Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Chicago IL

Lakeshore Recycling is a comprehensive waste management company, featuring 15 high-tech recycling centers throughout the Chicago metro area, greater Illinois, and Wisconsin. The company’s revenue channels include power sweeping services, rentals from its vast inventory of portable restrooms and related temporary facilities, and dumpster rental and servicing. Lakeshore delivers its various services to municipalities, school systems, and other public institutions, as well as to industrial, construction, commercial, and even private individual customers.
In 2019, the enterprise was named one of the Chicago area’s fastest-growing companies on the prominent Crain’s Fast 50. Lakeshore was also awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics in 2018, making it the first waste services business ever to receive the award from the BBB.

Lakeshore Recycling Strategic Growth Model

The original company that later became Lakeshore Recycling Services (LRS) was found in 1999. It was born of a merger between two Chicago companies, one with a large facility and the other operating in recycling and other waste treatment. Since that initial merger, the company further multiplied in size through additional mergers and acquisitions, including these several transformative ownership transfers:
• In 2012 a merger was completed between Lakeshore Waste Services and Recycling Systems, Inc., two of Chicago’s most successful waste recycling businesses. The combined companies then became Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS).
• In 2017, LRS acquired K Holdings, based in W Chicago, opening up revenue channels in portable restroom rentals, power sweeping, dumpster services, and other temporary/portable services. LRS kept much of the same team on board in those areas of operations.
• In 2018 Lakeshore acquired Royal Container Service, in Madison, WI, southern Wisconsin’s leading dumpster provider, and recycling service. The addition of that asset created an imminently scalable waste collection and recycling organization in that state, and expanded LRS’s operational area, making the company a bi-state enterprise with its newly acquired northern sister company.

As a result of the 2012 and 2018 mergers and strong organic growth in services sales, the new LRS company started with a couple of hundred workers and almost $50 million in sales, contrasting its position today with nearly 1,000 employees and around $240m in revenues. In addition to its large pavement sweeping and vast portable restroom rental services, the company is the largest independently owned waste hauler in the Midwest and one of the top 40 in the United States.
The company’s CEO, Alan Handley reportedly explained in another interview, “Mergers and acquisitions are a big part of what we do, augmented, of course, by growing the organic side of our business.”

Lakeshore Recycling Systems Corporate Leadership

The company has a formidable leadership team of highly educated and experienced business experts. As to be expected with a large and fast-growing corporation like LRS, filling the C-suite is a team of top industry professionals busily working on design and implementation of strategies for acquisition and cultivation of organic growth through careful fostering of repeat and referral business through the current customer base and branding in the community. People in key leadership roles in levels of oversight of power sweeping services sales and operational performance include:
 Alan Handley, the CEO, oversees the entire company, including its extensive array of state-of-the-art recycling centers throughout the Chicagoland area and the temporary services division, under the auspices of which the commercial and industrial pavement sweeping division operates. Before coming on board in 2012 as Lakeshore’s CEO, Handley served as Executive VP and CFO of the Aldridge Group, one of the leading U.S. electrical and civil contractors. Alan is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, lecturing at its Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He holds an MBA and is a CPA. He was honored with the 2016 gold Stevie Award as Executive of the Year.
 Brian Tibble, CMO, joined the company in 2016 as VP of Business Development. Tibble develops the sales team and implements strategic plans to drive revenue generation in LRS’s commercial and temporary services divisions, and he ensures the organization’s continuous focus on the customer experience. Brian has an MBA.
 Brian Grosse is LRS’s VP of Portable Services. He oversees all operations in the company’s portable restroom rental services, other sanitation station rentals, industrial, construction, municipal, and commercial power sweeping services, and dumpster rentals and servicing. Brian came aboard with LRS as part of the transition plan when the company acquired his thriving portable restroom rental business.
 Meaghan Johnson, Director of Marketing runs a highly dynamic team, the members of which she says, “wear many hats,” as they’re known for their truly spectacular versatility in being fully cross-trained and knowledgeably representing all the LRS revenue lines, in all their dizzying individual complexities.

