March 11, 2019

Paine readies garbage-disposal business for next generation as he trashes tolls

HBJ Photo | Seah Teehan
HBJ Photo | Seah Teehan
Mike Paine, president of Paine's Inc. Recycling and Rubbish Removal, this year began his first term as chairman of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.

Michael Paine

President, Paine's Inc. Recycling and Rubbish Removal

Education: Simsbury High School, 1972

Executive philosophy: "My executive philosophy is to figure out what you want to do, get good people, give them good direction and get out of their way."

In its early days, Paine's Inc. Recycling and Rubbish Removal had a different idea of waste-to-energy.

"When my grandfather started the business, he picked up garbage from two private schools, and fed it to the pigs at the family farm," said the trash-hauler's current owner, Michael Paine, of the company circa 1929. "Here we are now, nearly 90 years later, talking about organic collection from homes."

In addition to switching to swine-free disposal methods, the company has ballooned in size and influence since Paine started working at the family business in the early 1970s. The current fleet of 53 trucks dwarfs the company's disco-era count of four, and at the beginning of this year Paine began his first term as chairman of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC), which represents companies with commercial vehicles traveling state roads.

His timing for stepping up on the MTAC pedestal coincides with Gov. Ned Lamont laying the groundwork for tolling Connecticut's highways, an initiative Paine says is short-sighted and informed by flawed logic. It would also cost his company more money.

Mounting a fact-based opposition to tolling will be a primary focus for Paine, he said, in addition to readying the family's fourth generation to take over the business, and, of course, continuing to keep the trucks running on time.

An industry leader now, Paine was uncertain as to whether he wanted to join the family business after he graduated from Simsbury High School in 1972.

That's when he hit the road, traveling the country, living off money he made working odd jobs in the nation's western region. But an experience Paine had while working as a logger for a Colorado firewood seller led him to reevaluate his plans.

"My boss there decided, 'well, I want to take a four-day weekend.' Well, I didn't have any money, but he wanted to take it off, and there was nothing for me to do," Paine said. "So I started thinking about it and said, if I work for myself, I can make that decision, but at least I can make sure it's under my terms, not somebody else's."

The experience led him back to Connecticut, and into the family business.

Currently, Paine's Inc. employs about 75 people and operates in 26 Connecticut towns, providing recycling and garbage-removal services to municipal and private-contract customers, Paine said.

Paine attributes the company's growth over the years to a mix of circumstance and a focus on service.

Hartford's population declined by more than 36,000 between 1970 and 2000, almost a quarter of its total inhabitants, according to state population data. During the same period, suburban towns in Greater Hartford saw significant population increases, with Simsbury, where Paine's Inc. was originally based, growing by nearly 32 percent. The population shift added up to a significant increase in customers over the years.

But, Paine said, in order to maintain contracts, the company has to be dependable. Trash may not be at the top of most people's consciousness, but removing it efficiently is incredibly important to them.

"Like many things, people don't appreciate you until your not there," Paine said. "Garbage is very personal."

During winter storms, Paine's drivers make it a point to complete their routes as soon as it's safe to do so, and Paine makes sure he sends email blasts to all customers when pickup will be delayed, he said. The company also eschews automated phone systems for calls, insisting that customers quickly reach a person who can answer direct questions.

Flawed logic

When Paine isn't answering calls like that — he recently drove to a customer's house to personally pick up recycling that got missed shortly before Christmas — his No. 1 concern as MTAC chairman is the increasing likelihood of toll gantries appearing on Connecticut's highways.

In a recent budget proposal, Lamont proposed installing 53 tolling plazas across the state. He previously suggested only tolling tractor-trailers, but has recently shifted toward charging fees for all cars, even though he hasn't completely nixed the idea of just billing larger commercial vehicles, which are thought to do more damage to roads and highways than smaller cars.

That logic, however, is flawed, according to Paine. Trucks are empty much of the time — thereby not carrying much weight — and the distribution of weight the wheels carry makes them less damaging to roads than some smaller vehicles, he said.

But any tolling would amount to a financial hit for Paine's Inc., Paine said, since its trucks have to drive on interstates every day. It would also damage many other transport businesses in a state where most goods are moved by trucks, Paine said.

"I think there will be real unintended consequences for putting in another expense on everybody," Paine said. "(MTAC is) going to talk about … how to make sure they understand the magnitude of the issue."

That will take the form of a heavy lobbying effort, Paine said.

"To me, lobbying is stating your point of view to other people," Paine said. "To me, good lobbying has good facts to back it up, and explain why."

But management at Paine's Inc., like other waste-disposal companies in the area, is also busy with more immediate issues.

For example, with an increasing number of vehicles powered by natural gas, whether to buy trucks that run on that fuel or stick with diesel-fueled haulers is becoming a more complex decision, especially considering the changes that could occur during a truck's five- to seven-year lifespan.

On the backburner for Paine is the eventual transfer of the business to a fifth generation of blood-related owners. Paine's niece, Julie Paine-Miller, is currently vice president, and his son, Mike Paine Jr., is an executive associate.

With a succession plan in place, and the two already upping Paine's Inc.'s technological chops, Michael Paine is optimistic about the scions' skills.

"My job really is to show my niece and son how to do this, and then get out of their way," Paine said.

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