was for good reason. When I was a little kid, it was just take the trash to the closest dump down the street. Now, it's really come into an environmentally sustainable, friendly business. We might all take trash a lot further than we used to, but we're bringing it to waste-to-energy plants or recycling facilities. I always look at our business as a taxi cab for materials people don't want. Part of that being, we're now taking this stuff to a better place. Plastics are getting recycled better. A lot of cardboard is being recycled. I think the world as a whole has made the industry evolve into not just taking it and throwing it in a hole. We're going to look for good options. We're always going to continue to look for that better technology, that better option, and we will find it. It may be years from now, but we're gonna keep striving to make this a better environment and really do this in a sustainable way - watch our carbon footprints, watch where materials go and try to educate those on the back end.
Waste360: Where do you see the waste industry going in the future?
Troiano: From our standpoint, we're more of the transportation collection of the material. I think we'll continue to do that and try to keep working efficiencies through routing changes, right-sizing containers and using technology through fleetmatics for us to be able to bring our carbon footprint as low as we can for picking up the material. I think the industry as a whole will continue to look for that. How do we take everything that really goes into the waste receptacle and get it down to a zero-waste world? You hear about zero waste? Is it achievable? I'm sure someday it will be. I think every year the industry itself says "what can we do better? How can we make less go into landfills? How can we use this commodity?" I believe as an industry, it really is a circular system and if what's going in the trash can fit our mold of recycling. I believe the industry will continue to look towards the manufacturers to go, "how can we work together? How can we make the product you make have a use after its useful life?"