Rumpke Consolidated Cos. continues to grow Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Some people think that in order to reach a top position at Rumpke Consolidated Cos. Inc. that you need to be a relative. There are plenty of Rumpkes leading the company, but there are plenty of other last names, too.

“We have people in positions that aren’t relatives, blood relatives,” says William J. Rumpke Sr. “Everybody thinks they’re a relative, and that’s fine. That’s the way we like the thinking to be. We want to all be thinking on the same line.”

Much of the waste and recycling company’s success is linked to management’s ability to align employees under one vision and then grow them through the ranks. Since Rumpke Sr., chairman, president and CEO, took over the family business in 1978, the company has grown from $8 million in revenue to $407 million in 2008 revenue.

The growth has been seen through more than 200 acquisitions and diversifying services, but as Rumpke Sr. points out, you need good, responsive employees who understand the company to lead and maintain that growth.

That is where looking to your own employee base is a benefit.

“They have a better understanding of the culture of the company, of what our expectations are of them and to provide the kind of service (we’re looking for) to our customers,” says William J. Rumpke Jr., chief operating officer. “They get a real indoctrination from the ground up.”

In order to breed future leaders, you need to create an environment where employees know there are opportunities. Then, you have to carefully pick the ones who are ready to lead and closely monitor their abilities as they move up the ladder. Much of it has to do with communicating with employees.

“No. 1, if you want to be a CEO and you want to be good at it, you need to get out in front of your people, you need to talk to your people, you need to interact with your people,” Rumpke Sr. says. “You need to let them know how you want to make this operation run, and get a staff of your own people who follow the way your thinking goes.”

Promote from within

At the young age of 5, Rumpke Sr. started learning the company ropes. He’d venture out on the trucks with his father, the company founder, and at each stop, he’d wait for his father to pitch the garbage to him so he could dump the can. He went from making 25 cents a load to the helm of the company.

The tradition continued with Rumpke Jr., who also only needed one hand to count his age when he started spending Saturday mornings on the routes.

In fact, most of the company’s management team knows what it’s like to do their employees’ jobs because they’ve done them themselves. And the employees know that history, too.

“Everybody here knows that we both have done the job,” Rumpke Jr. says. “I think that helps gain respect because they understand that we’ve been there, and we’re not too good to do what they’re doing. Because a lot of our management team has been promoted from within, a lot of them have been there, as well.”

If you’re going to make a conscious decision to develop your employees into future leaders, you need a culture that embraces that ideal. And that starts with not only telling employees there are opportunities but also showing them.

Rumpke’s human resources department puts out a list of available jobs throughout the company once a week. The more than 2,100 employees have the first stab at openings regardless of if the jobs are in their division or market. Current employees who apply are considered for the job before looking outside of the company.

“(Employees) look at those offerings by the week,” Rumpke Sr. says. “They can ask questions, nothing is hidden, no secrets, no special agenda for anything, and they feel like I have a shake at a lot of good jobs.”

In order to get employees to buy in to your words and actions, there is a fundamental step that a culture of employee progression cannot miss.

“The big key is how you take care of the people themselves,” Rumpke Sr. says.

In order for your culture to turn full circle, you need employees to want to stay with your company and continue to move up through the ranks. The only way you can accomplish that is by getting in front of your employees and showing that you care.

Promotions and monetary incentives might keep them hungry, but your interest in them will breed their interest in the company.

“If someone is head of third shift recycling down at a plant or something, you talk to them about how things are going: ‘Are you keeping up? Do you have enough employees to run this thing?’” Rumpke Sr. says. “Something in their line of work that would be of interest to them, and therefore you ask them questions so you get knowledgeable about how they’re doing.”

“At the same time, you develop a personal relationship with them,” Rumpke Jr. says. “Talk to them about anything under the sun: ‘What’s going on with the local sports team, or what’s going on in the community?’ So they understand that we care about them, as well.”

You need to budget time to get away from your desk and in front of your people. Rumpke Jr., whose direct reports are the majority of the division directors and five regional vice presidents, says as a company grows, it gets harder and harder to reach all of your employees.

“I understand as companies get larger it’s more difficult,” he says. “But I still think they need to make their face be known, be seen.”

Find your leaders

There’s obviously more to spending time with your employees than just piquing their interest. One, is it’s a good way to understand which employees truly grasp the company’s culture and vision and which employees may be ready to take on more duties.

