With a mission to provide unsurpassed solid waste management solutions with integrity and fairness, Santek Waste Services is focused on the sustainability of the environment, improving the communities in which they work, serving their customers and investing in employees.
Santek Waste Services was created in 1986 by Kenneth Higgins to be a full service manager of municipally owned solid waste landfills. Today, Santek is the nation’s largest privately held manager of publicly owned landfills. Higgins privatized the Bradley County Landfill in Cleveland, TN in 1987 followed a year later with the Matlock Bend Landfill in Loudon, TN. Due to consolidation in the waste industry and a movement to internalize waste volumes, Santek created Waste Services in 1998 to successfully replace third-party waste volume and focus on organic growth. Headquartered in Cleveland, TN, Higgins continues to be the owner of the company and Santek currently employs 480 personnel, managing a fleet of 190 waste collection vehicles and 95 pieces of heavy equipment. Santek provides single-stream curbside recycling services for municipalities that request it as part of their waste collection agreements. The company also offers commercial customers corrugated cardboard recycling. All recyclables are sold to third-party processors.
Santek provides landfill management and waste collection services through 18 facilities in nine states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The company also owns and/or manages five transfer stations.
The states in which Santek operates have experienced economic recovery growing at or above the gross national product growth. To stay ahead of the curve, Santek performs a detailed analysis before entering a particular market to reduce risk factors and maximize the likelihood of success for vertical integration. “We’ve experienced our most success in secondary markets where there’s a predisposition for high growth,” says Eddie Caylor, Santek Chief Business Development Officer. “Santek is intent on making quality acquisitions of independent waste haulers who have a tenured history within the marketplace.”
During the past three months, Santek acquired Bates Sanitation in Holly Springs, GA, Picklesimer Garbage Service in Tate, GA and Major Waste Services in Conroe, TX. All three acquisitions are strategic complements to Santek’s growing presence in the North Atlanta and Houston markets. The company continues to actively pursue independent haulers who are interested in retiring from the industry or selling their companies. “One of the biggest challenges associated with acquisitions is extracting and integrating information into our system,” says Tim Watts, Santek Chief Operations Officer. “Typically, these companies don’t use the latest technology and software, which makes integration time-consuming and demanding.”
Watts says another challenge associated with acquisitions is modernizing aging vehicles. “Often times, we’re faced with replacing entire fleets of outdated vehicles with semi-automated or automated trucks, which means we’re having to re-train employees.”
To ensure smooth transitions, Watts points out that the company stresses communication and employees’ professional development. “We’ve learned if we communicate on the front side of the acquisition and spend the necessary time reviewing the company’s information, we’ve got more propensity for a transitional success. We also recognize that most of the employees we inherit have not had many opportunities to advance professionally, which is why we spend a lot of time training them on new equipment and stressing their significance to the company.”
The greatest challenge Santek has faced in the company’s 30+ year history is transitioning from a landfill management-only company to a vertically integrated, full-service solid waste management provider. Higgins decided to reorganize his company in the late 1990s when he recognized large third-party landfill customers were internalizing disposal and his contracts with local governments needed added security. “We began the process about 15 years ago, which was difficult because we’d always prided ourselves on being a neutral waste company,” Watts explains. “But, it was a necessary change and one that’s been accelerated in the past five years.”
Santek began by hiring employees with industry knowledge and recognizing it would require large capital outlays to enter into the waste collection business. “Our initial attempt into the waste collection industry occurred from a single location, which was very inefficient and difficult to accomplish,” Watts says. “However, over time, we learned from our mistakes and recognized we had to staff our ranks entirely different—even on the executive level—if we were going to be successful.”
Currently, Santek’s professional training program is catered to individual employee needs and ranges from relationship building, production analysis and career development and advancement, while Santek’s safety program is focused primarily on employee safety and compliance. Standard training includes OSHA and Department of Transportation compliance. Santek also initiated the Smiths Systems Training program in January 2017, which is a highly regarded training course that provides employees with a common foundation for safe driving practices. As described on its Web site, Smiths Systems Training focuses on collision prevention through hands-on training, helping fleet drivers to see, think and react to driving challenges.
“The program teaches our drivers not only defensive driving, but also alert driving,” Watts says. “At the heart of our company’s training is our ongoing observation program, which includes video reviews of our drivers/operators throughout the month. The observations allow supervisors and managers to better coach employees and demonstrate what is expected of them by using a good visual tool as an example. In addition, review time gives employees the opportunity to openly discuss operational practices and issues while building relationships.”
In addition, Santek’s fleet maintenance program is a comprehensive system with a “fix-before-failure” focus. Using the latest software and technology to monitor equipment provides personnel with a reasonable amount of time to address potential issues before they become problems. Maintenance personnel are notified by e-mail if software detects an equipment issue.
Watts stresses Santek’s most pressing challenge today is finding qualified drivers and mechanics. “There appears to be a national shortage of these employees and the shortage is expected to continue for the next five years.” Santek intends to overcome the shortage of qualified personnel through a number of incentives and resources, including offering an attractive wage and benefits plan, reaching out to trade schools, actively recruiting military veterans and training laborers to earn their commercial driver’s licenses.
Since its inception, Santek has been successful in privatizing municipally owned landfills and transitioning them into revenue producing, environmentally strong infrastructural assets. For example, in 2006, Santek assumed management responsibilities of the solid waste program in Jefferson County, AL. At the time, the county was losing $4 million a year in operations. Within one year, Santek relieved the county of its operational expenses while returning more than $1 million a year in revenue to the county through Santek’s waste collection efforts and third-party relationships with waste haulers. Santek’s landfill partnerships with local governments relieve them of the financial burdens of developing, operating and closing solid waste facilities while providing revenue streams to the local communities.
Santek looks for municipal partners that can benefit from the company’s 30-year history of landfill expertise, which includes facility development and financing, permitting, environmental monitoring, cell construction, and closure and post-closure care. “We like to say we offer local governments a variety of tools under an operations agreement,” Caylor said. “Most of our agreements with local governments are life-of-facility contracts. The more efficiently we manage airspace while providing local governments’ constituents with affordable, long-term capacity, results in a win-win situation for both parties.”
Santek also tailors its community relations and outreach programs to the individual communities in which it works. The company is actively involved in civic organizations, non-profit groups and local schools. They also provide college scholarships, construct recreational facilities, sponsor agricultural and environmental youth programs, provide in-kind waste collection and disposal services during local communities’ special events, and focus on being a strong corporate ambassador and steward on a local level.
Caylor emphasizes Santek was founded on the Christian principles of honesty, integrity, faith, fairness, trust, respect, stewardship and compassion. “The owner of our company has always maintained that our success is attributable to God. As such, it’s our responsibility to give back to the Lord not only locally, but also globally. We support many ministries in the mission field.”
Towards the Future
Santek’s future goals include continuing to grow the company’s waste collection presence while privatizing municipally owned landfills. Caylor says, “Our mission is to provide the best solid waste disposal solutions with a commitment to cost efficiency and environmental integrity. We intend to build upon our platform with a combination of quality acquisitions and organic growth.”
For more information, contact Eddie Caylor at (423) 303-7101.