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February 2010
A Clean Sweep of the Carolinas
By Zenda Douglas

     “I don’t know of a better city in which to start a business,” declares Charlotte’s Carole McLeod. She should know.

     The veteran waste industry executive, now Advanced Disposal’s pick to set up operations in Charlotte, has 20 years of experience in waste management in the Charlotte area.

     Advanced Disposal’s new office in Charlotte represents the first stages of expansion into North and South Carolina. At $300 million in annual revenue, Advanced Disposal is the nation’s fourth largest privately-owned environmental services company. In business since 2000, the company has operations in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and most recently, Tennessee. It is headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla.

     Timing was perfect for Advanced Disposal and Carole McLeod to join forces last fall.

     “They had a vision and I found that I shared that vision,” says McLeod, who was considering a return to the industry after fulfilling a five-year non-compete agreement as part of the sale of her former company, New South Waste, to Waste Management in 2004.

     McLeod started New South Waste from scratch in 1997, utilizing one collection truck. Having only the parking site, she and her partner, Dave Weller, met there to handle “office” business. Together they grew the company, which managed solid waste for residential, commercial and construction industry clients, into a 20-truck, $5 million business in Charlotte and spilling over into Greenville, S.C.

     After the sale of New South Waste, Weller became a consultant for Advanced Disposal. In a twist of fate, when Advanced Disposal decided to develop a hub in Charlotte, it was he who led management to his former partner, Carole McLeod.

     “Carole came highly recommended,” says Chairman and CEO Charles Appleby. Citing her successful experience in the waste industry in Charlotte, Appleby says the management team “felt Carole to be an excellent person to help us with this.” McLeod was hired as the Charlotte District Manager.

     “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” says McLeod. “I bring to them a good history here in Charlotte. What they bring to me is the financing and respected reputation to accomplish what we all want to do.”

 

An Opportune Time

     For Advanced Disposal, the timing for expansion into the Carolinas rests on a very positive outlook for economic recovery as well as an appreciation of the business climate in Charlotte.

     “We want to be in the place where things will come back, explains McLeod. “ If you wait until the economy comes back and then try to enter that market, you’re behind the eight ball.”

     Advanced Disposal can afford such a proactive approach. It touts financial stability and access to financial capital among its major strengths.

     “We are very strong financially,” states Appleby. “Tomorrow we will close on a $400 million credit facility with a group of banks. Notwithstanding a very difficult economic environment, we have the ability to borrow that kind of money.”

     Appleby attributes this position to the company’s track record since inception in 2000.

     “The banks have seen our management team show strong leadership during difficult times. We’ve been saying for years that the waste industry is a recession-resistant industry; in the past couple of years, we’ve had to prove it,” reflects Appleby.

     Advanced Disposal plans to build a full-service waste management and recycling operation in the Charlotte area which will include services for residential, commercial, construction and industry. This involves the purchase of trucks, specialty containers and compactors, but it doesn’t end there. The company is scouting for disposal sites to manage or buy.

     “It’s a highly capital-intensive business,” says Appleby. Investing this level of resources signifies the company’s commitment to Charlotte.

     “One new dumpster truck costs close to $285,000” says McLeod. “To start an operation and bring in five trucks is a pretty bold statement.”

     McLeod sees a big part of her job as being ready when the contracts come in. Having trucks and containers preceded marketing efforts.

     “There’s nothing worse than having customers want to order when you don’t have anything. Like the adage, build it and they will come—I’m building it.”

     As McLeod watched the first two trucks roll onto the lot, it sank in. “This is real. We’re in business in Charlotte.”

 

Talking Trash

     First up for the Charlotte office is becoming engaged in the bidding process for municipal contracts, a major market within the industry.

     Opportunity for municipal work is incredible,” says McLeod. She explains that in this strained economy, cities are soliciting bids for waste management services rather than simply renewing existing contracts.

     Staying abreast of when North and South Carolina cities and towns will open their bidding processes will be the task of the Charlotte office. The company has just added an employee to serve as a municipal representative.

Says McLeod, “Making sure we’re on the bid list and building relationships; that’s all he does.” This process is facilitated by staying in contact with city managers and their public works and purchasing departments.

     Advanced Disposal is currently preparing bids for the area towns of Cornelius and Huntersville. Many other opportunities are expected throughout the coming year, including a request for bids from Greensboro to be announced in the spring, according to McLeod.

