Profiles in Paper: Don Majka
Q & A Interview with DON MAJKA
Q: When and how did you enter the paper recycling industry?
A: In 1993, my father-in-law, Frank Karczewski, was working at Paper Recycling International, a joint venture of Waste Management and Stone Container Corp. One day he asked me, “Why don’t you come work for us?” I interviewed with his boss and landed the job, starting out as a cold-calling recycling salesman looking to buy a load of cardboard from anybody.
When PRI broke up in 1997, I stayed with the Waste Management side of the business. Over the years I rose through the ranks, from cold-calling salesman to junior manager, then Northeast sales manager, East Coast director, and now VP Commodity Sales.
Q: What was it about the industry that prompted you to build a career in it?
A: The day I walked into this company, I realized it’s all about building relationships. That’s how you drive your growth. I liked the challenge of going out and having to build lasting relationships. I still have relationships with people I met my first year. I also like the ever-changing nature of the business. There’s a different challenge every day you come to work. And I liked the potential for job growth within Waste Management. It’s a big public company with a lot of opportunities to prove yourself.
Q: What have been your most rewarding professional achievements?
A: The day in 2008 when I became a VP of Waste Management—a Fortune 200 company—was one of the best days of my life. I’m also proud my two sons have pursued careers in the recycling industry as well. As kids, they listened to my father-in-law and I talk about the business, so there must have been something good in what they heard to attract them.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: My thing is team building. I try to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am, and I try to treat everybody the way I want to be treated. My philosophy is to build the right team, trust the people who work with me, and give them the autonomy to make decisions.
Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
A: After I graduated from college, I worked for about 12 years in the garden, floral, and decorating business, running three big centers. Another great story is that I’ve worked for Waste Management for 27 years and I’ve never had to change my desk or leave my home town. That never happens in today’s work world.
Q: If you could improve anything about yourself, what would it be?
A: I tend to dominate conversations, so I’d definitely like to learn to be a better listener. People who know me will definitely agree with that!
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I’m a lifelong fan and season ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills. I do a lot of hands-on home projects—including projects at my sons’ homes. I also have a drum kit in my basement that I play once in a while.
Q: When and why did your company decide to join ISRI and the PSI Chapter?
A: Waste Management has been an ISRI and PSI member for a long time, but it wasn’t involved in the association until about five years ago. Since then we’ve been very involved. As the recycling industry changed over the years, we felt the need to have a stronger voice and a leadership position in the industry’s trade association. We view ISRI as the mouthpiece for the recycling industry, and our conduit to the industry now is through ISRI.
Q: Have you held any volunteer leadership positions within PSI?
A: I started serving on the Paper Division two years ago, and I continue to be the division’s Second Vice Chair, now starting my second two-year term on ISRI’s national board of directors representing Waste Management.
Q: What benefits have you received from your PSI involvement?
A: Our staff has become very involved in ISRI and PSI in the areas of safety, policy, and international affairs. We also are involved with the inbound and outbound MRF specs. The paper grades are very important to all of us, so we want to have a voice at the table if the industry’s going to go in a different direction.
Q: What are the major challenges facing your company and the overall paper recycling industry today?
A: The biggest challenge is inbound contamination in the residential recycling stream. That has been the biggest problem ever since China left the marketplace and the grade specs of shipping anywhere were tightened up. Technology is going to be a big driver going forward—how can we make our recyclable material cleaner using better technology? While it’s important to be on the cutting edge of technology, capital constraints are always going to be an issue. Then there’s the challenge of keeping up with the ever-changing global markets, the shifting regulations on the recycling stream, and the inevitable swings in commodity prices.