A Valuable Business Built on Trash
Bob Kircher ’70 is the CEO and founder of Aspen Waste, which reports annual revenue of $90 million
In his 40s, Bob Kircher ’70 was a lawyer who began to race cars. Around dirt tracks. With his insatia- ble curiosity, he also learned how to drive trucks, earning a commercial driver’s license.
One day, the Minneapolis man told his wife, also an attorney, about a new idea. This one might even make money. “I’m going to start a garbage company,” he said. She looked at him, perplexed. “A garbage business?” she responded. As an entrepreneur with a wide range of interests, he’d taken on a variety of personal and business pursuits in finance, real estate, and politics. But this one truly surprised her.
It was 1990. Kircher and a business partner had noticed how waste management companies in the Twin Cities operated and decided there was an opportunity to compete. So they created a new company— Aspen Waste—and planned to challenge the competition on sales and service.
The pair bought a used truck and hired one of Kircher’s trucker buddies to drive routes while they worked on finding new customers. Thirty-one years later, Aspen Waste earns about $90 million in annual revenue with 225 trucks operating out of six garages in four cities: Minneapolis, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Ames, Iowa.
“Building a business takes a lot of talents,” says Kircher. “All of my professional experiences, and particularly my background in law, made Aspen possible. I think of my company as my client. The talents that I honed practicing law, including negotiating, spotting issues, and defining and solving complex problems, have served me well.”
A Meaty Start
Before he planted the Aspen seed, Kircher’s future seemed to be in meat. His father owned Sanitary Meats, a big downtown Minneapolis butcher shop. Beginning at age 14, Kircher washed dishes there. By 16, he was behind the counter in a smock, taking orders. After graduat- ing from Edison High School, he worked as a journeyman butcher while taking classes at the University of Minnesota. But college proved tough for him.
“It was kind of a shock,” he said. “In high school, I never had any homework.” Which is one reason he failed one of his first college courses: algebra. That disappointment prompted him to take a break from the University. He got a job cutting meat at a local butcher shop not owned by his family. “It was the first time I was on my own,” he says.
When he returned to the University of Minnesota, he tackled algebra again. This time he earned the highest grade in the class, prompting him to major in economics. An admirer of President John F. Kennedy, Kircher followed the president’s lead and joined the U.S. Navy in 1963. During his three years as an officer, he served on the U.S.S. Higbee, a destroyer.
Law & Politics
After his military stint, Kircher enrolled at Minnesota Law. In the months before graduation, he organized fundraisers for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendell Anderson. In November 1970, Anderson won. Kircher rented a tiny law office and leveraged his new connections to find clients. In 1973, he supported and managed the campaign for another upstart: Al Hofstede, a candidate for Minneapolis mayor. Hofstede also won. “My law office got bigger quickly,” Kircher says.
Soon, Kircher teamed up with two other attorneys to create a more formidable firm. His goal: to assist local governments in the issuance of municipal bonds. It was a tough nut to crack. Law firms doing the work were listed in a book, but his firm wasn’t. With dogged persistence and Kircher’s knack for problem-solving, his firm wormed its way into the municipal bonds business. But once his firm began to thrive, Kircher’s curiosity continued to lead him in new directions.
On a New Track
During his racing days, Kircher purchased a windowless car designed to roar around dirt tracks and began hanging out with mechanics and race car drivers. When he showed up at the track, other drivers called to him, “Hey, lawyer.” Turns out it wasn’t only the racetrack where he stood out.
His success in the waste industry stands out as well. According to a 2020 list compiled byWaste Todaymagazine, Aspen Waste ranked #27 among the nation’s trash haulers. He bought out his business partner in 2003; today he is the sole owner.
In waste management, Kircher has found a business for the long haul.
Todd Melby is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.