Meet the MD: Jonathan Oldfield of Riverside Waste Machinery

Meet the MD: Jonathan Oldfield of Riverside Waste Machinery

Jonathan Oldfield always wanted to be a bin man as a child, and now as an adult he is the MD of a waste machinery company. He talked to BQ about being a hands on MD and working his way up the family business...

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I love the fact that I’m still a ‘hands on’ MD – it keeps my job fresh to say the least. I take the lead in sales enquiries, particularly the provision of waste handling and recycling advice for the country’s more complex projects. I love the opportunity to listen to a customer’s scenario, however challenging, and devising a solution that maximises the wealth in their ‘waste’. In fact, we mirror this advice-led approach in our marketing too – an activity I also like getting involved in.

Away from the more operational side of our business, I am also responsible for our strategic progress. I am constantly on the lookout for new market opportunities and ground-breaking technologies that can achieve greater efficiencies for our clients.


What is it the company does?

We supply waste machinery – predominantly waste balers – that enable our customers to better manage the ‘rubbish’ that they produce. Many materials – such as cardboard, paper, plastic – are actually very valuable, therefore we help organisations recover and bale them, so that they can be sent for recycling. This strengthens our clients’ ‘green’ credentials and helps to protect the environment. It can also sometimes result in the generation of an additional income stream for clients, given the commodity value of these materials.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I used to be ‘motor mad’, therefore I began training as an apprentice mechanic when I left school. However, when I was 18, the opportunity arose to join the family business, so I came in at a grass roots level and worked my way up. I've earned my stripes across every area of operations, which is probably why I still love the variety of my role even now, as MD.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Lots of things contribute to being a good leader – the ability to inspire, empower and develop. But I almost think these things are a given. Being a great leader is much more of a tall order. As daft as it sounds, I’d say a great leader is someone who achieves incredible business success without needing to think about business all day, every day – someone who can enjoy having a conversation and a laugh with colleagues, for example. Someone who willingly takes time out to listen, whether the topic is business related or not.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Our company was established in 1997, but in 2011 we took the decision to move away from the shredder side of the business, consolidate our product range and focus solely on waste balers. This was risky, especially as there was a vast amount of change occurring in the ‘outside world’ – the recession still felt very real!

However, whilst we could have alienated a large proportion of the market, we actually attracted more clients due to this new-found specialism.

Having steered the company down this new route, the challenge thereafter was to maintain momentum and continue with our growth plan. But that’s just business!


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I’m still working on that one!

In all seriousness, I have reached a point where I am able to switch off on a weekend. Once upon a time I’d have gone out for a long ride on my Aprilia to de-stress – the men in my family all tend to love adrenaline-filled activities. But the pace of my life has changed since having my son and now weekends and evenings are very much about spending quality time with him!


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Believe it or not, a bin man! It’s actually one of my earliest memories, watching our bin men through the living room window, swinging the bags of rubbish into the vast truck to be crushed. It’s funny now, given I have gone on to work in the waste and recycling industry!


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Narrow-mindedness and ignorance that prevents people from working as a team. I think it’s so important to have a ‘dynamic’. I work hard to ensure there’s a bond within our workplace. People know they can chat and have a laugh.


Where do you see the company in five years time?

I’ve learned to focus more on the here and now, but we do have a five year plan. By 2021, I hope that we’re twice the company we are today – literally! My goal is to have doubled the size of our team; to have moved into new, larger premises; and to have increased our customer base throughout the public and private sectors.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

I think there are three key pieces of advice that I’d offer.

Firstly, as obvious as it sounds, it is important to realise that you can’t be who you’re not. People buy from people and so if you’re not genuine, they’ll see straight through you. 

Secondly, I’d encourage patience. As tempting as it is to run before you can walk, a five year plan is that for a reason. Sometimes, things shouldn’t be rushed.

Finally, work out how you can stand out and be proud of doing something differently, especially if that ‘something different’ is caring about the level of service you offer.