Growth is arguably what every business is after. Expanding services to an underserved market, finding new customers and establishing new lines to fill unmet needs brings opportunities to capture market share and increase revenues. But with growth comes new challenges.
Sprint Waste Services is said to be the largest privately owned trash hauler in the Houston area. The family-owned company began by hauling construction waste from job sites to its landfill. When Will Swinbank joined his father’s business with his brother in 2006, taking on the role of president, it injected a youthful energy that would accelerate its growth through an aggressive say-yes-and-figure-it-out-later philosophy.
That aggressiveness is fostered by a flat organization that empowers employees to think like an owner and make decisions on the fly. It’s how the company was able to significantly grow its revenues three years running, capped by a remarkable 40 percent increase in 2014 — by empowering employees to seize opportunities.
The company’s structure is well-suited for growth. But as business begins to level off, Sprint has had to temper its cavalier approach, adopting some of the business processes it eschewed. It’s also working to maintain the family atmosphere it prides itself on as its employee count rises.
The first mistake is on the house
Sprint’s main business line is its industrial services, which represents some 60 percent of its revenues. But the line that has driven its growth in recent years is its oil-related waste hauling business, which has been fueled by the fracking boom of the Eagle Ford formation.
“Obviously there were huge opportunities down there and we were able to react fast,” says Swinbank. “One of the most important things we can do is act fast. We can make decisions without a lot of red tape, literally with a phone call, and we can buy whatever we need to buy.”
Its rapid growth in this area is a direct result of its flat hierarchy and aggressive, competition-driven philosophy.
“The oil field is a great (example) of a guy down there just smelling opportunities,” he says. “We work for a refinery and we see an opportunity to haul petroleum coke, we see the trucks going down the road and start asking around, ‘Hey, can we do that?’ We don’t know how to do that, but I’m pretty sure we can figure it out.”
That move helped to grow that line, which had long been a lesser part of the company, to represent 30 percent of its business. It was spun off in 2013 to become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sprint.