Leaders in waste: Gayle Sloan – The operationally minded strategist

By Adam Johnson, MRA Consulting Group

Leaders in Waste series

The Leaders in Waste series was born out of an article I wrote on LinkedIn. I wrote of the difference between seeing the world through the lens of a Great Leader vs the need for many genuinely good leaders. The Great Leader is disempowering, untouchable, seemingly a gift from Heaven (or Hell). The good leader comes from among us, is something that anybody can choose to become.

Mike Ritchie commented that we should shine a light on the waste industry’s many good leaders. Which led to this, a series that is intended to show the riches of leadership in our sector.

Our inaugural article is about Gayle Sloan, CEO of the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA).

Gayle Sloan – The operationally minded strategist

When I first came across Gayle, she was totally owning a huge plenary session at the Coffs Harbour conference. She was witty, considered, confident and well across a role that she had only been in for about six months. You’d be hard pressed to guess that Gayle hates public speaking. But she does.

It’s not the only curious contradiction with Gayle. A clear strategist and policy expert, she is very comfortable in dealing with operational matters. She admires Barack Obama – and Beyonce. And there is not a trace of a Scottish accent, notwithstanding her family emigrating to Australia from Scotland when Gayle was 12.

Gayle is clearly somebody with both strong views and the know-how to make them happen. Somebody with the energy and passion to bring to bear. Somebody who can formulate an argument and then prosecute it with vigour.

I get the sense that Gayle can see the future of waste and WMAA’s role in it. She is definitely tapped into the current zeitgeist, a shift that is reflected in programs like War on Waste and movements like 1 Million Women. She is also making real strides in positioning WMAA to respond through strong policy and advocacy. Reinvigorating local branches. Putting funds toward education training for the sector. Working to unify a sector that has become splintered.

The circular economy isn’t just an aspirational thing for Gayle, but something very real, very tangible. Something that the waste sector can and should strive toward. Be a part of. Inspired by organisations like Unilever (The Circulars 2016 Finalist), Gayle is helping the sector make the shift from seeing itself as an end-of-pipe solution provider, to a sector that is intrinsic in the whole economy.

Oh, and Gayle’s a lawyer by training. That’s not especially common in this industry, but has proved invaluable when engaging with policy. That expertise alongside her experience in State and local government, as well as industry, has perfectly positioned her.

So when Gayle talks of waste needing to be an essential service, she doesn’t simply mean that it matters for the sector in dealing with its NIMBY “friends”, but that it matters for society. That waste and recycling infrastructure needs to be properly planned, protected and managed in accordance with the waste hierarchy. That is, she understands the operational, strategic and policy implication of the “waste as an essential service” stance.

Gayle wants to make things happen. She will do so by engaging people with a combination of making things fun, then following up with a killer argument. Intellect and self-deprecating humour, traits that she shares with Barack Obama.

I feel that Gayle is the right person in the right place to lead waste forward. And she will do so by bringing others along with her, both leading and following.

And Gayle’s advice to people new in the field? In her words:

“Learn as much as you can from as many as you can… and never ever say no to a role in operations – the more you see the more you see the big picture and how it all works together…”

Gayle is definitely one of the waste industry’s good leaders.

As always, I welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic on ‘The Tipping Point’.