There was never any question that Bill Rumpke Jr would do anything but join the family business. He admits that even as a child, following in his father’s footsteps was all he ever wanted. “This is what I feel like I was born to do,” he smiles.
“Pretty much everybody in my family was involved in the business. There was a lot of camaraderie around that. It was, and still is, such a big part of who we are and what we do. There was really no line between family and business, and my grandfather really spurred that from the beginning. This was then continued by my father William J Rumpke Sr once he became Co-President and CEO alongside his cousin Tom Rumpke. That really had a big impact on my life and I very much looked forward to being part of it growing up.”
In the early 1930s, Bill’s grandfather William F Rumpke ran a junkyard and coal delivery business in Carthage, Ohio and often accepted farmyard animals as payment. Gradually, looking for ways to keep his pigs well fed, he started looking at sourcing and collecting garbage around the region.
It wasn’t long before Rumpke Waste & Recycling was born. From humble beginnings hauling and disposing of garbage from homes and businesses, William went on to establish one of southwestern Ohio’s first recycling operations in 1941, as metal recycling boomed during World War II. By 1945, Rumpke had outgrown its former home.
William relocated his business to Colerain Township onto an 80-acre tract of land. Then, in 1947, William brought his younger brother Bernard on board as a partner. When a new law was passed in 1955, the result was a restructure to direct the business away from farming and instead focus solely on trash collection and disposal.
A close friend as well as a fellow Rumpke, Bernard’s son Tom then joined forces with William F Rumpke’s son William J Rumpke Sr – a perfect match since both harbored grand plans to develop the business.
We’re a family, we’re a team. We all pull together.
They started their own route in Delhi Township, Ohio and it wasn’t long before 2,500 customers had signed up. In 1965, they created Rumpke Container Services, one of the first initiatives to offer larger, commercial waste containers for business locations.
In 1978, Tom and William J Rumpke Sr purchased the original residential waste collection component of the business, Rumpke Inc, from their fathers, combining it with Rumpke Sanitary Landfill and Rumpke Container Services. By the end of the 1980s, the company revenues had hit US$67.6 million.
Determined to make a mark
William J Rumpke Sr’s son, Bill Rumpke Jr, was granted an inside look at the business from a very early age, accompanying his father on trips to speak with employees, or sitting next to him in trucks while visiting waste management facilities. Later, he even began earning paychecks from Rumpke Waste.
“I was heavily involved in a lot of different aspects,” Bill says. “When I was old enough to work, I did a lot of labor work. That really connected me to our employees, made me understand what they do and how important they are for the business to be successful. I wanted to further my growth and education so that I was prepared to take a leadership role, I hoped, one day.”
While working as a driver at Rumpke, Bill attended Miami University in Ohio and obtained his bachelor’s degree in business. The second he’d graduated, he set to work at Rumpke, determined to climb the ranks of the company and make his own mark on it.
“As I completed my education, I had more hours to devote to the company and more to learn,” he recalls. “As I progressed through the organization, I pretty much did every job, but it wasn’t long before I set my sights on growing the business. In 1989, I started services in Central Ohio, and built Rumpke’s first Columbus and Circleville, Ohio operations, establishing what would later become the headquarters for Rumpke’s East Area.”
While he steadily progressed within Rumpke, looking back, Bill explains that he’s grateful that he was afforded the opportunity to work in so many different areas of the company. Even today, in his current role as CEO, he believes that he is reaping the rewards of those varied experiences.
“As I began working in the business as a driver on the front lines, it taught me about customers, equipment and pride in a hard day’s work,” he says. “When I began managing people, I learned about being a leader and how to leverage people’s talents while engaging their support of shared objectives. I still reflect on those early years of my career as I make the strategic decisions required today for Rumpke’s long-term growth and continued prosperity.”
Onwards and upwards
When Bill was appointed COO in 2002, he implemented a number of new initiatives, restructured the company, looked at long-term strategic planning and focused intensely on business development and acquisitions. By 2003, company revenues topped US$269 million. “We experienced a tremendous amount of growth,” he says.
“But at the same time, we were always continuing to drive the company message forward that, ‘We’re a family, we’re a team. We all pull together.’ Customer service is extremely important. We’re not going to sacrifice compliance or anything in regard to those core values of taking care of our employees and our customers, and doing the right thing. During those early years as COO, I learned even more about the metrics of the business, and how to make tough decisions involving employees and even family.”