LRS Powersweeping Operations and Equipment

We spoke with Brian Grosse, Lakeshore’s VP of Portable Services, which includes power sweeping and portable restroom rental services. He explained that the majority of power sweepers that LRS uses are Schwarze brand. “A7s and A9s are our sweepers of choice. We have found those to be very accommodating for leaf cleanups in municipal street sweeping.” He said the company also uses Elgins, and that they have construction-site grade broom trucks and mechanicals, regenerative sweepers, and other equipment for use in servicing industrial contracts.
Grosse noted that LRS has not focused much on sweeping for special events so far. He estimated that probably about 70 percent of the company’s power sweeping business is in municipal contracts, construction, and industrial site sweeping services.
Brian explained that employees in his division’s customers need to change seasonally. So, his field services employees are cross-trained to switch job roles in the fall and spring, to accommodate the shifting demands between roll-offs, toilet rentals, and power sweeping. “It helps keep guys working.”
Brian estimated that LRS currently has a total of 33 sweeper trucks. (Meaghan Johnson, Director of Marketing also offered that Lakeshore has a total of around 650 vehicles in its company-wide fleet.)

Lakeshore Recycling Systems Marketing & Sales

“The company is one of the only operations of its type to have its own marketing team in the entire Chicagoland metro region. The team stands out in the industry for its unmatched versatility. Johnson explains, “We’re very nimble in making sure our sales team can cross-sell all services. For example, if a construction company needs power sweeping services, portable restrooms, roll-offs, those are all things we can take care of for them.”
Meaghan clarifies, “So, whether a construction site needs something temporarily, or a private homeowner wants to have a contract for routine service, or a municipality wants to talk about street sweeping, all our sales employees can help them get services in place to meet their needs.”
She further describes what appears to be a quite agile LRS sales team, “It depends on customers’ needs. We have partnerships with big construction companies in Illinois, with dedicated sales reps for just the construction projects, but we’re versatile enough to help a homeowner with a house project who needs to do a cleanout. We do have regular routes for homeowners and businesses. We have a lot of contracted customers, for example, for the City of Wheaton, we provide every-day pickup of garbage dumpsters.”

State-of-the-Art Environmental Technology at Lakeshore

LRS received the NAEP Environmental Excellence Award for Best Available Environmental Technology in 2016. The company also received the Chicago Public School’s Best Partnership Award, which honors the vendor who has demonstrated the greatest degree of commitment to the school district’s students across its vast system, a strong eagerness to collaborate, and actions that have the effect of changing policies and behaviors in ways that have led to measurable cost savings for the district (2014).
CEO Handley reportedly said in an interview with RecyclingToday magazine (2019) “We’re also continually looking for ways to introduce automation, whether it be robotics or other forms of automation, to lower the cost of recycling so that we can make it more sustainable in the longer term. The way we view it is that the only way to make recycling sustainable in the long-term is to reduce the cost of recycling going in and reducing the labor associated with it.”
Alan continued in that interview, “We’ve spent a lot of time as of late on the robotics and automation side. We believe that that’s a game-changer for recycling, and I continue to look at ways to add more and more robotics and more automation to the recycling side of our business. And that’s not just on the consumer side, but also on the industrial and the construction side as well.”

LRS Culture of Innovation

As the Lakeshore CEO told the Recycling Today reporter in the above-mentioned interview of October 2019, “We really do have a culture we’ve developed of trying to be as innovative as possible, embracing new technologies, listening to our customers and making sure that you don’t just do things the old traditional way.
We control close to 2.5 million tons of material coming through our facilities. It’s very close to 35 to 40 percent of Chicago’s and southwestern Wisconsin’s waste stream, and out of that material, pretty close to 50 to 60 percent is recycled or diverted. Our entire corporate DNA and everything we talk about is how we keep material from going to the landfill. I’m pushing to try to find end products for about everything we possibly can.”

