Long after he started working on the back of a waste truck, and more than 30 years after he founded his first company, Willie Goode now oversees multiple Washington, D.C.-area ventures and still enjoys doing it.
Goode got his start working collection routes with a family member in high school, before he joined another D.C.-area company as a driver. When WM bought that company in 1991, he had a chance to join the larger operation, but he turned them down to start his own business. Goode's goal was to have three trucks, he said: One for him, his brother and his cousin. Mike Magee, WM's division president at the time, brought Goode on as a subcontractor, which helped him begin to grow the business.
Today, Maryland-based Goode Cos. is an established name in the region — and has recently expanded into Florida — that services municipal contracts, local commercial accounts, the White House and more. Goode has also participated in multiple joint ventures with local waste entrepreneur Bruce Bates, including a company called WB Waste they started with Magee. These ventures encompass a range of hauling, transfer, recycling and disposal operations across multiple states.
Earlier this month, at WasteExpo in Las Vegas, Goode was inducted into the National Waste & Recycling Association's Hall of Fame. Waste Dive spoke with Goode there about how his operations have grown, how they stay competitive, a bitter contract experience he had in Florida and more.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WASTE DIVE: You're involved in several different businesses across the industry. What's the best way to describe how they all fit together?
WILLIE GOODE: I started off with Goode Trash Removal. When I was about 15 years in the business, I noticed when I would read the top 100 companies [in the waste industry], I see nobody's name with trash in it. So I changed it to Goode Cos. because I was, like, "I don't want to be the first on this list labeled as a trash company."
In '96 I started my first joint venture because I didn't have enough money to do this contract in the area. My business partner today, which was a friend [Bruce Bates], he had three trucks. I had three trucks. We came together and formed another company called Unity Disposal & Recycling. My favorite singer was Queen Latifah, and she had this song, "U.N.I.T.Y." You look at our logo, we got hands shaking on the logo. We have been successfully in it 25 years as a joint venture.
Then in '07, when the market got real tight on commercial roll-off dumpsters, Bates had roll-offs and Goode had roll-offs. So we put our roll-offs together, and we made a company called Lawrence Street Industry. So when we had Lawrence Street Industry, we had some transfer trailers, 18-wheelers, we brought them together and we started off a company called TAC Transport. We had another partner, we got out of that, we got up to over 100 tractors and trailers running from New York all the way down to North Carolina. We got out of that, and we started a tractor-trailer company called Team Transport because we brought the team back together, me and Bruce.
Then we decided, we got all these different names, let's clean it up. So WB Waste is Willie and Bruce, but we call it working brothers. So now there's Goode Cos., Bates Trucking, Unity and WB Waste. Goode Cos. is residential only. Bate is only residential. Everything [else] is in WB Waste.
You've got one C&D landfill through WB, but otherwise, your operations aren't fully vertically integrated. How have you stayed competitive on disposal?
We have the transfer stations in the Washington, D.C., area. We do about 2,400 tons a day, and the No. 1 and 2 and 3 [haulers] use our facilities. So they bid on our trash going back to their landfills. Whatever amount they dump, they'd like to see that amount come to their landfill. So we make an agreement.
For our C&D landfill, we just opened that up about two years ago now, and it's going pretty good. We do whatever we can recycle at the facilities [and] transfer stations, and whatever we don't capture, we capture it again when it gets to the landfill. So we do a double hit.
And we're in good locations [with the transfer stations]. We have one inside the city, and we have one right outside the city. So we capture all the major traffic [in] downtown Washington, D.C. Outside there, where a lot of the municipalities and commercial business are on the outskirts of the city, they head right there. And then we have a large recycling facility we just opened up called Olive Street Processing, and we're doing about 200 tons a day there of single-stream. We just put in about $9 million worth of machinery from Machinex, and that's going great. We was gambling, you know how the recycling market was. Right now it's looking pretty good.
Goode Cos. entered Florida in 2019 with a contract for certain areas of Palm Beach County. From a strategic standpoint, why did that make sense, and how's it been going so far?
We have a condo in Miami, Florida, a family condo we've had for 14 years. I never even thought about ever pulling trash or servicing anything in Florida, and I'd heard some of the stories. But when I was turning 50 years old, I wondered about, not my retirement home, but my main home, where I just go and relax. I didn't want to do Miami, too hustle-bustle. I have some friends in Palm Beach, and I went to one of their houses, and I woke up that morning, and I was like, "I don't know how I'm going to pay for it, but I could do this one day."
The solid waste authority came out, stopped the contract, and they was doing a diversity study to try to locate minority businesses. That's a hard feat because there's not many large minority companies in the United States or anywhere.
So I went down there and I studied it, like I always do. I'm more operations than inside the office. I do the office three-and-a-half days a week, other than that I go crazy. Because when I go to the sites I can see, hear, smell operations. I come from the back of the truck, so that's what I know.
