Environmental Firm Built from Ground Up

Indianapolis Star - 1998
By Susan H. Miller, Correspondent

Some new business owners whose computers all died on the first day in business might have interpreted it as a sign from God that they weren't meant to be their own boss. Not Deborah Peters, who started Quality Environmental Professionals Inc. two years ago. When the used computers that she had bought from the company she just left quit, she took the $28,000 left over from her Small Business Administration loan - the money that would have carried the company through its first month in business - and bought new ones.

Then, she went into her office, shut the door and cried. Quitting didn't enter her mind because her husband, two daughters and eight employees all were depending on her to succeed. She hasn't let them down. Her company, which now has 30 employees, generated revenue of $1.6 million last year [1997] and likely will top $2.8 million in 1998. In January 1996, when she launched the environmental consulting and engineering business, she had plenty of technical expertise.

She had worked three years as the director of FRP Environmental Inc., the environmental arm of Fink Roberts and Petrie Inc., a structural engineering firm. She and three partners purchased the assets of FRP Environmental - Peters owns 83 percent; Ann Morris owns 7 percent, and Bob Reynolds and Brad Ullery each own 5 percent. What Peters didn't have was business experience.

"I thought CEO was just a title behind your name," she said.

"I had no idea about the difference between marketing, sales and business development. I knew nothing about the legalities of running a company, like setting up a board of directors and shareholders agreements."

She got through it by asking everyone she knew for help, including her competitors. One who became one of her mentors was Geoff Glanders, the president and founder of August Mack Environmental inc., one of the city's largest environmental consulting firms. Glanders, who now bids against QEPI for jobs, said he is surprised at how fast his competitor has grown.

"They are competing in relatively traditional environmental markets and doing very well," he said.

"They are very competent technically."

QEPI, which also ranks among the city's largest locally owned environmental consulting firms, has been able to grow so quickly because of referrals, Peters said. Years of experience allows employees to perform work quickly and within budget, she said.

Still, the first year was difficult. Workers put in extra-long hours and made sacrifices. Peters didn't take a paycheck for the first nine months. Because the bank wouldn't give her a credit line to replace the $28,000 that paid for the new computers, she and her three partners all maxed out their credit cards for cash advances. She also borrowed additional money from her partners.

Meanwhile, the business was growing at a blistering rate. And the growth continues. Just five months ago, the company moved from Post Road to an office twice as large in the Brookville Road Business Park. Already, the 6,200 square-foot office is too small. A 2,000 square-foot addition is in the works. The company also plans to open a Bloomington, Ind., office within the next 30 days. And, beginning in 1999, QEPI employees will be able to buy stock in the company.

One of QEPI's specialties is redevelopment of brownfields - industrial properties contaminated with pollution. This summer, QEPI tested the soil at the former Flexel plastic-wrap manufacturing site in Covington, Ky., and it now is inspecting the Uniroyal plant in Mishawaka for asbestos. In addition, the company has taken on several assignments at Jefferson Smurfit Corp. in Lafayette, including removing five underground storage tanks. Jefferson's general manager, Sam Newton, said QEPI has come in under budget on every project.

"When they commit to the number, they stick with the number," he said.

Attorney Brian Bosma, chairman of Kroger Gardis and Regas' environmental law practice group, who has worked with QEPI on several projects, said that staying under budget is difficult in environmental work because there are so many unknowns.