Profile: WRS Environmental Services Visualizes a Strong Future

Despite what American businessman Bert Lance famously advised in 1977—“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—sometimes a complete overhaul is the best next step for a company that’s doing well but could be doing great.

In the case of WRS Environmental Services, the vision CEO Michael Rodgers had for his business required that he and his partner, WRS president Thomas Arabia, revise the direction in which they were headed and institute major changes. That strategy is still paying dividends as the eighteen-year-old company successfully weathers the economic downturn and heads into its future with a strong tailwind.

“About seven years ago, we started a ground-up re-creation of the company,” Rodgers explains. Because they believed their employees were key to everything they wanted to accomplish, WRS made a commitment to unionize the company.

“We’re the only environmental company in the region that has a unionized work force—unionized because we wanted a vehicle to attract the best.” WRS’s wages and benefits packages continue to be an enticement that provides the company with a huge block of talent from which to choose.

Ralph Ranghelli, Executive Vice President, adds, “Development of your workforce is key. The extensive training we provide is one of the factors that I think distinguishes us. We have a talented workforce that has been with us a long time, and we’re competing in a market that is 99.9 percent non-union.”

Visionary Leader
WRS Environmental Services was formed in 1992, as Waste Recycling Solutions; but when the limitations of the term “waste” got in the way of how the company saw itself, the name was changed to incorporate its new image of its future. Today the ninety-person-strong company has its headquarters on Long Island in Yaphank, New York, and comprehensive satellite offices in Brooklyn and outside of Utica, New York, in Poland. It provides a broad range of specialized and customized services—from 24/7 land and marine environmental emergency response, hazardous remediation and training and security, to water treatment and de-watering systems management and maintenance, vacuum excavation, pumping and vacuuming, and transport and disposal. It has strategic partnerships with all the utilities in the Northeast region: Consolidated Edison, National Grid, and New York Power Authority.

Ranghelli doesn’t hesitate to boast of Rodgers’s capabilities as CEO in charge of all daily operations. “Mike is sort of a visionary—he can look at opportunities and portray in his mind a strategic plan that can be executed to keep us in the forefront of the industry. Without that, this company would not have grown and expanded as it did.”

Challenges that Distinguish WRS
“One of the first challenges was changing the company, and it goes on today,” says Rodgers. “The second one was building strategic partnerships with the utilities in the region. The third was attracting employees, giving them a lot of power in the hiring and training, and not being afraid to look for perfection. And then we stepped it up to the equipment. We definitely have the best equipment in the industry.”

When Rodgers began to see what his own limitations were, he went looking for people who could advise him. “And that’s where Ralph came in.” Ranghelli’s extensive background is in the utility business and has included several years’ direct involvement in union relationships. WRS’s CFO, Anthony Nozzolillo, held a position overseeing thousands of employees at another utility company.

“We believe that people are the way to get to the right people,” says Rodgers.

And the Difference Is…
“Another thing that distinguishes us,” Ranghelli says, “is that we can improvise—we can customize—any of our services. We often find ourselves confronted with situations beyond the norm. We have the nimbleness and agility to tailor operations to meet their requirements.”

However, the extremely high level of service and capabilities that WRS offers its clients doesn’t come cheap.

“Because of the direction we chose, we took an environmental company and made it one of the more expensive companies out there for utility companies to use,” Rodgers acknowledges. “The only way we could overcome that was to give quality of service. We’re the furthest thing from the cheapest, but when everyone is cutting costs, we still have the ability to grow because of the services we give. ‘Value added.’ Everyone in the company knows that term.”

WRS responds to more than 1,200 emergencies a year including environmental spills, vehicles hitting utility poles, hazmat incidents, and more. The company guarantees a response in two hours or less, which it handles using a finely tuned, multi-stage process that operates 24/7. From the customer, the report goes directly to the supervisory group, where they are intimately familiar with the steps to develop the response plan. The on-call duty supervisor dispatches the appropriate teams, which might include hazmat technicians and highly trained specialized equipment operators.

“It’s never dull,” Rodgers happily concedes. “There’s always excitement. And every single day there’s a new challenge, with opportunities out there to strategically plan where the company is going to go.”

Looking Ahead
“We’ve had to look very closely at our internal expenses to bring them down as low as possible,” says Rodgers about the changing economic landscape. “Anyone who is willing to make the commitment we’ve made, they will be fine. The weaker companies will have a more difficult time of it. We’ll have to restructure a little bit.

“The part of our business where we support the general contractors who work with the utilities has slowed because utilities have postponed some capital expenditures. However, that’s temporary. They can’t put off those projects indefinitely.”

WRS’s future appears to be pretty green in other ways, too.

“We’re looking into ‘green’ technology, which is really the buzz word in the industry. Utilities will be the driver, and we see ourselves as supporting them in that. Through our union affiliations, we’re putting people through specialized training on such things as solar panels.”

WRS uses fourteen very quiet vacuum trucks—each one a $300 thousand to $425 thousand investment, and each with slightly different capabilities—that meet acceptable noise pollution standards set by the New York Power Authority. The trucks also conform to diesel regulations for emissions.

Rodgers recognizes the need. “It’s hard to be in an environmental corporation and have a vehicle that’s polluting…right?”

To learn more about WRS Environmental Services, visit




Story by Anne Biggs


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