Stephanie Hau, President/CEO, Chesapeake Environmental Management
Businesses that are able to secure government contracts – whether on the local, state or federal level – can see their yearly profits grow exponentially. The procurement of these contracts also allows businesses to expand their staff and invest in durable goods, thanks to the safety net of reliable payment by the government. The general public, however, has little or no say on which businesses receive these contracts, nor is it able to weigh in on how the money will be spent or typically see tangible results from the citizenry’s tax dollars at work.
For Stephanie Hau, President/CEO of Chesapeake Environmental Management, Inc., what the public gets in return for their tax dollars spent is something she and her company take very seriously. CEM, a full-service environmental consulting firm, works on many projects in the region that are funded by the government, and Hau and her staff make sure that the work they do on these projects meets – or exceeds – taxpayers’ expectations. And a constant reminder to this goal is found in the company’s mission statement: “Applying practical science to improve communities.”
“A lot of what we do is infrastructure, so from our standpoint the science that we are doing is practical because it’s for a practical purpose … not R&D or theoretical. The goal is to improve the community through a new road, for example, but on top of that we are interested in improving the community beyond the work we do by giving back 5 percent of our profits to the community,” says Hau. “Also, most of the work we do is publically funded. Whether it’s through taxes, fees or levies, it’s all money that someone else earned that they had to fork over to the town, county or state and our take on that is, if you are getting the public’s money, you can’t just do good work; the public should get exceptional value for that money. We can’t be a part of anything that is solely grabbing public money and pushing paper around and saying, ‘Well, I got my share.’”
|2013 Awards & Achievements
• Future 50, SmartCEO
Hau’s seriousness about valuing the public’s money was evident in a recent letter she sent to all her employees. She reminded her staff that the public deserves ‘exceptional,’ not just ‘good’ work from CEM, and added that the company “must ensure that every hour we spend on a project provides a tangible benefit to our fellow citizens.”
In addition to valuing the importance of the taxpayers’ money, Hau also instills the shared respect CEM has for the government employees the company works alongside. She shares a frustrating story of when in 2008 the governor first mandated furloughs for state employees for three days in December. “The state employees did not work or get paid. I thought, well we get a lot of state contracts and the state employees we are working with are not getting paid, so, ‘Why can’t we work those days and not bill the state?’ Sharing the situation with the state seemed reasonable. I wrote a letter to the governor and sent it to other companies that do work for the state. Guess how many else offered to participate? Zero. I think that’s really sad. I guess others just thought, ‘Well, that’s not my problem.’ Are we a little different in that way? Maybe. If every other company had not billed the state for those days, it would have been a huge savings for the state.”
A Vision 20 Years in the Making
Hau grew up in Baltimore City – “three miles north of Memorial Stadium,” she notes – and attended Bryn Mawr School. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in geology at Allegheny College in northwestern Pennsylvania, she furthered her education by earning a master’s degree from Kent State University – where she met her husband, Joe – and via post-graduate work at the University of Virginia. The couple, who resides in Jarrettsville with their two children, Jack and Alex, worked at another company for a short time before deciding to start their own company, Chesapeake Environmental Management. “Until that, I was basically a professional student. It’s nicer making money than incurring debt,” Hau laughs.
CEM was located on Gateway Drive in Bel Air until two years ago when the couple heard that a historic building at 42 N. Main St., was available. “We always wanted to be on Main Street, and we were looking for the right property, but they don’t come up that often. At first, we were actually looking at the old Bel Air Academy building; we wanted something historical. Then this building became available; it was in awful shape – leaking urinals and mold. We took everything out and started over,” Hau says. Today, the beautiful building pays homage to its historical past with soaring beams and an industrial feel. The lower level contains what Hau describes as the “quiet, computer people,” while the upstairs is more open for the scientists and engineers working on projects together. “It’s great being on Main Street; I compare it to the Ocean City Boardwalk – it’s the same four blocks, but you still walk it every day,” she laughs. Hau adds that the staff likes the new location with the convenience of shops and restaurants. Additionally, the Ma and Pa Trail is close by, so CEM installed showers in the bathrooms so that the staff can take a lunchtime hike and then return to work.
Diversity of Services
While CEM has experienced significant growth since its inception in 1993, it is still considered a small- to medium-sized environmental consulting firm when compared to some of its competitors. What sets it apart, though, is that instead of focusing on one particular area – geographic information systems, for example – CEM and its approximately 55 staff members offer its clients a large array of services. While this is unusual in the field, Hau stresses that “it’s more unusual for a firm our size. Smaller firms usually specialize on one or two things – they may be the natural resource people working on wetlands and streams. The way Joe and I always looked at that is, it’s an integrated process. There is no reason not to, and it makes more sense, to be involved in all areas of environmental management. You are going to end up giving the client a better project. And for our employees, if they have knowledge of the various areas, they understand what everyone is trying to accomplish, which means that you are going to do your piece better,” Hau says.
Hau adds that clients also enjoy the continuity of service that CEM can offer if multiple projects are involved. “It’s like when you live in an old building, and you love your plumber, but something comes up that’s electrical. Your plumber says, ‘I can’t help you,’ but you want someone just like him who can do the electrical work. So you have to start over and establish a new relationship. The idea is that we can do all these things and continue that relationship with our client. Once the relationship is established, and the client knows what our quality commitment is, no matter what job we are doing for them, the experience will be the same.” Hau adds that she and her husband also mentor the staff so that there is continuity no matter which staff member is working on the job.
