Greater Greenville Sanitation executive director Steve Cole ’00 graduated from high school in 1990. “At the time,” he says, “getting a car was more important to me than getting an education.” So he went to work after graduation to start earning money right away.
When he started working at the Laurens Electric Cooperative, though, his thoughts returned to education when he learned about their tuition reimbursement program. He took a year’s worth of courses at a school that was convenient to where he worked, but when he began to have suspicions about the quality of the education, he started researching other programs in the area. That’s when he found Furman Undergraduate Evening Studies. Cole decided to pursue an accounting degree at Furman, feeling that this business specialization would give him an edge in a competitive job market.
“I can’t say enough good things about Furman,” he says, “its reputation, the quality of the education, and the availability of career-relevant degree offerings.” Holding down a job, having a family, and getting a degree in four years is not for the faint of heart, but for Cole, the challenge was worth the effort. “If you’re going through that effort, it might as well be for a degree that means something,” he says.
Cole’s instructors were accommodating, but held students to high standards. One instructor who stands out in Cole’s memory was Michael Elliot, a practicing CPA who taught a tax course every spring as his own refresher for tax season. He took another course taught by Furman’s Director of Learning Technologies Susan Dunnavant, and her instruction was practical and immediately applicable. “The faculty are very professional and well-prepared,” Cole says, “a mix of professional adjuncts and academics who provide a well-rounded education.”
In fact, as a direct result of his degree from Furman, his career prospects began to change. Cole was promoted at LEC until changes in that organization led to a layoff; he then worked as a controller for a Subway franchisee group and later held the same position for a construction company.
Cole later learned that the finance director at GGS was leaving, and he applied and was hired for the position in 2010. A year later, he started an MBA program at Clemson, and he says his acceptance into the program as well as his ability to do well in it were helped by the quality of education he received at Furman. After receiving his MBA, the opportunity for promotion came up again, this time for the position he now holds.
As for his knowledge of solid waste before working at GGS, Cole says he had “absolutely zero,” and he had not envisioned himself working in the garbage industry. But it’s a service that everyone, from a person living alone to a large corporation, needs and will always need. And he’s doing his part to ensure that the service his customers receive is of the same quality they’ve come to expect in spite of rising costs at his end.
GGS has a fleet of 70 vehicles to service residential garbage and recycling, commercial collection, and yard waste disposal, and 121 employees to service around 52,000 customers in Greenville County. The constant challenge of the industry is finding ways to divert waste from landfills, and to do it in a cost-effective way. Because GGS is a tax-supported utility, simply raising rates to consumers is not an option, so Cole implemented such changes as moving to a four-day work week to eliminate overtime pay, lobbying the state legislature to allow GGS to participate in the state employee health insurance plan, and only sending recycling trucks to homes that specifically opted in—for a savings of over $550,000 a year to offset increases in landfill fees.
As a service provider, GGS goes the extra mile to keep Greenville County clean, providing trash pickup from the porches of disabled customers so they don’t have to haul it to the curb, picking up trash that’s left under overpasses and in other public places, and implementing a program called Community Green to help residents maintain a clean neighborhood and properly dispose of unwanted items.
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