How I Became An Entrepreneur

My motivation:

I moved from the Philadelphia area to Milwaukee in December 1990 along with my wife, Jamy, and our dog, Samantha.

We came there for a new opportunity with my employer at the time.

A little over a year later, I was out of a job. Fired.

I looked at my options and decided that I needed to get back to work as soon as possible.

I took the first job I was offered, and I hated it. I lasted 30 days at the most. It wasn’t the right fit for me. My gut would hurt each morning as I made the drive in. I asked myself if this was really my future, working with a bunch of people I didn’t like or respect, in a business that was run by a pretty great guy, but not run well. There had to be more out there for me than this.

The last straw for me was when my “manager,” a dick of a person named Don, chose to ransack my office (which was in an office trailer in a parking lot), tossing my papers, folders and whatever else I had onto the floor.

My Awakening:

I can trace my entrepreneurial spirit back to when I was 4 years old. We lived across the street from a construction company that had a bunch of dump trucks, low boys and heavy equipment.

ROUSE was the company name on the building.

I’d sit on the curb, next to where the numbers of our address were stenciled, and watch the guys maneuver their rigs into the tight yard before quitting for the day. I imagined what it would be like to drive a truck like that, to have my name on its side.

Of course, I had no idea at the time what went into to owning a business, or even what owning a business meant. But the thought of those trucks was implanted in my brain, and having my name on the side of them, stuck with me all through grade school and high school.

The thoughts then went dormant in college.

No one I was hanging out with in college was talking about starting a business. It was either continuing with school (law, grad or medical) or getting a corporate job. I went the corporate job route.

Thanks to Don, and to my entire experience at that 30-day job, the idea of being an entrepreneur popped back into my head.

That, plus the support of one of the greatest men I’ve ever met, Butch Weiss, with whom I’d worked before being fired from my move to Milwaukee job, who told me that if I ever wanted to start a business, he would want to join me.

Butch gave me the confidence to move ahead.

I wasn’t sure how to do everything that needed to be done, but I started moving forward and learned what I needed along the way. Sometimes the easy way but more often the hard.

The creation of Advanced Waste Services, Inc:

I started working on creating AWS in May of 1992. We incorporated in November of that year and began operation on January 2, 1993. During that time, the business plan was written, an SBA-backed loan was acquired from Firstar Bank (long-gone name, thank you, Laurie Martinez!), 401K’s and CD’s were cashed in, our parents lent us money and, finally, Chuck Kullberg & Larry Lyons joined as investors to complete the circuit.

We ordered 2 trucks and 2 trailers, got a contract from the WI DNR (with zero operating history) that got us going. Butch quit his job, and the rest is a pretty long story. Rewarding a lot of the time, incredibly painful at times as well.

The short story is that in 2015, by which time Butch, Larry and Chuck were no longer with the business, I sold AWS to a publicly traded company called Covanta Energy. Our team had grown to about 150 people, we were doing about $45 Million in sales, made money and had a great reputation in the marketplace. Selling the business wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing for me, my family and the AWS team.

My current adventure:

I’ve developed a mindset that is built on designing a life that is driven by Options, rather than Obligations.  My goal is to create new opportunities, relationships and success stories as a result of doing the things I most want to do while avoiding the things I do not most want to do.

The Options I’m focused on now include my Health, my Family, my new Business Adventure, ERC Midwest, LLC, the How’d it Happen Podcast, the completion of my first book and investing in startup companies and other interesting opportunities.