Failing venture starts to succeed
Poole describes turning the "first important corner" in setting up his waste disposal business: convincing counties to turn their landfill operations over to him. He told public landfill operators he was willing to clean up their filthy landfills, but wanted to charge people to deposit their waste in them. The pitch did not work, and as Poole and his employee were giving up, offers started arriving, asking Poole to manage public landfills.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: How did you turn the first important corner in the business?
LP The first important corner was very slow coming. As a matter of fact, well there were a couple of important corners. Let me tell you about meeting another person. I guess I had been in business about three or four months. We had incorporated. I'm just running all over the state. Talking with any county or city that would talk to me, trying to talk them into privatizing their landfill operations. They were basically dumps. I was going to clean them up, do it the way it was supposed to be done, and then charge a user fee.
JM: You weren't talking about selling a management service. You were talking about acquiring them, is that right?
LP: That was right. I was going to come in. There were some laws beginning to emerge that said you had to get rid of the open burning dumps. They were a health hazard. My sales pitch was that I'll come in and I'll clean it up. I'll put the fire out. I'll kill off the rats, get rid of the stench, bury all that stuff and then run it like a sanitary landfill. In return I'm going to put up a gate, and I'm going to limit access. I'm going to charge people to bring their garbage here, which everybody thought I was an idiot. That that was the craziest thing they'd ever heard of. It was totally foreign. But nevertheless that was the concept, and I was running around trying to talk folks into that. My wife's cousin had married a young man named John Bradsher. He was a CPA. He was just up the street here on Six Forks Road at North Hills Shopping Center at a thing here called North Hills Office Mall, and I didn't have an office. We had two small kids and an even smaller apartment. It was not a home office sort of arrangement. So I had made arrangements. John had an extra office, and I had borrowed that office, which is where I kind of hung my hat. I'm there one day and Greg Poole called and said he would like for me to meet a young man that he thought had a lot of possibilities. I said, 'Well this is a great idea. We don't have any business. It's always good to meet people that have a lot of possibilities so sure. I've got time.' Over he comes and I'm there in my little small office. The only way you could really get a chair in this office was to kind of turn it sideways and in walks a man by the name of Jim Perry. Jim is getting out of the Air Force. He has a management, the equivalent of an MBA degree. It's a management in, Master's in Business Management. Anyway, it's a Southern California degree. He had an undergraduate degree in Ag Engineering at NC State. He was just as impressive as Greg had told me he would be. He was looking for a job. I didn't really have a job to offer, but I was thoroughly impressed with him. We talked and I said, 'Well, all I can tell you is what I plan on doing.' So I laid out what the plan was. He said that that sounded really good, and how much could I pay. I said, 'Well, not very much. But just to kind of keep me going, I'm making four dollars and fifty cents an hour or about that. So you probably ought to make a little less, so it'll be four dollars an hour', which was not a lot of money. What needed to be done was to find someone that we could talk into privatizing these landfills. He did have a car.
JM: Key asset.
LP: I made him an offer of a job, and he took it. So Jim Perry who is now the President and Chief Operating Officer of this company and one of its major owners joined the company. I don't know if I have kind of made this up later but people have always said, 'What did you tell him that you wanted him to do?' I have always said, 'Jim you need to go do something important, and you need to do it quick.' So anyway, Jim joined the company, and we divvied the state up. He took half of it and I took half of it. We went out to sell people on the idea of us doing their garbage service. Things didn't go well. About a year later, we're really examining whether or not this is really going to work at all. In the meantime, Wake County had employed me to do a consulting study for them and to develop a solid waste management plan.
JM: How did you find that bit of consultancy work?
LP: Well that was really easy, and it brought in money and paid some bills. But by this time, Jim at four dollars an hour and me at four fifty an hour plus we were paying each other six cents a mile for car, this was really cutting into our equity.
JM: I'm sorry, I didn't put the question very well. What was the connection that led to that consultancy work? How did you have this connection with Wake County?
LP: I was trying to talk Wake County into--.
JM: Your notion.
LP: Into the notion of doing landfills. Well at the time, City of Raleigh had a landfill, okay and Wake County did not. Wake County thought that it needed a plan. Wake County had never been involved in the garbage. City of Raleigh had always been kind of the way it was done. So Wake County said, 'Okay why don't you do us a plan because we've got a lot of trash out in the remote areas, the non-incorporated areas?' So that was what it really was all about. Anyway, after about a year, we still didn't have any business, and we talked it over, and we decided that we were just draining our equity. Greg had a job at MacGregor Downs to develop streets, put in water, and sewer. MacGregor Downs is a golf course community that his father had started and that the general manager, president and general manager would be probably retiring within a year or two. So it was a good fall back position. It was something that he thought I could do. So if I would, to go out and understudy Charlie Harris, the President. So I talked to Jim about it and I said, 'Jim this is kind of the way I think I'm going to have to go. We just aren't hitting it here with the--I mean there's a lot of resistance to privatization of garbage. So what we need to do is give it a rest a little bit and do some other things, but still do it on the side and maybe something will come out of it.' Jim went to work for the Credit Union, North Carolina Employees' Credit Union, and I went to work for MacGregor Downs Development Company. Within I think around just a few months, maybe a couple of months, we got a letter first from Wake County that they did in fact think they needed to put in a landfill. If I were to find a site and get it up and going. So there is a contract, which later turned into two landfills. They thought they needed two landfills. So we were going to have two. I was also awarded a contract to do the same thing by the City of Henderson in Vance County. And shortly thereafter I got another proposal we had put out was to find and construct a landfill in New Hanover County. All of a sudden now we've got business and two full-time jobs.