I went down there, met some people, got the bid package. I did look at a contract a couple of years before that in Tampa, but there is a requirement you're supposed to have some Florida experience. [Palm Beach County lifted that requirement for this contract, and after a meeting with city officials they said], "you are who we're looking for."
October 2019, we started to work in Florida, and it was interesting. It was my son, my brother, a couple more people. I bought this corporate house in a new subdivision, it was one level, and gave everybody a bedroom. It was a bonding time. Because we had to set up. We had to learn the area. God knows, we weren't ready for the weather. It was a new hot in Palm Beach. And not only that, what we call yard waste material, they call vegetation. It's in big piles, and you need grapplers, because you can't touch it with your hands. That was new to us.
Last year, in Riviera Beach, Florida, you had a different contract experience with a competitor — WM, who you used to work for — saying you didn't own the business. How did it feel to run into that?
One of my worst experiences ever.
I had the best score, the best price. We know we can do the service, we studied the area, our office is in the area. Everything worked out.
We spoke first. We thought Waste Management would go first. When we did our presentation, Waste Management went in the lobby, and they sat out there and watched our whole video presentation. That's why they went in there and had to convince them that Goode Cos., was not the company. When this woman [from WM] said she don't know if Willie Goode owned the company... everybody in the world know Willie Goode own Goode Cos. She know Willie Goode own Goode Cos. That hurt the most.
When we got in, people were looking at us like we were a foreign object. Their whole attitude changed. We were like, what happened? That's when they said we gotta have another meeting. That hurt.
[Editor's note: Riviera Beach ultimately decided not to award a new contract to either company, leaving WM as the incumbent hauler.]
Over the last few years, big waste companies have been talking more about diversity and making pledges, but then you're also still experiencing this. What do you think it will take to see a broader change in the industry?
I thought because Riviera Beach was a majority-Black, African American city, I thought that'd be the case. But the power and the belief of people wins, and we did not win.
A couple people made comments, "Well, maybe you should work under Waste Management." I've been doing that all my life. I did that when I started. When I first [subcontracted with them], as a company, they was good to me. Mike Magee and the old regime of Waste Management, the old trash guys at Waste Management, they subbed me my first million dollars worth of work in Washington, D.C.
I learned to go for more, I didn't stay with that three-truck cap. My vision was three, but I let that vision open up broader, and this is the result of it. I'm able to make that [Hall of Fame] wall right there.
Do you think it's harder for new people to grow to the scale where they can make that wall now?
I think if I had to start right now, in 2022, and I just was working for Goode Cos., and I wanted to go out and branch with all my knowledge, if I didn't have [some family money], it's hard to come out the door. I don't want to say, would it never happen again? Of course I want it to happen again. I want it to be anybody that started out [can do it], and especially, like me, running a course this long of 30 years, coming from one truck and basically having almost 300 trucks on the street today.
It's still hard today because fighting battles like that Riviera Beach. That took money to do that. We spent over 10 workdays riding alley to alley, street to street, doing studies because they didn't even have the commercial list, it wasn't in the package. Because you know why? Waste Management was going to have to give it up. The city didn't have it. I had to guess how many trucks it'd take because we had no scope of work.
That right there has moved up to the top of my list of the things that hurt. I have some other ones. I've tried, and I'm still gonna keep trying. I'm not gonna stop.
I got a good crew, and we offer — just like the large companies offer — great wages, great benefits. Guess what else they get, though? They get Willie Goode. They get to have fun with Big Will. We set up season tickets for [sporting events] in the Washington, D.C., area and Miami, and we send families where they can sit on the floor or sit in a suite. I make sure the men and women that work for me can take their family. You should see the smiles on their face.
It's getting harder and harder to operate — with labor, fuel and other inflationary costs — so a lot of family companies are selling right now. Why aren't you, and do you ever think about that in the near term?
I got a bigger purpose to fulfill, and keep fulfilling, than cashing out. Yes, this could be my biggest contract ever to sell or cash out.
I have more managers that I know for a fact will not be in the office as a manager [if they work elsewhere]. They just won't have that opportunity at most of the other companies. I give them that high-level chance, and I want to continue on. Now don't get me wrong, if I woke up one day and I didn't want to go to work anymore...
I've been doing this for 40 years, and I want to enjoy life because I sacrificed a lot. My kids know I worked seven days a week. All they know is, daddy's gone at four in the morning, daddy comes back home at six or seven in the evening, and he's burnt tired. I'd be so tired that I'd go to sleep at the dinner table.
So there's always either the right approach, the right number or the right timing.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about your time in the industry?
I just want to thank everybody in the industry. It's phenomenal. The people in this industry — no matter what size company you are, what state you in, what color you are, what race you are — we stick together. We really do.