“There are certain people that can go to the next level and certain people can’t,” Rumpke Sr. says. “You have to ride the horse that will get you as far as you can go.”

In determining what qualities to look for in your future leaders, think about your line of business. As a service business, Rumpke doesn’t only consider whether the person grasps the company philosophy or not but Rumpke also puts weight on consistency and the candidate’s ability to interact with employees and the public.

It can be little things like work attendance and reliable performance on the job. And it can include the bigger picture, such as the perception of the person and what that person can do for the company moving forward.

“You have to see how they interact with people around them and see how they interact with the outside world,” Rumpke Sr. says. “You want the best face on Rumpke, the most compliant face on Rumpke that can be out there, the best neighbor in all the above things. If people fit in that category, then you’re definitely more interested in talking to them about different aspects.”

Deciphering the ability of someone having a positive influence on another person comes down to interactions. First of all, is the employee of interest engaged in the conversation? Second, have they had an influence on the person to the point where, when that person walks away, he or she has a sense of understanding or even thinking that he or she made a new friend.

Even if the signs are there

to elevate an employee in rank, you should still do a full evaluation of the employee’s performance. Rumpke looks at past experience and performance and gives employees a cognitive skills test to determine whether the person is capable of moving to a higher position.

“We really don’t want to promote somebody that’s not ready because we don’t want them to fail,” Rumpke Jr. says. “Once we do move them into the position we give them help to try to succeed in that position through the assistance of other managers.”

Monitor progress

When you find someone who can be a leader, you have to make sure that the person is progressing.

“Once we’ve identified someone that we think potentially could be a supervisor or a manager, generally, we will move them along and increase their responsibilities as management as they go,” Rumpke Jr. says. “They may start as a lower-level lead driver or lead foreman, and as they progress and continue to produce and do a good job managing people and managing that function, they can get an opportunity to move forward to a larger role. And eventually progress within the organization.”

Rumpke has leaders ranging from district managers to front-line supervisors. Just because someone has moved to a position where he or she oversees employees, doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t need supervision.

“I will meet and the regional vice presidents will meet with lower-level managers on a monthly basis to evaluate the performance of particular lines of business or particular management groups,” Rumpke Jr. says. “We’ve established what’s called different scorecards that manages the production of each individual or each line of business, whether it be our hauling line of business, our landfill line of business, our recycling line of business.

“We’ll measure certain performance metrics that we want them to measure and strive to improve upon. If they improve upon those specific metrics, then the performance of our company will improve.”

In order to monitor your employees’ abilities to manage, it’s best to create a uniform system of measuring progress. You need to set metrics, make sure employees understand the metrics and have consistent follow-up conversations.

First, identify the key metrics that drive your business and improve your business. Rumpke focuses mainly on financial and customer-service-related metrics. For instance, customer service metrics might be the number of customer complaints, missed collections or the number of yards collected per hour.

“You need to make sure the information that you’re gathering is the important information,” Rumpke Jr. says. “If it doesn’t drive your company, there’s no sense in even paying attention to it.”

Once you’ve determined the parameters of measurement, you need to implement a tracking and communication system. Rumpke uses a computer software system that gathers information on its metrics and allows managers to pull up accurate information on the company’s progress in reaching its objectives. More importantly though, the firm has consistent communication with employees on the importance of each metric and whether they’re meeting their targets.

Meeting on a monthly basis to discuss metrics with your direct reports helps ensure that your employees understand and concentrate on the significant areas of business and allows you to provide employees with consistent feedback.

For Rumpke Jr., using metrics also gives him a sense that he can delegate certain duties to employees, and then step aside trusting they can get the job done.

“I try not to dig down too deep into their business, but the monthly or quarterly reviews that we do gives me a feel for if they’re getting the job done properly,” Rumpke Jr. says.

If you study the hard numbers and monitor employee progress through conversation, the dots will connect for continual promotion.

Rumpke Sr. collected garbage, drove routes and sold waste collection services at the beginning of his climb to the top. And Rumpke Jr. even had to prove himself as a driver, route manager and district manager before he received the title of chief operating officer.

“We’re very focused on promoting from within,” Rumpke Jr. says. “As long as that individual achieves and continues to perform, they get the opportunity to move up within the organization.”

How to reach: Rumpke Consolidated Cos. Inc., (800) 582-3107 or www.rumpke.com