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Republic’s Rich Kang Solves Problems With a Creative Flare and Personal Touch

Republic’s Rich Kang has worked many jobs at Republic, including those now held by his current direct reports.  Between his previous experiences in those positions and what he learns from his staff who now hold those jobs, he has gone far. It’s this union of different perspectives, and bringing people together in general, that he attributes to his success.

“Rich has held several different leadership roles with Republic Services throughout his career in finance, business development, and operations and is now leading our South area as an area president. 

He has influenced our business during every one of his leadership roles.  Rich is a collaborative leader, whose approach is pragmatic and intentional. He enjoys solving business problems through a creative approach,” says Genevieve Dombrowski, vice president of Talent, Republic Services.

“Rich has a genuine care for all of his employees. He has an authentic leadership style that makes him a leader worth following,” she says.     

The 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient sat down with us to discuss his personal philosophy with regard to working with customers, and how he acts on that philosophy; as well as why he loves working with kids.

Waste360: Can you speak a little on each leadership role you have held with Republic Services?

Rich Kang: As Republic’s area president of the South Area, I am very responsible for the people, and that is a responsibility I take very seriously. I have eight direct reports managing critical functions of the business for our area, including sales, operations and human resources. First and foremost, my job is to ensure I have an engaged team. I truly believe an engaged team will take care of customers. Ultimately, I am responsible for achieving operating and financial results which also comes back to having an engaged, customer-oriented team from the frontline employees to their supervisors and managers.

Going back in time, I joined Republic Services in 2013 as the director of Financial, Planning and Analysis at the corporate office where I was responsible for the company’s budgeting process and financial analysis.

I have also served as the market vice president – Mid-Atlantic where I was responsible for achieving operating and financial results for the greater Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. marketsand I worked with the general managers within my area who reported to me, and I ultimately reported to the area president. 

As director of Operations Support – Mid-Atlantic I was charged with maximizing operating performance through each support function including safety, engineering, fleet maintenance, and hauling and post collection operations. 

And as director of Business Development I was responsible for acquisitions, market strategy and infrastructure development.

Waste360: What did you take from each leadership job that you still use in your job as south area president?

Rich Kang: My previous exposure and work experience have enabled me to build a strong foundation. This helps me understand what each position entails, but at the same time, my team members bring different perspectives than those I had when I was in those roles. This is important because I believe there is no one right way to accomplish something. This helps us make the best decisions for the company.

Waste360: What do you view as the most critical part of your job, as well as the most rewarding parts?

Rich Kang: At Republic, prioritizing safety above all else is critically important to us. The safety of my employees is my responsibility. If my employees are safe, I know they can reliably serve our customers. But the truly most rewarding part of my job as an area president is investing my time in developing talent and working alongside smart and engaged teammates, including my area leaders and their teams, our drivers and frontline employees.

Waste360: What is your approach to problem-solving?

Rich Kang: I am always looking for creative opportunities to further develop an inclusive and engaged team, especially with a geographic footprint that encompasses nearly 4,000 employees. One approach is inclusion – opening my meetings not only to my direct reports but a broader team, including at staff meetings and through area-wide communications.  

Another approach I take is making it personal. I’m out there meeting with team members, and the next morning I send emails saying I appreciate their time and contributions, and if they need anything, they know they can reach out to me directly. I send handwritten birthday and anniversary cards. All these little moments mean something to our employees.

My intent is to make sure that there is a personal touch to make that larger group feel a little smaller and more connected as we step up to challenges and work to solve problems.

Waste360: You have an expansive financial background and subsequent experience in mergers and acquisitions and strategic corporate development.   How has this experience given you a leg up today?   

Rich Kang: Prior to Republic, I was the director of Corporate Development and Strategy, and before that I was an investment banker.

Growing our business is a core part of my responsibility now. My previous experience has provided a foundational knowledge of valuation, identifying synergies, and ensuring seamless integration. These learned skills have allowed me to build a pipeline and acquire companies that are accretive to Republic.                 

Waste360: What is your philosophy with regard to working with customers, and how do you act on this?

Rich Kang: Listening and understanding the needs of our customers is the core of who we are, so I sit down with them and I listen.

We know our customers want to recycle, despite the challenges we face with China’s policies on acceptable recyclables. We are partnering with our municipal customers to create a more sustainable recycling model. I am working closely with my leadership teams to make sure we identify solutions that will allow customers to achieve their recycling goals as well as create a sustainable model for them and their communities. 

Waste360: Tell me about your engagement with students.

Rich Kang: I truly enjoy working with children, especially when it comes to talking about sustainability that impacts their future. I, along with my area and local leaders, work with school administrators and educators to host local school events around America Recycles Day and Earth Day where we talk with students about recycling, safety and other important topics.

We want to educate and empower students so they can be expert recyclers in their homes and at school. 

For me, having an interactive lesson is important. I will typically show a short video on what we need to recycle and the recycling processes. And we use examples that make it personal for them. For instance, most kids love pizza. We know that putting a greasy pizza box in the recycling bin is a common mistake and use this as an example of something they can avoid to make a difference for the better.

The key is having something students can relate to, and making it fun and engaging. This will help create a sustainable future for the children – and their families – while enabling us to recycle more and reduce contamination.

Waste360: What other outreach do you do?

Rich Kang: At Republic Services, we are actively involved in our communities; it is important to give back to the communities where we live and work. For example, under my leadership last year, Republic’s Charitable Foundation, National Neighborhood Promise, made a $250,000 donation to Avenue, one of our not-for-profit partners. Together with the non-profit, using the donation, our manpower and resources, over 120 volunteers revitalized several homes and a school playground in Houston. We are committed to working with this non-profit again in 2020 in Houston, along with over 20 other charitable giving projects across the country.   

Waste360: What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t at work? 

Rich Kang: That’s easy. When I am not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family. I have three boys so when we are not on a soccer field you can find us fishing. Family is very important to me. I encourage my teams to make sure they get as much time as possible with their families too.

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