Born in 1931 in Columbia, South Dakota, Dean Buntrock began his business experience early, working for his father, Rudy, who ran the local International Harvester farm equipment dealership, hardware store and Standard Oil Bulk Station.
Beginning at age nine, Buntrock began his days by sweeping floors in the store before school. By age thirteen, He expanded to driving a truck and hauling grain for one of the area’s largest farmers. Buntrock was an entrepreneur at an early age, raising chickens and growing potatoes to sell to the local restaurants. Weekends were spent working for a sheep buyer sorting and shipping sheep.
In 1952, with the Korean War on, Buntrock went into the Army. After basic training, he attended finance school at Fort Benjamin Harrison. After his discharge from the Army, Buntrock returned to St. Olaf’s and graduated in 1955.
A week after graduation, Buntrock married and moved to Boulder, Colorado. Though he entertained the idea of working for International Harvester, he decided to sell life insurance instead. His first year’s success was evident in the $25,000 he earned.
Buntrock started a new line of work in 1956 when his father-in-law, who was a partner in Ace Scavenger Service died, and Buntrock was called upon to help manage the family business. The original company operated twelve garbage trucks and had yearly revenues of $750,000. Through his hands on approach to management, Buntrock recognized that the largest profits were in the disposal of waste.
Buntrock was responsible for forming a national association for waste management and served as its first president.
In 1968, Buntrock, Wayne Huizenga, and Larry Beck combined their companies into a merger that formed Waste Management, Inc. and they went public with the company. After going public, the company saw double-digit growth for almost all of the next 20 years. The name was changed in 1993 to WMX Technologies.
In the early 1970’s, Waste Management, Inc., under the leadership of Buntrock, became a worldwide waste disposal company, operating in 21 countries and providing waste management services, clean energy, clean water and environmental consulting services and earning revenues of $11 billion.
“I think the way we look at and define success changes as we grow and mature. When I was a young man, I measured the success of our business by our growth financially. That changed through the years. Now, I measure it by the contributions we make to our fellow man. That’s a measure of real success.”
Buntrock has served on St. Olaf’s Board of Directors for 24 years, nine of them as chairman and managed the college’s most successful fundraising compaign in the history of the school. He also serves on the boards of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, First National Bank of Chicago, and Boston Chicken, Inc. and is chairman of the National Wildlife Foundation Endowment Committee.
Buntrock’s business philosophy is that if it feels like work, you haven’t selected the right career. “Find something that you will enjoy, which will satisfy your needs and bring you personal rewards. I find each day exciting and challenging, and I enjoy my work very much.