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Thomas H. Van Weelden, CEO, Allied Waste Industries in Scottsdale Arizona, the second largest waste management company in the United States.

“As a kid, I used to hear a lot of snide remarks about being the garbage man's son,” Thomas H. Van Weelden wrote in Reader's Digest. “But my hero wasn't the pitcher who could throw a 98-mile-an-hour fast ball—it was the garbage man who could handle two full 55-gallon steel drums at once.” Van Weelden is president and CEO of Allied Waste Industries, and he began his career working for his father. “I started swabbing out trucks for Dad when I was fourteen. It was miserable, filthy work. I had to steam-clean every corner and dig out by hand every bit of trash, maggots and all.”

At sixteen Van Weelden started driving the trucks and collecting garbage. “I learned quickly that in the garbage business you are judged by your customers every day,” he wrote. “You can service a client faithfully for five years, but miss just one pickup and you have wiped out all that hard-earned good will.” During the school year he collected past-due bills, which taught him to handle difficult situations and to work with customers.

“The decisions I make today are no different from those I made nearly thirty years ago,” he wrote. Customer service and quality of the job are key. All new operations managers in his company must have two years of experience driving trucks. That way they have more experience with which to direct the drivers.

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