Talking Trash: Danielle Pellitteri recycles family's success

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Danielle Pellitteri is part of a family legacy. The Pellitteri legacy. She and her two brothers, David and Tim, make up the third generation in the family’s long history of trash removal and recycling in the Madison area, and while she may not have always thought this was her destiny, she’s now proud to be a cog in the successful Pellitteri wheel.

Her grandfather started the business in 1939, hauling ashes away from Capitol Square merchants. Unfortunately, he died young, and his wife soon sold the company to a national enterprise. Danielle’s father later relocated to Iowa with that company for a while, but in 1979, he and his wife returned to Madison to start fresh.

“Dad was able to secure two customers [East and West Towne malls], get a loan for a truck, and start working from their Verona home,” Danielle Pellitteri said.

She and her brothers were young at the time. “We didn’t have a lot of extras,” she recalled, but there were some great perks. “We’d get cool toys from the garbage,” Pellitteri said. “We thought that was pretty cool. That was before there were rules about those things.”

“When you’re second or third generation, you have to earn your stripes. All of us came in having to work from the ground up.” — Danielle Pellitteri, Pellitteri Waste Systems

Pellitteri, 34, didn’t believe she’d ever get involved in the family business. She went off to Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, Minn., majoring in small business management and minoring in marketing, and studied abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, for a semester.

“I knew that with my parents’ succession plan, there was always an opportunity for me to join [the business],” she said, “but I considered being an attorney, a teacher, even a politician.”

She spent four years in sales, working for the Yellow Pages, and took some time off to see the world before joining the family business in 2007. “It’s what I knew,” she finally admitted. “On family vacations when we were young, Dad would drive around buildings to see what businesses were doing with their trash and recycling. I was surrounded by it. This was our life.”

Although the industry tends to be male-dominated, Pellitteri said a surprising number of women are making it their career. “From the customer standpoint, there’s no difference whether you’re male or female,” she said. “But you’re probably less likely to see a woman out there looking in your dumpster.”

Pellitteri, though, has seen plenty. “When you’re second or third generation, you have to earn your stripes. All of us came in having to work from the ground up.”

Why the dumpster dives? “We need to do a needs assessment, and need to know what kinds of waste are being discarded.”

Pellitteri entered the business as a salesperson. Now she’s the vice president of sales and marketing, with a particular interest in recycling. The company owns a processing facility and also recycles single-stream materials (e.g., containers, plastic bottles, cardboard, newspapers, magazines, glass) that are sorted and baled before being sent elsewhere to be repurposed.

“Hopefully you make money off the materials you’re reselling,” she said. “Cardboard and metal are good examples. It’s all about supply and demand. Each specific material has its own value. Copper is expensive, but you won’t get much for glass.”

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While many family businesses don’t survive into the third generation, the Pellitteris remain close. The recipe, Danielle said, is simple. “We are all Christ-centered. We operate from the same core values and under biblical principles.” Her parents, still majority owners, have led by example. “Their underlying principle was to make sure the family business helped keep the family closer and not pull it apart. That’s why a succession plan was developed early.”

As for her brothers, Pellitteri says she couldn’t have asked for better partners. Together, they have a minority ownership in the business.

When not thinking about trash and recycling, Pellitteri spends her time focusing on raising her 2-year-old twin boys, knowing the family is never far away and will always be there to offer support.

“My parents are the reason for the business’ success,” she insists.

And hers? “All the glory goes to God.”

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