Company Culture at Lakeshore

Lakeshore has been named as one of the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® (2016). The CEO explained in the Recycling Today article last year, “It’s a tight labor market, and it’s hard to find good, qualified talent. When we do find them, we want to make sure they have a good, meaningful career with us and that we provide an opportunity for them to grow with our company.
So, we’ve spent a lot of time and focus effort, and energy on really developing our people and making sure we have a good pipeline of talent as we look forward. That’s been a big emphasis for us, and I think it’s key to the future.”
Brian Grosse, told NAS, “We want to make sure all our employees have the tools and resources they need to succeed, and that they’re learning about the industry, and are up to speed. We want to make sure the office staff learns about the services. So, for example, we have truck ride-along.”
Meaghan Johnson emphasized that what makes Lakeshore succeed is helping the employees succeed. “We’re very fortunate to recognize our employees every year. This year (2020) has, of course, been a little different for all of us. We have about 920 employees right now. Usually, in summers, we do a big get together, and we have a winter awards ceremony, at which we recognize key achievements people have made during the year.”
She continued, “Safety is very important to who we are. It’s something that makes us different from some of our competition. Training is always readily available for drivers and laborers. Everyone needs to know the best practices, safety protocols, practices, and industry standards.”
Lakeshore was awarded the Biggest Safety Improvement Award by the Solid Waste Association of North America in 2017. LRS has continuously upgraded its safety program. The leadership team has further focused on developing the level of mutual trust with its workforce that is necessary to build and maintain a strong safety culture throughout a large organization like LRS.
The company has consistently demonstrated outstanding efforts in community outreach and education. Meaghan emphasized, “We also do believe in giving and are involved in various nonprofit initiatives. We’re very vocal in the community. We always love to give back as much as possible, through sponsorships and partnering with organizations like the Lupus Society, and others in our area.”

Sustainability Initiatives as Lakeshore Recycling

Brian Gross stated to NAS, “Sustainability is part of our core, and it’s what sets us apart from our competitors. Everything we do is a sustainability initiative. It’s really why I think we’ve been very successful over the last six years or so.”
He went on to say, “We are very different in the market from pretty much anybody else you can think of. It’s mostly because from the very founding days of our company, we set that out to be our goal—that we wouldn’t sacrifice environmental stewardship or sustainability for profit. We believe in that. They really aren’t mutually exclusive—you can be profitable and do the right thing for the world.”
Brian offered examples of ways the company’s recycling operations reconstitute debris to “give it a second life” whether as mulch or in some different form, depending on the material, to send it out into service of some other need of the society.

Key Challenges for LRS

Lakeshore management is aware of the tightening labor markets and competitive use of automation and other technologies as well as of the rapid changes across the public and private economic sectors over the past half-decade.
Alan Handley has acknowledged that among the challenges the organization faces every day is the very problem of identifying all the particular needs for changes, “Frankly, we struggle to continually recognize them, find ways to overcome them and [find] the keys to thriving. For instance, it’s very hard to find drivers, and safety goes hand-in-hand with trying to find good drivers. So how do we tackle that?
It’s also never been more dangerous to operate heavy machinery in major urban markets when you have things like scooters, bicycle lanes, and distracted drivers and walkers. It’s quite a challenge. But, we work with good customers.” And, he concluded, “We’re able to overcome much of the headwinds.”

Forward Thinking Leadership at Lakeshore Recycling

Lakeshore Recycling Systems is barely more than a decade old business. Yet, the company has made the mark of a fully-established environmentally beneficial service institution in the massive urban complex of Chicagoland. LRS currently operates five urban recycling facilities with first-class industrial technologies and an ever-expanding fleet of field services vehicles (natural gas-powered).
Between its municipal and industrial power sweeping services (in which it includes the performance data for its construction site sweeping services), and its dumpster services, portable restroom rental services, and recycling, LRS delivers some form of waste removal and/or recycling services to thousands of commercial, industrial, municipal, and residential customers. This includes all 642 schools in the vast Chicago Public Schools system.
Alan Handley stated in another interview, “Our goal was to be a progressive, recycling-first, [waste] diversion-first, customer-focused independent recycling, and waste company, and then be a dominant player in the markets in the greater Midwest.”
He went on to say that it appears to him that the company is well on its way to fulfilling its goal. It is certainly too hard to dispute that observation. With its continued aggressive positioning for growth by mergers and acquisitions and its rate of success in expansion by those means, its leadership’s confidence in the LRS organization’s financial future makes sense.
Further, the company’s entire savvy C-suite management team’s advanced business leadership acumen and their shared deep dedication to the customer experience, and to meticulously ridding the system of any hint of causes negatively impacting productivity, cost control, or the brand’s service reputation is all together pretty spectacular to behold in communications with the team.
Those hallmarks of a great service organization are apparent at LRS, along with its stellar leadership group’s palpable commitment to hiring well and nurturing a satisfying workplace culture, which together can provide the kind of overall employee experience that can veritably ensure the long-term success of the extraordinary LRS enterprise.

For more information on Lakeshore Recycling Services, call (630) 377-7000 or visit the Lakeshore website at lrsrecycles.com.

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