     Advanced Disposal currently services more than 126 city and town contracts across the Southeast, representing more than 708,000 residential customers. According to Appleby, municipal contracts are an important part of the business, making up 35 percent of the company’s revenue. Advanced Disposal also services more than 34,000 commercial and industrial and construction and demolition customers.

     Together with corporate development personnel, McLeod is on the lookout for industry properties and businesses for acquisition including hauling companies, transfer stations and landfills.

     “We are a high growth acquisitive company,” says Appleby who quickly adds, “the intention is not to just increase market share, but rather to grow a high quality service wherever we go.”

     Advanced Disposal currently owns 11 landfills in the Southeast and owns or operates 20 transfer stations and 22 operation facilities. Since 2000, the company has completed 65 acquisition projects.

     Referring to the waste industry as a “business of partnerships,” McLeod points out that landfill and transfer station ownership is not required for the operational components of the business to forge ahead.

     “We don’t have to own a landfill here to be successful here; we can partner with other facilities,” she explains.

     Advanced Disposal is working to raise awareness of the waste industry apart from the traditional image of trucks, containers and landfills.

     “People most often think of the waste industry as a dirty business, but what we do is keep the environment clean,” says Appleby.

     The company conveys a deep commitment to environmental care and pride in its provision of disposal facilities with “state-of-the-art engineering and construction techniques to protect the Earth.” The use of lower sulfur fuels and more efficient oils in their trucks is reported to be among its environmentally friendly practices.

     McLeod says she was struck by Advanced Disposal’s sense of family. Though she’s proven she can go it alone in the industry, she is happy to be part of something bigger: “This gives me an opportunity to expand beyond what I could have done alone.”

     McLeod likens the feeling of company support to the Verizon commercial: “Here I am in Charlotte with Advanced Disposal as my network behind me.”

 

Essentially a Local Business

     For Advanced Disposal, the district managers are key. The company maintains a very lean corporate structure.

     “Essentially, solid waste is a local business,” says Appleby. He goes on to explain that while the company does have operational oversight and provides strategic direction, it expects its local managers to make decisions for their location: “Local execution is very important in this business; we allow our local managers to do that.”

     Perhaps ironically, Advanced Disposal’s Charlotte office and equipment lot is in the exact same building and location as McLeod’s former business, New South Waste.

     Once on board with Advanced Disposal, McLeod was seeking out an operation site. “Fortunately for me, I was riding around and was curious to see if my old building was available.” She soon discovered that the last company there had expanded and moved.

     McLeod is happy to be back in the waste industry.

     “Many didn’t think I could stay out of the industry for long; they were right.”

     Raised in Greensboro, McLeod and husband Mans have a daughter in law school and a son studying engineering. She credits her entrepreneurial spirit to her father, Jack Moore, who owned a wrecker company.

     Since 2005, she has been helping other aspiring entrepreneurs to prepare for their chosen business careers.  Through an endowment she has gifted to her alma mater, Appalachian State University’s business school, she is the named sponsor for the Carole Moore McLeod Entrepreneur Summit which occurs each fall.

     Over the next weeks and months Advanced Disposal will be adding trucks and dumpsters, operational staff and drivers. Disposal facilities will be identified for acquisition. As contracts are made across the Carolinas, other operation sites will be set up for local management, with Charlotte maintained as an integrated geographic hub for the two-state region.

     Advanced Disposal’s most recent expansion into Tennessee used the same business model being used here with Nashville serving as the hub location.

      The company is satisfied to grow within the Southeast region. Appleby relates a saying of COO Walter Hall, “If it snows, we don’t go,” but with recent winter weather conditions, he’ll have to reconsider.

     “We just feel like the Southeastern United States is a good growth area,” says Appleby.

     According to Appleby, Advanced Disposal’s plans in the Carolinas are to continue the growth of a highly effective, environmentally sensitive company through excellent customer service and the efforts of a superior management team.

     McLeod sums up: “Our philosophy is that failure is not an option. With the amount of resources Advanced Disposal is putting into Charlotte, we don’t even consider failure.”

     What they will focus on is building a full-service solid waste and recycling collection, processing and disposal business in Charlotte and the Carolinas and working towards their ongoing mission of leaving the world—and the Charlotte area—a little cleaner than they found it.

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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