One service that CEM offers is contamination prevention and mitigation in regards to water and safety, an area that gained national attention in January with the threat to the water supply of nearly 300,000 residents in West Virginia due to a chemical spill. CEM is currently working with the Maryland Transportation Administration on the extension of the Purple and Red Line Light Rail project. Hau explains that one task for CEM is to look at which parcels of land will be affected and what’s underneath those lands. “We investigate what the construction workers will be exposed to on one parcel versus another parcel and how to minimize the danger by consulting with the state on what jobs can be done safely on certain sites,” she explains.
CEM also did two Environmental Impact Statements for the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Inter County Connector (ICC), and also specializes in Resource Assessment/Permitting, Resource Development/Planning, and Data Presentation and Management.
In addition to the challenges involved with the coordination of handling large government contracts, Hau says that when she and Joe started out, it was frustrating at times when clients would ignore their advice. She recalls a project involving a body of water that needed to be renovated and cleaned up. CEM recommended the removal of sediment, which was a less expensive and more effective alternative to what was planned; however, the client had already committed to the original course of action. “It used to be frustrating, but now my take is that people pay us for our education, expertise and experience. If they choose not to use what we give them, that’s their choice.”
CEM is also unique in that it doesn’t just specialize in public or private sector work. When explaining the need for CEM to be diversified in its services, she alludes to the housing market. “When the new housing construction market slowed, people invested in renovating their existing house. If you’re only active in one sector or the other, you do a lot of waiting around for new work. No matter what is going on in the economy, people are always spending money. You just need to know who’s spending it right now. For example, engineering companies that focused only on traditional development like shopping centers are sitting around saying, ‘I can’t wait for the economy to come back.’ You have to adapt.”
Over the years, CEM has supported a number of non-profit organizations, including:
• Boys & Girls Club of Harford County
At CEM, Hau serves as president and CEO, while her husband Joe serves as vice president. This structure also allowed CEM to apply for certification as a Minority Business Enterprise through the Maryland Department of Transportation. The process – involving an application and investigation into the owner’s financial records, background and education – is rigorous by design to avoid fraud, Hau explains. “You must demonstrate that you actually run the company; you’re not just a figurehead. Take, for example, an architecture firm where the husband is an architect and his wife is not, and they want her to be president and be certified as a MBE. Could she run the business without her husband? If the answer is no, you are not going to get certified as a MBE.”
Hau explains that even after obtaining certification, CEM did not take advantage of the designation for 10 years. “At the beginning, we didn’t want to be hired just because I am a woman; we want to be hired for what we do. Then we realized how much money we were leaving on the table and decided that we wanted to be hired for both reasons.”
When asked if a company would get hired just because they are a MBE and not due to qualifications, she replies, “You’d be surprised; it happens a lot. The goal of the program is that in the past there have been disparities and the program is supposed to rectify that disparity. You shouldn’t be in the program forever. You should be able eventually to grow and expand on your own, which is our goal.”
Importance of Giving Back
CEM places a strong emphasis on giving back to the local communities they serve. In addition to the company’s Matching Gift Program where CEM matches employees’ personal philanthropy endeavors up to $5,000 per employee, per year, CEM earmarks 5 percent of their annual profits for non-profit groups.
Last year, CEM donated $25,000 to Harford Glen Foundation, an independent non-profit organization, endorsed by the Harford County Board of Education, whose goals are to assist environmental awareness programs and promote formal and informal environmental education opportunities. Howard E. Eakes, assistant supervisor of science for Harford County Public Schools, says that when he was
an assistant principal at Jarrettsville Elementary School, he met Stephanie and Joe Hau as both of their children attended the school and the couple was an active supporter of the school. “This donation will help us in a variety of proposed projects, including the restoration of a historic ice house, possible expansion of our property, and expanded education opportunities for students and the community,” Eakes says.
A variety of organizations have benefitted from CEM’s generosity, and the company has been honored repeatedly for its philanthropic efforts. Hau allows her employees to help determine which organizations receive the funds, as the staff reviews the applications and votes. This is just one element of a deliberate effort by CEM to encourage employees to bring new ideas and have a sense of ownership for their work. “It’s not that hard with scientists because that’s the way they are built. You will not find anyone here who would take someone else’s spreadsheet, for example, and not want to change it in any way. It’s the curious and scientific mind that always asks if there is a different way of doing things. It’s just the way their minds are wired,” Hau says.
There is no denying that CEM has experienced a great deal of recent success. In 2009, Hau was awarded the Brava! Award by SmartCEO due in part to her leadership in increasing profits in 2008 by 350 percent and increasing hiring by 60 percent during an especially tough economy. When I asked her what is the secret to her success, she replied, “It sounds a little new-age, but we’ve found that the more we give away, the more comes our way. Some people roll their eyes when you say this, but I do believe that is how it’s worked. Are we that much smarter than anyone else? No. Certainly not me,” she says humbly. “Do we work that much harder than everyone else? No. I cannot explain it in any more concrete way than that.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Hau is excited about what the New Year will bring to her and her company. “You are supposed to have a grand plan but our plan is more organic than that. We are looking for opportunities focusing on helping the community. Everything else works itself out. It’s like the Hollywood actor who wins an Oscar and is called an overnight success even though she’s been in the business for 20 years. We are also a 20-year overnight success,” she says. I95