Can you give us a brief overview of your career journey leading up to your position as an RTS Board Member?
I went to work at Expedia as a product manager right after getting my MBA. Product management is a great way to understand the key drivers of a business and what motivates customers to buy. In a marketplace business, you need to focus on the needs of both consumers and suppliers and learn how to balance between them, so it was a great learning experience.
Later, I had the opportunity to build the product team at GrubHub. When I joined, we were in just a handful of cities – but we had big ambitions to transform how people ordered food and to bring restaurants incremental orders. We saw tremendous growth, along with the category, and within a few years we had successfully expanded nationwide.
In recent years I’ve focused on board service. I have found myself particularly drawn to savvy companies aware that changing consumer expectations can help create pressure for transforming how things have “always been done” to a better way of doing them. This is one of the things that excites me about joining RTS.
What advice do you have for young professionals trying to navigate their own career path and goals?
I think many young professionals today have high expectations about doing meaningful work, which is great – career progress should align with driving real impact. But I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that career progress isn’t always linear. For me personally, lateral moves – learning opportunities that gave me exposure to new areas and colleagues – have been some of the biggest drivers of my career progress. It’s a strategic choice to invest in building your reputation and relationships at a given company to get those kinds of experiences versus leapfrogging between companies, but it can really pay off.
It can be overwhelming starting out in your career and finding out what you like and what you’re good at. In your experience, how can someone continue to develop or pivot in their career?
I think that it’s a great goal to try to be a “T-shaped” person – someone who combines both breadth and depth. Like all ambitious goals, it takes time and effort to succeed, and you need to pick your route carefully. Knowing where you want to go when you start out is great – but taking a few tacks along the way is okay too, especially if those diversions teach you important things about what your strengths are and help you figure out how to be successful in future roles. Even if you’ve been very focused on a specific career path, working on cross-functional projects can be a good way to get exposure to areas outside your core function. This broader perspective can help you develop new skills and identify ways to do your current job more effectively, and might even open up new interests and even career paths you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
What about the work we are doing with RTS inspired you to want to become more involved?
I was very excited about how quickly RTS has been able to make real traction transforming how corporations and municipalities handle their waste. I think that the demand for a better waste collection experience is real and growing, and that there is a great deal of opportunity to win and retain customers through modernizing technology and delivering a more user-focused experience. Those same efforts have a double benefit because they can also be used to help customers do a better job of diverting waste from landfills.
Given your experience with companies that have leveraged technology to better serve their respective industries, including GrubHub and Expedia, what are your thoughts on the role technology plays in the waste industry?
Moving experiences that have primarily happened offline to online gives consumers far greater choice and control. For example, if you were to call a travel agent about a flight back in the day, they might have told you about two or three options; searching online shows you thousands and helps you find the one that’s best for your schedule and budget. I think there are similar opportunities in the waste industry to give consumers much more transparency into how their waste is handled. This transparency, as well as feedback loops using data to educate end users and prompt them to make better choices, has real potential to change consumer behavior and ultimately to make a significant impact on how much waste goes to landfills rather than being repurposed or recycled.
What do you feel is the most important first step for commercial businesses and individuals to reduce their waste footprint?
I think that data is key – businesses and individuals first need to understand what their waste footprint looks like today, as well as what it could look like if they make modifications to their behavior. Ultimately, we can’t expect behavior modifications to “stick” unless people understand their impact, get feedback on how well they are doing, and obtain psychological rewards for persevering with changes until they become new habits. And all of that is dependent on data about what people are putting into the trash and where that waste is going.
How is RTS in a position to drive change across the waste industry from the start of the supply chain to the end destination waste facility?
The waste industry today is rife with inefficiency – for example, there are lots of manual processes (which means opportunities for human error abound), few hauling routes are optimized, and data collection is poor to non-existent (which means that errors are unlikely to be discovered or fixed). RTS is outfitting haulers with technology to help them collect waste more efficiently on their routes, creating more systematic processes and driving errors out of the system as they are encountered. RTS’s investment in technology is creating far more efficient processes for both scheduled and on-demand collections, and tightening the linkage to waste transfer stations, helping to drive higher utilization, and bringing greater efficiency throughout the value chain.
We talk a lot about a zero-waste future at RTS, in your opinion, what does that look like and how do we get there?
I think a zero-waste future is a great “north star” goal that helps us keep us oriented as we navigate towards more proximate objectives. It’s not something we will get to overnight, or this year. But it can help us build strategies that advance us in the right direction. For example, in my community the city invested in creating a yard waste and composting program. Green yard waste bins were priced lower than black waste bins for a given volume. People are smart, and over time they changed their behavior to save money AND do the right thing. Also, you can see your neighbors’ big green yard waste bins and small black garbage bins when they are out on the curb for collection, so that reinforced that it was possible to change and created a bit of social pressure to do so if you hadn’t already. It’s hard for people to make big behavior changes overnight, but I very much believe that people can tack towards those behavior changes through feedback loops and psychological rewards.
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