WasteExpo Together Online wrapped up Sept. 17 with a one-on-one interview between National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) President and CEO Darrell Smith and GFL Environmental founder and CEO Patrick Dovigi.
Here are some of the highlights:
Dovigi on the competitive advantage he saw in naming the company GFL, which stands for Green For Life:
“If you looked around Europe or parts of Asia when we started [in 2007], ‘waste’ was becoming not a great word, so [we were looking for] what we could do to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Yes, we had access to landfills, but [we asked ourselves], ‘What can we do differently and how can we market and brand ourselves differently internally [to show] we can divert different streams from landfill and be perceived as greener than the next guy?’ We thought this would give us a competitive advantage rather than just selling on price, etc.”
Dovigi on his leadership style:
“I think what attracts people to GFL are a lot of those philosophies I learned from playing professional hockey, and I say it all the time: If I look at the best coaches and the best teams I had over the years, it wasn’t always the team that had the A+ talent that went the furthest. It was being led by a coach who allowed us to play the game and didn’t run a dictatorship. I think that spills over to GFL. It’s about picking the right talent, but also, allowing people to be involved and make decisions where they’re not just told what to do. I’m a firm believer that I don’t know anywhere near as much about our markets as the people we have running those markets, and we have to rely on them as the entrepreneurs in these areas to be able to tell us what’s going on there so we can make decisions, but we make those decisions collaboratively and empower them to run their business.”
Dovigi on how COVID has impacted GFL’s business:
“The solid waste sector in particular has proven to be more resilient than a lot of people thought. Our volumes continue to be down, but I think that’s to be expected. When you look at the industry, and specifically our company, I think we’ve weathered the storm extremely well. I look at [COVID] case counts every day, and we have 14,000-plus employees, to ensure we’re doing all the right things so we’re not having outbreaks particularly in hauling yards, recycling facilities, transfer stations, landfills and some of our wastewater processing facilities. We’re still under 100 cases for the entire company, so I think the measures we’ve put in place have yielded a good result.”
GFL on its IPO and recent M&A deals:
“We’ve been through multiple private equity firms over the last 14 years, and I think it was inevitable that we would become a public company at some point. Shareholders had very specific ideas on value at the time of our IPO, and that’s why we didn’t proceed [with going public] in late 2019. We had a significant amount of inbound interest from investors, which is why we went back to the market in early 2020, obviously not knowing the COVID backdrop would be [there], but we got the transaction done a couple of days before the COVID outbreak really happened. It wasn’t how we envisioned spending the first couple of months as a public company having to update investors on what they just invested in and our business, but we got through that.
“I think a big part of the thesis of going public is we saw two larger opportunities that fit well with our business and our geography, which were the ADS/Waste Management divestitures, and assuming we could successfully get those, acquire the assets from Macquarie for WCA. So even through COVID, both of those proved out and we were able to get both of those transactions [done]. Now, we’re just waiting on DOJ approval on both of those and then we’re going to turn our attention to integrating these assets and doing what we’ve always done well, which is extract as much value as we can out of these assets and go back to our normal tuck-in program.”
Dovigi on improving diversity in waste:
“It’s always been a big focus of ours. Women have always been a big part of what we try and do. We’ve developed the Women in Waste program here at GFL to help promote women in the industry. Now, [thinking about diversity at GFL], we’ve retooled the way we hire, not just based on race, but trying to create opportunities and training programs. I’m a big believer that you groom from within because keeping loyalty and keeping workers in the company are always your best dollars spent. Sometimes our drivers become our best managers and our managers become our best executives. If you can create that dynamic [in your company], you’re going to have a successful result.”