Putting their name on it: Carrying on a family legacy at Rumpke

Features - Cover Profile

How hard work and family values helped Rumpke Waste & Recycling become one of the nation’s largest privately owned waste and recycling firms.

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April 19, 2018
Adam Redling
Photos: Rick Lohre

Rumpke Waste & Recycling, headquartered in Colerain Township, Ohio, has come a long way since founder William F. Rumpke first started collecting waste in the Cincinnati area in the 1930s. Rumpke, who ran a junkyard and coal delivery business, had the resourcefulness of a lot of other business owners operating during the Depression. Back then, if you wanted to stay in business, you had to be willing to be creative with what you’d accept as payment. After a customer bartered six young pigs in return for his services, Rumpke decided to fix up some of the trucks sitting in his junkyard and enlist relatives to go out searching for garbage to feed his new additions.

Just like that, Rumpke Waste & Recycling was born. Now, more than 80 years after those first trucks hit the road, Rumpke Waste & Recycling is one of the nation’s largest privately owned residential and commercial waste and recycling firms.

With that kind of background, it should come as no surprise that there was no silver spoon in hand when current Rumpke President & CEO Bill Rumpke Jr. was coming up in the business.

“I grew up in the business. My grandfather, William F. Rumpke, founded Rumpke Waste. Eventually, my father and Rumpke’s current President Emeritus William J. Rumpke purchased the company with his cousin Tom Rumpke,” Rumpke says. “Those two started Rumpke’s commercial services and expanded the company to multiple states.

“I’ve spent the last 40 years working in the waste and recycling industry. Growing up in the business, our house was just a few miles from Rumpke Sanitary Landfill near Cincinnati, now one of the largest landfills in the country. I was involved at a very young age,” Rumpke says. “My father always made the point that it was our name on the trucks, so it was important to make every effort to be the best and to offer the highest standard of service. As a member of the family, nothing was handed to you. You had to earn it and you were expected to work harder than everyone else. While still very young, I started out working as a general laborer and later became a driver.”

While working as a driver, Bill attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in general business. After school, he earned promotions to multiple management positions within the company. During the late 1980s, Bill founded Rumpke’s Central Ohio service regions, where he added landfills and opened multiple recycling facilities. He was named chief operating officer in 2002 and later president and CEO in 2014.

A closer look

Today, Rumpke Waste & Recycling operates throughout parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia serving the residential, commercial and industrial waste and recycling needs of several million customers.

In all, Rumpke has around 3,000 employees and 60 locations, including 17 transfer stations, 12 landfills and 10 recycling centers. In 2017, the company provided collection for about 1.6 million accounts, and the company’s landfill volumes topped 500 million tons. Rumpke-owned and -operated recycling facilities also processed about 1 billion pounds of material last year. In all, Rumpke topped $600 million in revenue in 2017.

To meet its hauling needs, Rumpke has approximately 2,300 vehicles in its total fleet, and about 1,800 of those are collection vehicles. According to Rumpke, 243 of those vehicles run on compressed natural gas (CNG), and the company hopes to expand their CNG fleet by 100 trucks throughout the coming year. They use rear-load, side-load and front-load residential trucks. They also have roll-off trucks, commercial front-load trucks and tractor trailers, while the company’s portable restroom division uses a fleet of pump trucks. For its hauling needs, Rumpke uses a combination of Mack, Kenworth, International and Autocar vehicles equipped with hydraulic systems from McNeilus, Heil and Galbreath.

“My father always made the point that it was our name on the trucks, so it was important to make every effort to be the best and to offer the highest standard of service. As a member of the family, nothing was handed to you. You had to earn it and you were expected to work harder than everyone else.” - Bill Rumpke Jr.

According to Rumpke, the company uses routing software to increase efficiency and provide better metrics on the company’s collection services.

“We work with Telematics GeoTab for GPS tracking,” Rumpke says. “The system also provides maintenance data and streamlines information to assist with route planning, safety initiatives and other business objectives.”