Every business decision is made with sustainability in mind. After all, we are the ultimate environmental protectors.
Rumpke completed its largest acquisition in company history purchasing a landfill, truck depots, a recycling center and transfer stations in 2009. The acquisition solidified Rumpke’s presence in northern Ohio and even won the Association for Corporate Growth Deal Maker Award in 2010.
Two years later, Bill earned the title of South Central Ohio and Kentucky Entrepreneur of the Year. But among the company’s many achievements, he views Rumpke’s ability to permit and zone expansions at its landfills as something he’s especially proud of.
“That takes a lot of work, in particular building trust in the community and with government officials and regulators,” he explains.
“We’ve done several very large expansions, including a 200-acre expansion at our largest landfill in Greater Cincinnati. We’ve experienced unprecedented growth in market share and size. But what I’m most proud of during that time is our continued innovation in regard to looking for the best way to reduce waste in our recycling facilities. We have one of the most technologically advanced facilities in Cincinnati. It’s a US$32 million system featuring some of the best sorting technology available, processing 60 tons per hour of mixed single-stream recycling. With enormous assistance from Machinex, it opened in 2013.”
From 2002 until 2013, under Bill’s direction as COO, Rumpke’s revenues swelled by 78%. He oversaw more than 100 acquisitions, the building of three landfill-to-energy systems, invested more than US$50 million in new recycling technology and added 1,000 employees to the team. It was no surprise then that in 2014, he was made CEO of Rumpke.
Innovation and integrity
While to the uninitiated, innovation in waste management might not seem like a top priority, Bill argues that this couldn’t be further from the truth. “There’s constant innovation – the industry is ever-changing, be it from more automated trucks to additional innovation in the recycling portion of the business,” he explains.
“Apps are now able to tell us about necessary truck maintenance. The multimillion-dollar technology upgrade with ISB Global is huge. The trusted partnership we have with them is providing our business with additional metrics to increase efficiency, while offering our customers a simplified digital experience. Additionally, we’ve invested in GPS technology for hauling and landfill operations.”
Part of this quest to stay at the vanguard also means that Rumpke is particularly focused on sustainability. When the Environmental Protection Agency was created in the US in 1970, it heralded a new era, one where environmental concerns and compliance took a front seat.
Rumpke jumped on board, even collaborating with the Ohio EPA branch to formulate best practices for landfill construction and management. In 1986, Rumpke was one of the very first waste companies to install a landfill gas-to-energy system and, in recent years, another three have been added to the landfills.
Today, its largest landfill gas-to-energy operation includes three gas plants and recoups enough landfill gas to provide natural gas energy to nearly 30,000 homes and businesses.
“We’re excited about this because it truly is a renewable resource,” Bill enthuses. “We don’t just bury the garbage and let it sit there forever. We bury it properly, then use the gas that comes off the decomposition and provide energy to homes and businesses in the region. It also runs some of our natural gas fleet of trucks and, before long, we expect to have 500 of our 2,500 fleet converted to compressed natural gas.”
While Bill hopes the company will continue expanding, he explains that for him, it’s nonnegotiable that any future growth does not come at the expense of the environment – rather, that sustainability and progress go hand in hand. “Every business decision is made with sustainability in mind,” he says.
“After all, we are the ultimate environmental protectors. We’re constantly devising ways to more efficiently and sustainably manage the waste. The changes go on and on from digital marketing and social media to continuing education for employees and new programs to embrace Rumpke’s longstanding commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. We’re even adding robotics to some of our plants as well. Change is here to stay and, without it, we don’t have progress. We want to continue to grow a larger footprint than where we’re currently at, but our customers depend on us to research and introduce new waste reduction and reuse opportunities, so we’re always looking at innovation to try and continue to reduce the waste that goes into landfills, and if it does get to the landfill, manage it the right way.”
By utilizing the best technological advances available, Rumpke is ensuring that it is at the absolute forefront of the industry and ahead of its competitors. “We’re also exploring new technology, not only when it comes to equipment, landfills and recycling, but also with digital marketing, customer interaction and business metrics,” Bill says.
