How to Attract Talent with Trash

When I founded Rubicon, I knew I had to face facts: Waste is a dirty business, and a lot of top-tier talent might not always see the waste and recycling business as their top choice.

I was coming from the political arena, which has its own reputation. I like to tell people I worked in garbage twice: first in politics, then in the waste industry. Still, politics, as dirty as it may be, is not the waste industry. I had worked with incredibly smart and talented people in politics, and I was starting a technology company, which demanded big brains and savvy skills. How could I attract that level of talent with trash?

I grew up in working class Kentucky, where most of my family worked in the automobile factory. For a lot of people I knew, getting a chance to ride around on a trash truck was like a vacation from the factory, and a chance to get outside. I loved it, too. But could I imagine a Harvard MBA seeing it the same way? Honestly, no, and I saw that as a potential problem for Rubicon.

Starting out with Rubicon, I got a lot of “Here is Nate from Kentucky with the trash company.” It was hard to get taken seriously. Part of what changed all that was bringing on board people like Marc Benioff.

With Marc Benioff, we got the credibility of a technology entrepreneur on our board. Suddenly, I was no longer Nate from Kentucky. We had Mr. Software as a Service behind us. Marc’s experience creating Salesforce gave us a huge leg up technologically, and convinced some would-be early adopters that we had what it was going to take to revolutionize the waste industry.

Other board members and advisors brought their own expertise and benefits. Suddenly, Rubicon was not just me talking about trash, it was a whole team of top-tier business leaders and even Hollywood names talking about revolutionizing the way we handle waste.

Big names are not everything, though. In fact, they are not even the most important thing.

You can find great talent anywhere in the country. The challenge is how to leverage that talent, and how to build the right ecosystem for your business in which that talent can flourish.

Elon Musk once said, “If you’re trying to create a company, it’s like baking a cake. You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.”

The most talented individuals in today’s marketplace want their work to mean something. They want to work at more than just a job. They want to feel like their employer is taking care of them, and maybe changing the world. That sounds like a lot to offer, but at Rubicon, we had just the right ingredients to make that cake.  

First, I convinced our board to offer 100 percent paid health care. That was one less thing about which our employees had to worry. Then we focused our company culture on diversity and inclusion. Our culture is what is so attractive to bringing in employees, with cultural affinity groups that reflect our diverse workplace, paid family leave, and employee training programs.

Very early on we decided to incorporate our mission into the very fabric of our company by seeking to get Rubicon certified as a Certified B Corporation. B Corp certification means a company meets the highest standards of transparency and accountability. B Corps are judged against rigorous standards for social and environmental performance, and being certified means Rubicon is one of a growing number of business pledged to solve global challenges with the power of business.

Rubicon was one of the first and now largest B Corps, and we have been re-certified twice since 2012, with our score going up each time. It has not been inexpensive but it is definitely worth it. Our B Corp certification has become a rallying cry for us for mission and purpose. It means our mission is more than just words on a page, it is part of what guides the entire company and everything that we do. This was key to attracting top talent.

The final ingredient was Environmental Social Governance (ESG). ESG used to be a “nice to have.” A marketing item with no metrics or accountability. The new generation of talent entering the marketplace has changed everything. Investors are now looking for data on how companies are meeting their “social responsibility.” ESG has become a new religion in business and if you do not have it you are going to cease to be in business.

Rubicon is leading the way, not only in ESG performance, but with ESG reporting. Our inaugural ESG report released in May of 2020 projected a savings of $208 million for cities using our RUBICONSmartCity™ platform and set a target of 15 percent increased plastics diversion companywide by 2025. It is our hope that through our ESG reporting, we can not only have a direct impact on our planet and our company culture, but encourage other companies to follow our lead. 

Attracting top talent is about making your company a great place to work, both financially and culturally. I am honored to have Rubicon named a Great Place to Work® by the Great Place to Work Institute. To me, the award comes as a recognition that all the work we have put into making Rubicon a company that shines has been worth it.

Ultimately, a company is only as good as its talent. Beyond the awards and certifications, just looking around at Rubicon (and these days, on digital meetings) and seeing all of the bright and talented individuals who have decided to devote their efforts to helping in our mission to end waste, in all of its forms, is the true reward. Knowing that our team members – now in the hundreds - have a choice of where to work and have decided to come here is a validation that even a company that works with garbage can be a “great place to work.”

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