WM’s President and CEO, Jim Fish, sat down with Darrell Smith, National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) president, for an insightful chat.
Fish shared his recent challenges in the industry, how he’s used his leadership skills to keep WM thriving and his industry knowledge to grow and innovate WM.
After being the CEO of WM for seven years now, Fish said the freshest challenges are those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Certainly, COVID was challenging for everybody. I feel like it was challenging for CEOs as well, because we had to make some decisions based on, kind of, no information, and that was challenging,” he said. “But the fact that our industry was there, literally, from day one is an unbelievable testament to the people who work in this industry.”
Faced with crises and hard decisions, Fish said that he sometimes doesn’t know how he’s going to handle difficulties, specifically when sharing a story about his daughter and a scary fall. However, from his story and his decision-making, Fish faces adversities with thoughtful decision-making, looking to provide the best outcome.
“When COVID came along, I do remember sitting at my house watching television, watching CNN and they’re talking about New York City. How, [in] New York City, people were dying on the floor of the hospitals, and we’re about to implode. … So, I thought, there’s a lot of people in our industry and a lot of people in our company who are saying to themselves, watching this right now, “am I going to have a job on Monday morning? Are they going to lay me off?” So, I got on the phone the next say and said, “look, this isn’t easy, we’re going to make an announcement that we’re going to protect the pay and the jobs of each and every person even if they don’t come to work. … History kind of judges us on the decisions we make during crisis,” said Fish.
Fish’s commitment to his employees through that decision was met with thunderous applause in the conference room.
When asked about the decision to rename the company from Waste Management to just WM, Fish said the decision was to follow the company’s own trajectory of moving away from waste and towards recycling. Mentioning that while the Waste Management brand is recognizable, it makes sense to make the change to line up with company goals.
When asked how he perceives himself as a leader within the industry, Fish didn’t take the credit all for himself.
“I would say it’s all of us here. It’s big companies, it’s small companies, it’s mid-sized companies that really make this [industry] work. And it’s pretty impressive. This is a symphony that is well orchestrated,” said Fish.
For the next 12, Fish laid out that two key areas that WM will be focusing on, one of which is securing the capital to spend on business projects and get them up and running. The second area of focus Fish mentioned would be dealing with labor.
“I think, looking at our labor and how we take advantage of labor through the advent of some technology, that’s important for us and then that has the impact of, not only help us with this turnover, which is expensive. It also helps us with our cost structure being more efficient,” said Fish.