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While we didn’t sign up for this crisis…let’s not waste it

February 2, 2021

By John Morris, EVP, Chief Operating Officer, Waste Management

At WM, our goal is to weave leadership into everything we do. Every step we take. Every decision we make.

There was one particular morning in early March that really sticks with me. There was endless information coming at us, but we had to discern fact from fiction before redesigning our business plan overnight.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful we can keep our folks safe and service our customers. While we didn’t sign up for this crisis…let’s not waste it. Let’s make the most of every lesson learned.

  1. Put people first. We’re a people business, so above everything, we must think about how decisions affect those who keep the industry running.
  2. Trust your people. In the past, I’ve learned by watching leadership navigate tough situations. It’s leadership’s role to plot a course and then to trust employees who know how to do their jobs.
  3. Make the best decision with what you have. None of us had the luxury of waiting for perfect information. With circumstances changing constantly, we had to be nimble, present solutions based on current data, and pivot as new hurdles came to light.
  4. Safety is a heart, mind and culture issue. When it comes to safety, we don’t want to be the best in the industry; we want to be the best period. You could have every training and every resource, but you must own your process to succeed. To be safe, you must create and foster a culture where everyone feels obligated to put safety measures first.
  5. Communication is key. If no one is aware of the plan, it won’t happen. Teams must communicate efficiently and effectively so everyone understands the path forward.

I’m not learning or navigating through disruption alone. I’m proud of how our 50,000 team members are withstanding a pandemic. I can’t imagine how our world would look if it weren’t for their ongoing service.   

To everyone who calls this their profession, livelihood and passion – thank you for what you do!

For similar conversations around inspiring leadership, leading with purpose and tackling climate change together, join us at the 2021 WM Sustainability Forum February 3-4. 


As executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO) for Waste Management, John Morris has responsibility for all field operations which includes oversight of collections, disposal, recycling, and landfills. He is a member of the Company’s senior leadership team and reports to Jim Fish, president and chief executive officer.

Morris has held several positions in his 20-plus years with the company including market area general manager of NYC, area vice president of Greater Mid-Atlantic Area, chief strategy officer, and most recently senior vice president, field operations.

John is a graduate of Rutgers University.


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