“We want to bring our customers the service they want on their terms. If that means more online interactions and instant response, we are determined to provide it and exceed their expectations. The Rumpke of tomorrow will bring customers waste solutions never implemented before and deliver them in creative ways, as well as use technological advances to make the waste industry safer and even more environmentally friendly.”
In it together
Never one to not give credit where it’s due, Bill happily concedes that Rumpke would not be half the company it is today without the support of its partners. “Rumpke employs a procurement team that ensures all suppliers are treated fairly and transparent communication is maintained,” he says.
“We treat our suppliers like partners. Without partners like Autocar, McNeilus and Bob Sumerel Tire Co, our trucks wouldn’t be on the streets. Specifically, when we pick up a new contract, we need vendors like Autocar. Recently, they came forward to supply trucks in a timely manner for a large new contract, and McNeilus, the company that builds compaction systems for our trucks, does the same.”
Indeed, Rumpke prides itself on these mutually beneficial relationships whereby each and every supplier is treated like another member of the family. “We need partners like Machinex to keep our recycling plants running,” Bill adds.
“They never let us down – every time we come to them with a new recycling request, they stand ready to help us build the right solution. We share ideas with all of these partners to ensure product development and design best suits the needs of our business. Safety features are crucial and they work hand in hand with us to achieve our objectives.
“Another key partner is ISB Global. The team there is helping Rumpke lead the way when it comes to technology and is our trusted source, guiding us as we launch the new technological framework to support Rumpke’s future success.”
The focus on a strong company culture that prioritizes the health and happiness of each and every one of its employees is something that Bill has worked hard to cultivate, following on from those same core values established by his father and grandfather. He explains that thanks to an emphasis on teamwork, the business continues to grow from strength to strength.
“We’re all in this together,” Bill says. “We take care of each other. We regularly do leadership training with our managers and supervisors to make sure that concept is driven home. And we’ll only allow people to be in those leadership positions if they respect that mission and understand that’s how we’re going to be successful. Emotional intelligence in our managers is very important to make sure that they’re treating employees how they would expect to be treated. Having a shared vision is integral to our success. We are transparent and communicative about our objectives, progress and obstacles. We work through challenges and celebrate success together, and leaders encourage team input and act upon suggestions. Everyone matters here. Every communication, whether it’s my quarterly CEO chats, our newsletters, mailers or intranet, conveys that message of success through teamwork.”
Like with so many companies, i think these turbulent times have forced us to test the flexibility and adaptability of our workforce and services.
With a special Leadership and Professional Development Academy, Rumpke ensures it is not only attracting the best talent, but that it is also retaining it, by giving employees the opportunity to hone their skills, train to become leaders and move up through the organization. “That’s how we’re backfilling leadership positions,” Bill explains.
“We’re keeping it right here in the extended Rumpke family. So, as people retire, we’ll have a good funnel to replace them at the same time as elevating our employees’ lives by giving them opportunities to help this company grow. We need to look for leaders who embrace our culture so we can continue what we’re doing here. The company wants to remain private – we love being a family company and love the culture that goes with that. And, as we continue to grow, the challenge increases to make sure that everybody understands that message at our core.”
Indeed, when Rumpke was named one of the Best Managed Companies in the US by Deloitte Private and The Wall Street Journal in 2020, Bill says he felt incredibly happy knowing that the time and effort they’d invested into nurturing this culture had all been worth it. “It was amazing to be nationally recognized,” he smiles.
“The award was about how we manage our company, all the way from the shareholders, through to the board and the senior management team. It was focused on our company strategy, execution, culture and financials. They came into the organization, interviewed a lot of different people and it was such a great feeling knowing that we’re doing such a good job from our overall financial control and management, to how we take care of our people and customers, from the front line all the way to the top of the organization. I was very proud of that.”
Honoring the past
Now, as Rumpke approaches nine decades since its inception, Bill continues to honor its heritage in a myriad of ways – from the historic photographlined hallway at the new corporate headquarters to those core values that are instilled in each and every one of its employees.
“Rumpke’s history of integrity, grit and doing the right thing while providing top-notch service is ingrained,” he reveals.
