Aggressive, empowered employees are driving growth at Sprint Waste Services

While Sprint has created an environment that’s fun for some people, it’s not for everyone. Swinbank values hard work and competition, so he looks to hire people who have a strong will to win. He realizes, however, that some people may not work out in an environment that can seem chaotic. So the company likes to throw people in the deep end — the winners will swim, the others won’t.

“At the end of the day we ask a lot of our people, all the way from the truck drivers to the upper management, and they make sacrifices from their families and their personal life for the company,” he says. “However, we get that buy-in when we’re talking to them. We hire people and either they like doing that kind of stuff or they don’t.”

Peace of mind

Sprint is planning for a time when its oil and gas line of business contributes less to its rapid growth. Though the company was aggressive in pursuing the opportunity, it was measured in its approach so as not to overextend itself.

“We’re always trying to think of the worst-case scenario,” Swinbank says.

For example, to capture the oil business it bought an industrial frack tank that meets the specifications plants and refineries require. It’s also a piece of equipment that could migrate back into the company’s sizeable industrial division.

“So we spent more money on the front end, but it gave us some peace of mind on the back end that we had an out,” he says.

Growth in other areas of its business means the company can migrate people to handle assignments outside of the oil line. It’s also led Swinbank, who has an accounting background, to micromanage the details to stay profitable.

“We’ve grown so fast and we have good momentum, so we’re hopeful that instead of doubling every year we can potentially flatline. Time will tell, so we’ll find out,” he says.

Meanwhile, the company’s industrial business continues to grow and absorb the company’s underused resources. A new contract with Marathon Texas City has Sprint bundling services, which has necessitated an investment in equipment because the job requires significant resources to fulfill. That spurred the company’s investment in a system to track assets and manage costs.

“We’ve invested a lot in technology as far as tracking the equipment and tracking the cost and kind of partnering with (customers) in a transparent tracking of where your assets are, what your costs are, kind of live data where everything is on the table and we work together to manage the costs and build the relationship. So there’s a lot of growth opportunity there,” he says.

Getting to the finish line

Swinbank says that he’s had to temper the youthful aggression of his company with people who are more measured in their approach to take care of the details that can sometimes get missed as the company pushes ahead.

“We’ve been able to add some quality high-level people that have kind of filled in those gaps, just trying to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s,” he says. “When we have ideas, don’t do them 80 percent, let’s get to the finish line.”

Rapid growth is also challenging the family feel of the business, which allows the company to give personalized attention to its customers — being personally available to answer late-night calls rather than pushing customers into an overnight phone bank. Further, as a small family company, everyone knew everyone’s name, knew their family, their wives and kids.

“And now we’re a much larger company, so it’s how do you be a bigger company but still keep the family atmosphere where people care and it’s not an 8 to 5 job,” Swinbank says.

Sprint is trying to avoid having lots of rules like a big company, preferring to stay flexible and fast moving, but it’s a challenge.

“I don’t ever want to be bureaucratic and have a lot of red tape, but also we’ve had to transition people from running wild to filling out all the appropriate forms and doing all the proper paperwork,” he says.

Swinbank remains optimistic. With petrochemical expansion expected to continue in the coming years, he says, “With that comes a lot of opportunities for us and I think we’re positioned in a pretty good spot right now to try to take advantage of some of those.”

Takeaways

  • Empowering employees to make decisions can facilitate aggressive growth.
  • Say yes and figure the rest out later.
  • New phases in a company’s life cycle require adjustments in philosophy.