For its recycling business, the company specializes in curbside and commercial collection and processing of glass bottles and jars (Rumpke has a glass processing facility in Dayton, Ohio), cartons, cardboard, paper, aluminum, steel cans and plastic bottles and jugs. They also offer some specialized recycling options for large generators of certain materials.

From left to right: Bill Rumpke Jr. and Jeff Rumpke, west area president.

Keeping a growth mindset

As the third-generation president of the privately owned company, Rumpke is quick to point out that the company’s unique position in the market allows it to operate differently than some other waste and recycling providers today.

“We are a family, privately owned company, and while that presents a few challenges, we feel it offers some real benefits as well,” he says. “We answer only to ourselves. This gives us quite a bit of flexibility. We can be incredibly responsive to our employees, our customers and the industry. We can also strategically plan, knowing that we have full control of our destiny.”

To stay ahead of the game and expand the company’s footprint, Rumpke is continuously looking for acquisition opportunities. In his time as chief operating officer, Bill helped Rumpke complete roughly 30 acquisitions. In the last eight months, he has completed the acquisition of eight more companies.

According to Rumpke, while the company strives to continue its growth, it hasn’t lost focus on the quality service that has allowed it to be a leading waste services provider for more than eight decades.

“There are many great, strong service providers in our industry. We can’t let up and we must stay ahead of the curve. We know we have to keep being strategic, and we have to keep being innovative, and as we do, we cannot let our service suffer,” Rumpke says. “This takes perseverance, decisiveness, tenacity and patience. There’s no moment of rest, and you have to be all in. This is a fast-paced, highly competitive business. To get ahead and stay there you must constantly identify ways to innovate, improve service and ensure exceptional compliance and safety. At the same time, your values are the framework. Doing the right thing must be the basis for every decision you make. For us, putting people and the environment first is key.”

This focus on people and the environment has led the company to rethink some of the ways in which it operates.

Rumpke is doing its part trying to bridge the skills gap in the waste industry by developing new training programs and restructuring its work environments to attract and retain top talent. This includes identifying opportunities to develop the company’s team in-house and through the recruitment of new team members.

For the customers it serves, Rumpke says that the company is looking to improve the experience by opening up the channel of communication online, by phone and through its day-to-day interactions. To make these improvements, Rumpke is expanding its team to allow for better customer service and responsiveness.

Additionally, Rumpke is investing in technology across the company to more thoroughly track and analyze data as a way to better assess customer needs and refine the way in which it operates.

From left to right: Phil Wehrman, chief financial officer; Bill Rumpke Jr.; Andrew Rumpke, east area president; and Jeff Rumpke.

Moving into the future

Although Rumpke has grown significantly over the last year, the company has no plans of slowing down. It has just unveiled a new $13 million, 77,000-square-foot container maintenance facility where the company will overhaul trucks; paint, repair and store containers; and make tire repairs. This year, the company is building a new $24 million corporate headquarters. This three-story building will bring together more than 200 employees in one building to allow for easier communication and greater training opportunities

Additionally, the company is working on new master design plans for three of its sites to add new renovations for better efficiency, and it is also reviewing the company’s glass recycling operations to incorporate more innovations.

On the hauling side of the business, the company is planning to invest in new trucks this year and is currently working on permitting that would help expand three of the company’s landfills.

While Bill Rumpke Jr. is constantly looking for ways to grow, he says that the lessons instilled by the Rumpke generations that came before him have helped guide the company.

“Our family and this family business is our life. The joy of this business is the ability to propel our success and expertise to be better employers, better service providers and better stewards of the planet,” Rumpke says. “Even today, Rumpke has more than 75 family members actively engaged in the company. When you attend a family event, business is the main topic of conversation. Above all, it’s our name on those trucks. It’s who we are, and we take great pride in our team, facilities, innovations, equipment and the standard of service we provide.”

The author is the editor for Waste Today and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.