“It’s part of the brand we advertise, the service we execute and the employees who work here. Rumpke pride is a very real part of the company – it’s shared throughout our extended family of more than 3,200 employees. We’ve been here for almost 90 years for a reason. We care about each other, our customers, the work we perform and the environment. Our team is united in its mission and we’re driven to persevere, just like all the prior generations.”
Bill also explains that while he is immensely proud that so much of his extended family continues to work at Rumpke, there’s no special treatment afforded to anyone boasting a certain surname. In fact, the opposite is true.
“We ensure our family’s roots in today’s business by being present,” he says. “More than 75 family members work in the company. My father, me and my brothers are here every day and now our children have begun working in the business, but more is expected of Rumpke family members – each of us starts on the front line and must obtain an education and earn promotions.”
Trials and tribulation
Like most other businesses across the globe, Rumpke was not immune to the challenges of 2020. “One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic is the distancing,” Bill explains. “Our field employees can no longer meet as a team. Rumpke’s service area spans four states and the company includes more than 60 locations. One of my favorite parts of the job is getting out to those locations, talking to our teams and seeing the progress they are making, but with the pandemic, we have been pushed to remote meetings. All of this impacted us, but we’re very much bouncing back.”
Bill is keen to look at the situation as a means of reflecting on and refining some of Rumpke’s procedures, viewing it as a learning opportunity. “Like with so many companies, I think these turbulent times have forced us to test the flexibility and adaptability of our workforce and services,” he points out.
“First and foremost, our concern was making sure our employees were safe, could complete their jobs and go home to their families every night. “It’s encouraged us to become better virtual communicators and, for some, more efficient remote workers. For field employees, their strength and endurance were tested when the residential trash volume increased. But I’m happy to report that all groups proved hugely successful at adapting to the challenges.”
Not only did Rumpke manage to stay afloat, but thanks to meticulous planning and streamlining, the business came out on top despite all the odds. Amazingly, Bill reveals that there’s even been a positive or two.
“Meanwhile, as a result of the pandemic, something unique happened with the recycling markets,” he says. “With less commercial cardboard available and the demand for cardboard increasing due to online shopping, we’ve seen fiber prices increase significantly. We have also seen substantial improvements associated with certain plastic markets.
“Our contingency plans were tested and they worked. Our business has thrived despite everything. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to display that culture and core message even more as we work to provide service to our customers.”
Bill adds: “Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, we want to hit our budget and continue to grow the company. We need to improve our recycling systems, continue updating infrastructure and equipment, make our landfills better and acquire other companies. “Equally important is our focus on developing our team members. We are intently fixated on helping our employees reach their personal and professional objectives.”
As a leader, Bill is a firm believer in the merits of speaking to employees on the front line, favoring a hands-on approach and an open-door policy. “It’s really important for me to visit our sites, to see what we’re doing, tour our landfills, talk to our people,” he explains.
The Rumpke of tomorrow will bring customers waste solutions never implemented before and deliver them in creative ways.
“I don’t ever want to get to a point where I sit in an office all day. I want to stay engaged in every aspect of our business. My best days are when I get out in front of our people and communicate with them about what they’re doing. That’s what inspires me.”
At the end of the day, Bill’s advice for others looking to emulate his success is straightforward – a perfect mixture of hard work, dedication, family time and passion. “Stay driven, motivated and organized,” he shares.
“Never give up. Find your source of happiness and use it to empower your best performance. Work–life balance is key. Put family first and take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, try to eat right and keep a schedule. After work I like to go home, do some exercise and spend time with my wife and family. If I’m lucky, I get extra time in with my grandchildren (I have a daughter and two sons) and maybe catch a Cincinnati Reds game.”
From here, the sky is the limit for Rumpke. Inspired every day by his family’s legacy, Bill will keep striving to ensure he is preparing the company for the next generation, steering it towards success, leading by example and prioritizing integrity, hard work and a people-first attitude, always. After all, it’s in his DNA.
“The greatest influence in my life has been my family,” Bill says. “They’ve made me committed to ensuring I take care of this company. This is something I’m very passionate about, and it is a needed service in every community. I want to be there to provide the best answers for our customers.
“Here at Rumpke, we recognize the gift and responsibility we’ve been given to facilitate changes for good. It’s been more 40 years since I earned my first Rumpke paycheck as a 13-year-old. I am a steward of this business and I need to make sure that I drive it forward and leave it in a better position than when I started.”
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