A new vantage point


December 4, 2019

The American cartoonist William Ely Hill published an illustration titled “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” in Puck, an American humor magazine, in November 1915. Below the image, Hill wrote, “My wife and my mother-in-law, they are both in this picture—find them.”

The image, showing either the profile of an old or a young woman depending on one’s perspective, has since become a famous optical illusion meant to demonstrate that viewers can interpret the same image in two different ways.

I reference this image to illustrate a question that I think the waste industry as a whole would be wise to consider: Have waste management companies been looking at things through the same lens for too long?

The waste industry, by and large, is composed of an insular community. It’s not unusual for hauling companies to be run by the third, fourth or even fifth generation of its founder.

For those companies that aren’t family-run, a long history of merger and acquisition activity and the propensity for executives to move from one company to the next often leads to many of the same voices atop organizations year over year.

In addition to the static nature of these organizations is the issue of diversity in leadership positions. All one has to do is attend an industry conference or survey the makeup of many of the leading hauling companies to recognize that older white males disproportionately make up the top personnel positions.

Hill’s “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law”

Factoring in these realities, it’s easy to see how a myopic viewpoint could begin to pervade these companies, ultimately jeopardizing their ability to develop new ideas, cultivate progressive thought and adopt novel strategies that set the course for growth.

In this issue’s cover story, we profile Stericycle’s newest CEO Cindy Miller. Miller, who spent 30 years working her way up from driver to various leadership positions at UPS before coming over to Stericycle in 2018, has hit the ground running leveraging her unique expertise and worldview to influence how the company looks at its processes and procedures.

Bringing new voices into waste isn’t about change for the sake of change—it’s about embracing different viewpoints and experiences to help transform and elevate the way business is done.

If it happens to be the right thing to do, even better.