Raea Jean Leinster, BA Russian Area Studies ’92, launched Yuck Old Paint, LLC in 2014 in response to an unmet need she heard repeatedly from her design clients – what to do with gallons and gallons of leftover, unused and unwanted cans of paint, plaster and other toxic materials. Her specialty in Italian and French decorative painting and historical art restoration helped her land clients ranging from The Washington National Cathedral to hockey star Alexander Ovechkin. However, her artistic work generated a lot of hazardous waste.
Without either a business plan or market research, Yuck Old Paint began as a casual side hustle. Leinster quickly realized though, that this “paint can pick-up service concept” was proving legit. Today, Yuck Old Paint operates in nine states and employs eighteen people and Leinster is a speaker and presenter at national waste management, recycling, and sustainability conferences.
Yuck Old Paint is also the first and only company on the East Coast that safely removes and environmentally processes old cans of paint, keeping it out of local landfills. The paint waste is not recycled, rather qualified for reuse, then distributed for export to overseas markets. Her clients include Washington Nationals Park, NASA Goddard, Hilton Hotels, Williams Sonoma/WestElm, CBRE, the United States Army, and many others.
Because landfills prohibit commercial paint waste, and fire marshals and the fire code prohibit buildings from stowing this tonnage of paint waste on property, Yuck Old Paint solves a critical facilities and property management problem. As a bonus, these commercial clients then qualify for points to acquire and maintain their EPA Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) and Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) certifications and designations.
For its forward-looking and impactful work, Yuck Old Paint received the National Facilities Management & Technology Association “Vision Award” for 2021, an honor conferred to only a handful of companies nationwide out of hundreds of applicants. This innovative company was also awarded the WIBI (Women in Business Initiative) Business of the Year honor in 2021.
Leinster’s experience in the male-dominated manufacturing and waste management industries may explain her success as a semi-pro poker player, where she is among the few women in a room with hundreds of male competitors. “Yes, it’s completely intimidating and took some getting used to,” she says. I would think, ‘Oops they don’t want me here.’ Eventually I realized they’re intimidated by ME.”
She credits the advice from a mentor, Margo Bartsch of MCI Telecommunications, in helping her change her mentality. . “Margo was a tough, brash, unforgiving manager who pushed me beyond my limits to get to next level.” she says. “Margo helped shapeshift me from being docile and passive to assuming a more alpha leadership posture, which prepared me well for a senior manager job at Lucent Technologies managing marketing programs in 80 countries, and then to my dream Wall Street job as telecom equipment analyst at Bear Stearns.”
“Younger women who complain about being intimidated by a male-dominated business landscape should consider this: you need to modify your speech communications pattern, shift into alpha modality, get focused and become a knowledge expert. Many women don’t sound executive because as they approach the end of a sentence, they raise the pitch of their voice and end on a higher note. That’s a giveaway for being defensive, apologetic, and lacking confidence. Both men and women leaders start and end their sentences on the same pitch, or end the sentence in a slightly lower pitch.”
Leinster suggests that women interested in leadership and executive positions at their place of work consider a volunteer board position at their favorite non-profit or committee chair at an industry trade association. “There’s a huge push to recruit more women for board positions. Leveraging your network to raise money for the cause is a great way to command leadership recognition.” Putting her advice into action, Leinster serves on the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Mentorship has played a significant role in Raea Leinster’s career. If you are interested in being a mentor or mentee at the George Mason University School of Business, click here to learn and get involved with Mason Mentors.
Raea Jean Leinster (top left)
Paint headed out to port for reuse in overseas humanitarian construction projects (bottom right)