In the Spotlight
Waste Pro USA: Creating a Hands-On Business Culture
By concentrating on customer service and employee satisfaction, Waste Pro has stayed resilient during a tough economy.
Waste Pro USA was founded in 2001 in Central Florida by John Jennings. To understand what is today one of the fastest growing privately owned waste collection, recycling and disposal companies in the U.S., it important to understand family roots. Originally from Long Island, NY, many say Jennings has garbage in his blood. His father was in the waste business in New York and as a kid Jennings worked on the trucks during the summers. During his career he has worked for, bought and sold a variety of waste collection and disposal businesses. Jennings has achieved legendary status in the industry due to his visionary business acumen, commitment to customer service, a keen focus on employee health and welfare and positive thinking.
Collecting and disposing of residential and commercial solid waste, Waste Pro USA is a company of 1,800 employees and has 39 operational locations in six southeastern states—Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. It serves more than one million customers with 1,000 vehicles and maintains 100 exclusive and long-term municipal contracts. Waste Pro also owns a number of state-of-the-art recycling facilities, including American Recycling in Atlanta, GA and in Birmingham AL, processing paper and plastic. In Atlanta alone Waste Pro has implemented recycling programs at nearly 200 downtown commercial businesses and the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport.
Highly decentralized, Waste Pro corporate offices are in Longwood, FL and the company has produced strong financial results almost since inception. It has been able to finance a significant portion of its growth from its own internal cash flow and bottom line profitability. Waste Pro has been very conservative with borrowing and has one of the best debt-to-EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization) ratios in the industry.
Resiliency During Tough Economic Times
The success of Waste Pro as a business has been recognized by banking institutions and financial investors. Prior to 2008 the firm’s growth had been predominately organic—winning new contracts versus buying businesses. Then, in 2009, a premier equity investor, Roark Capital of Atlanta, invested $100 million in the company. Interested in the environmental sector, Jeffery Kennan, President of Roark Capital, has experience with the solid waste and recycling industry while Waste Pro has an exceptional history of service excellence, rapid growth and a strong financial track record. As a result of the investment, Kennan has added both financial and industry knowledge by being one of the founders and former Chairman of the Board of IESI, a significant waste collection and disposal company. The influx of capital has enabled expansion through acquisition at a measured, yet energetic, pace throughout the Southeast.
Bob Hyres, Waste Pro’s Executive Vice President, states that Waste Pro’s long-term municipal contracts are “the heart of the business and result in Waste Pro’s financial resiliency during recent tough economic times.” Although the downturn in the construction markets nationwide has had a negative impact, Waste Pro was involved with recycling before the slump and experienced a dramatic double-digit percentage growth every year in residential contracts and paper and plastic recycling and that outweighs the lost income. Waste Pro, by design, has kept temporary roll-off business at a minimum. However, the increase in diesel fuel pricing has carved into operating costs throughout the industry because fuel costs, although much lower than the peak, are double what they were in 2001 when Waste Pro started. “Even though the costs cannot be fully recouped, using fuel surcharges on individual invoices and fuel index price adjustments on large municipal contracts, a significant portion can be recovered,” says Jennings.
A Hands-On Approach
Waste Pro’s success is based on a culture that is hands-on, decentralized and values customers and employees.Jennings is in contact with every Regional Vice President on a daily basis and travels to local facilities very frequently. This mindset does help employee turnover and satisfaction because, Jennings points out, when employees see the interest in the company and its staff by senior management, in turn, they are proud to see Waste Pro succeed.
In addition, all employees are eligible for an annual bonus for each year of seniority up to 10 years. Next year, on Waste Pro’s 10th anniversary, bonuses will be $2,500 for all of the original employees. Jennings is also proud to say that no other business offers drivers a $10,000 incentive for safe driving. “If any of our CDL licensed drivers have no accidents, injuries, property damage, vehicle damage or legitimate complaints for three years, they are recognized and rewarded through this program.” Waste Pro also offers an ongoing employee safety training program, as well ongoing training for technical skills, interpersonal skills, health improvement and a four-day annual meeting for corporate staff and management that involves extensive training.
Waste Pro’s most outstanding achievement is customer service. Their ability to show municipalities and counties the benefits financially and from the service prospective of privatization has been a huge opportunity and a huge challenge. Jennings stresses, “We show our potential clients case histories of how we have provided smooth transitions from another vendor to Waste Pro and have improved service levels and reduced complaints. In addition, we offer service enhancements such as, special event recycling, Ewaste recycling, a live online customer inquiry/complaint system—real local people to answer the phone and Waste Pro’s hands on management. As a privately held company we are quicker to make decisions and does not have a long chain of command between senior management our employees and our customers.” So far, the company has been successful in privatizing about eight communities in their market areas including the city of Hollywood, FL with 35,000 homes.
“One of our challenges moving forward is to acquire companies that share our culture,” says Jennings. A classic example of meeting that challenge is Delta Sanitation of Mississippi acquired last year. “It is uncanny how much they resemble Waste Pro both physically and businesswise,” Jennings explained.
Waste Pro also participates in community organizations that includes Rotary Clubs, Boys & Girls Clubs, America Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots as well as having its own community outreach service program, funded by employee contributions, that provides laptop computers for wounded veterans in VA hospitals.
Believing that the number one long-term challenge in the waste industry is environmental responsibility, Waste Pro is very green, committed to an environmentally friendly fleet operating out of green facilities. All of their trucks have an onboard oil recycling system (OPIS) installed to reduce oil waste, and a special armor covering on hydraulic lines to reduce spills and pollution. Each facility has an in-office recycling program and Waste Pro supports the green initiatives of the communities we serve. For example, in Bradenton/Sarasota, Waste Pro installed a solar collector system that provides approximately 80 percent of their electric power at its office/shop/yard with a three to five year payback.
For now, Waste Pro will continue careful acquisition activities to make good use of the new capital available to them through a credit facility expansion. The company is also enhancing overall internal and external communications. A Web site upgrade will make it easier to access customer service information such as collection schedules, how to recycle, what to recycle and online payments.
“Moving forward, Waste Pro’s culture and business model will not change as we continue to grow. We are awash in opportunity, financially strong and devoted to our customers and our employees,” says Jennings.
For more information about Waste Pro USA, contact Ron Pecora, Senior Vice President of Marketing, at (407) 869-8800, ext. 543 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Waste Pro’s Web site at www.wasteprousa.com.