Graham Flynn: A Journey from Landfills to Leadership

Published by Gary Ellis on May 31st 2024, 2:02pm

When it comes to waste management, Graham Flynn, Director at Anenta, has solidified his expertise from the ground up.

Graham began on landfill sites conducting gas testing to prevent the escape of noxious gases. His dedication and hard work saw him rise through the ranks to become the Environment Manager across several landfill sites in the north of England.

Graham’s career took an international turn when he seized an opportunity to work on landfill sites in multiple countries across Central and South America. He was involved in clean development mechanism projects related to carbon credits under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “I was dealing with the operations, negotiations with the participants, and making sure everything was installed correctly,” he shares.

However, a health setback forced Graham to return to the UK. He took on a role within the NHS in Southwest London Support Service Partnership (SSP), dealing with primary care. His role expanded when the partnership was subsumed into the Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and he began looking more widely across London into how to deal with GP’s, pharmacies, and the hazardous waste they produced.

Almost 11 years ago, Graham co-founded Anenta with his business partners. Their goal was to provide a service to the NHS that offered value, control of contracts, and utilised technology to ensure all waste producers had access to good information. “We’ve continually iterated on the system and service over the years and now look after 86% of Primary Care Premises in England,” Flynn states.

Graham’s journey to establish Anenta was not a straightforward path, but rather a series of experiences and lessons that shaped his vision for the company. Drawing on his extensive knowledge, particularly in hazardous waste, Flynn envisioned a solution that could drive change from outside the NHS. “We wanted to build something that provided consistency, and standardisation, which met the requirements of all the guidance and regulations,” he explains. 

This vision led to the creation of Anenta, a company that identifies inefficiencies at source and delivers support through innovative solutions and technology, streamlining waste management processes for clients in the public and private healthcare sector.

Graham’s past experiences, particularly his time working on landfill sites and in Central and South America, played a crucial role in shaping his approach to leadership. He cites resilience as a key trait that he developed during this time, with language barriers contributing to this development.

These experiences taught Graham the importance of perseverance, adaptability, and the ability to learn from mistakes. “Focus on how you fix those mistakes,” he asserts. This mindset proved invaluable during the initial years of setting up Anenta, a period filled with challenges and learning curves.

He also emphasises the importance of building a team and fostering understanding among its members. He recalls how taking the time to explain the company’s goals to his team in South America led to increased involvement and understanding. “Take people that are good at understanding, but allow them to make mistakes. It’s the only way of learning,” he advises.

Leadership and Culture at Anenta

Graham’s leadership style stems from his belief in the power of self-awareness, delegation, and open communication. He emphasises the importance of leaders understanding their limitations and leveraging the strengths of their team. “I don’t know everything, but through building a team you can build that wider knowledge,” he says.

He admits that he initially struggled with delegation, taking on too much himself. This approach, he realised, was not only a hindrance to his own productivity but also stifled the growth of his team. “The responsibility and the way in which the work is achieved; it’s yours to own,” he explains.

Communication is another cornerstone of Graham's leadership philosophy. He believes in the importance of being able to explain the same thing in different ways to ensure understanding. He also stresses the importance of an open culture where people feel comfortable speaking up, and his approach to leadership extends to his views on work-life balance. 

Graham also encourages his team to take time for themselves when their work is done and there is no immediate need for their support elsewhere. “Take some time, just enjoy it,” he tells his staff.

Transforming Waste Management

Under Graham’s guidance, Anenta is revolutionising waste management for both public and private sectors. The company takes on the full management of all waste contracts, acting as the commissioner and currently manages around 20 waste contractors, dealing with large contracts that are crucial for the NHS and the continuation of healthcare. Anenta’s services also extend to compliance checks, dispute management, and simplifying legislative changes for waste producers and contractors.

Graham highlights the importance of their software system, Vector, which holds together the entire management function, providing everyone with a view into the process, delivering transparency to its clients, waste collection providers, and stakeholders. The company also extends its services to the private sector, with care homes being a significant focus.

Since Anenta’s inception, the company has grown to manage approximately 18,000 to 19,000 locations, driving savings of around £80 million over the past decade. “We’ve moved into a decent position. But all the while, the main focus for Anenta is full transparency on every aspect.”

Graham recognises the challenges ahead, particularly in terms of reducing carbon footprints and managing waste producer behaviour. He believes in the need for new disposal technologies and changes in transportation, such as the use of electric vehicles. He also stresses the importance of accurate carbon emission tracking and standardising methodologies for waste management.

A Legacy of Sustainable Progress

It is evident that Graham’s vision for his legacy is deeply intertwined with the ethos of his company. His approach to leadership is refreshingly straightforward: “I wake up in the morning and go and get the job done.”

Graham's aspiration for Anenta is not just about survival, but continuous improvement and growth. He says, “I’d like the business to continue doing what we do right, but it’s also about doing the right things," and envisions a future where his company contributes to a better world by making decisions that “ultimately create and move things forward into a better position.”

Central to Graham’s vision is the understanding that waste is an enduring issue. He acknowledges, “waste isn’t going to go away anytime soon, so we’ve got to move things forward.” This pragmatic view of the challenges ahead is coupled with a clear sense of direction. He sees opportunities for Anenta to engage with manufacturers, particularly around the issue of packaging.

In the end, Graham’s legacy will consist of building a sustainable business that not only survives but thrives in the face of challenges. It’s about making a difference, one decision at a time. As he puts it, “there’s many things that we can get involved in. But picking your battles is key.”

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Authored By

Gary Ellis
Senior Editor
May 31st 2024, 2:02pm

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