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WBJ Hall of Fame

Harvey grew a family firm into a rubbish leader

March 4, 2019
Photo | Matt Wright
Photo | Matt Wright
James Harvey

After years of hard work, courage, dedication and an entrepreneurial attitude, CEO James Harvey has transformed the 108-year-old E.L. Harvey & Sons into a Massachusetts leader in trash and recycling.

"That family touch is something that continues to set them apart," said Mike Lavin, of Holliston's Sustainable Waste Management & Recycling Committee.

The Westborough company has facilities in Westborough, Northborough, Fitchburg and Tyngsborough, and is looking to build a facility in Lawrence.

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The company was incorporated in 1911 as a farm. How the family actually got into the waste business began with somewhat of a sad story, Harvey said.

In the early 1940s, a trash collector in town, using a horse and wagon, was unable to fulfil contracts with two stores when his horse died. The man found his way to the family's property and asked them to take over the contracts.

"We did, and that was the start of us getting into rubbish," Harvey said.

By 1971, the family business turned completely to waste removal when Harvey bought a roll-off truck used to carry large dumpsters. Harvey, son of founder Emory Harvey, was the only trash-hauling employee at the time. Now, the company has 450 employees and more than 4,000 commercial clients.

"We didn't have any customers, and we built it up to what it is," he said.

The entire executive team is made up of Harvey family members, including James' nephew and president of the company, Ben Harvey, son of James' brother Robert, who also helped grow the trash business in the 1970s.

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James Harvey, who sits on boards of waste industry advocacy groups like the National Solid Waste Management Association and Detachable Container Association, has pushed for investments in innovation like automated single-stream recycling. In 2005, the company purchased two small waste-hauling firms in Tyngsborough and Woburn, securing the firm's first municipal contracts, which now total 12 along with its subscription services in 35 towns.

The family touch

When Holliston was looking for a new company to automate trash and recycling, Lavin steered toward E.L. Harvey. Based on his past experiences working with the company for a Framingham contract, Lavin knew Harvey would erase the town's bad memories of poor services from its previous trash hauler.

With nine family members in its leadership, James or another Harvey is always able to call to help walk residents through the process, Lavin said.

"You aren't calling someone from three states over," Lavin said.

In Wrentham, the town is on its third year of both trash and recycling automated services with the company. The town's program with E.L. Harvey & Sons has become a state model, Lavin said. The innovation to adapt to customers' needs has elevated the company to that height.

As the company grew into the well-known family business it is today, Harvey has made sure the every employee feels like a part of that growth.

"He doesn't take credit for much himself," said Pam Jernberg, Harvey's assistant of 37 years.

That humble attitude brought him to become involved in his church, helping to start the Westborough Community Chorus and consulting Millbury when waste-to-energy firm Wheelabrator built a facility in that town in the 1980s.

Despite running a successful family business, Harvey has remained humble, Jernberg said.

"No matter how successful the company was, he always made those of us who knew him and worked for him know that we were the reason the company was successful," she said.

That focus on the family aspect translates over to how Harvey thinks about the company's employees.

"Those are 450 families," Harvey said. "We're very conscious about taking care of those families."