Member of the Month

May 2016 • Michele Zambrano


As a recent enlistee in the United States Army in 1998, my colleagues called me ‘Private Zambrano.’ Seven years later after quickly ascending the officer ranks, MY troops called me ‘Captain Z.’ My success was a testament to the hard work and lessons on relationships learned working side by side with a diverse group of people while serving in The United States Army. One of the key lessons that served me well even today in my role as District Manager of Collections for Waste Management was never asking my team to perform a task that I would not perform myself.

As a Platoon Leader of a construction company in the Army, it is imperative that one becomes intimately familiar with each piece of equipment whether it be a Humvee or a 5-ton truck. My first assignment as Construction Platoon Leader for the 2nd Platoon, was a project that was three months behind schedule. It was up to me and my team to get it back on track. I sat down with my Platoon Sergeant and came up with a plan that had to be efficient while producing zero injuries in the process. We communicated the plan to the soldiers and began implementation. There were many obstacles to overcome such as heat, exhaustion, limited resources, and manpower shortages. We needed something more, so I asked my team to show me how to run the equipment. They were hesitant at first, after all, I was a brand new 2nd Lieutenant and they didn’t want me to break anything or anyone. Each soldier took the time to teach me how to operate his/her piece of equipment. We staggered everyone’s breaks and I chipped in on occasions. I was not nearly as efficient as they were, but they bought in and wanted to get back on track just as much as I did. I earned a lot of loyalty by showing my soldiers that I was not afraid to get my hands dirty. We ended up finishing the project ahead of schedule. My time as a Construction Platoon Leader made me realize how much I loved serving my country, soldiers/people, and working around all types of big equipment.

When I transitioned to the civilian world, I needed to find a company that had similar values to that of The United States Army. During my search, I came across a list of the Top Military Employers. There was only one employer that caught my attention; it was Waste Management (WM).

My first assignment with WM was as a sales representative. During my first week, I was partnered with several commercial drivers to do ride-alongs so that I could see the job from their perspective. I quickly became interested in the equipment they operated. These trucks had more moving parts than any truck I have ever seen or operated in my career. My interest in our equipment and our operations piqued even more, leading me to my second assignment as a route manager. I was promoted to a front line manager in charge of a team of drivers that collected refuse while providing a valuable service to the community. I had the opportunity to interact internally with all aspects of the business from dispatch, sales, and disposal, as well as our external customers. I reported to the district manager who was responsible for every truck and driver at the facility. I loved it. I quickly realized that I found my home and it was in operations at Waste Management. It was very much like being back in the field where I belong, leading troops. This time, the troops are CDL drivers and their equipment is a trash truck.

Fast forward a few short years later, I am now the district manager of my own facility where I manage multiple employees, six lines of business, and 26 commercial trucks. I can still operate every piece of equipment on the yard, but I will leave the efficient operation of the trucks to the drivers. I can confidently say that Waste Management has some of the hardest working drivers in the industry. I reflect back on my time as a Platoon Leader in the Army remembering the importance teamwork and having a full understanding of the roles of every person under my charge. My goals are still the same, helping them to work as effective, efficient, and safely as possible while delivering world-class service to all of our customers.

When I think back about what got me into this industry, I can point to a few things. The people are what keep me here.

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