When a natural disaster or major catastrophe strikes, Jack
Greber’s team gets ready to go to work.
In the past few years, Greber, president and CEO of
Environmental Quality Management Inc., an environmental consulting, engineering and remediation firm, has worked on projects related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the anthrax contaminations, the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and hurricanes
Katrina and Rita.
“Those hurricane events alone generated a business volume
over an 18- to 24-month period that literally equaled the size of
our business,” Greber says.
These growth spikes have created some challenges for
Greber. Besides plotting a steady growth plan for the firm, he
has to be able to manage these spikes to maximize the company’s long-term potential. An example of how dramatic the
spikes can be is that the company usually sees gross sales
close to $85 million, but it hit $177 million in 2006 because of
these large projects.
Being able to handle this rapid growth has required Greber to
create a solid plan, hire people that can deal with the changes
associated with growth and be a strong leader to handle these
Create a solid plan
Creating a comprehensive business plan is an important step in
preparing for and managing growth.
“It gives you the groundwork to grow and the targets and metrics
to measure your efforts against,” Greber says.
He started by creating a plan that touches on every aspect of the
business, from marketing and sales to capital to operational needs. A
good business plan should address various forms of growth and
short- and long-term goals.
“Have realistic goals and stick with your core business,” Greber
says. “Sometimes businesses want to get into something similar, but
they get out of their core areas. Don’t start too big or deviate from
your core business. Start small, and leave those larger growth numbers for your out years.”
An important piece of building your growth plan is getting everyone
“We involve staff to get new ideas and buy-in,” Greber says.
“Eventually, the people have to implement the plan, so we involve
people from each of the departments so they can participate in the
planning process and offer their ideas. It’s not management’s plan or
the CEO’s plan; it’s our plan. It’s everybody’s plan.
“If people are part of the process, then they’re supporting it. You get
buy-in, commitment and dedication to the overall growth strategy.
The buy-in and feeling of true importance and value to the company
engages people and makes them more active and satisfied.”
Greber involved the company’s senior staff in the planning process,
along with a team of people from the company’s major departments.
The team reviewed and provided direct input and questions on the
plan before Greber and the board made the final decision.
Getting everyone involved also results in new ideas to help the
company. For example, ideas from employees helped EQM develop
a more sophisticated integrated electronic system for managing large
amounts of resources at multiple sites as well as improving various
key elements of the business infrastructure, particularly in accounting and contracts.
“We had so many vendors, invoices, subcontracts and purchase orders that it caused us to expand and refine those departments and
the tools of doing their jobs,” Greber says. “We made it more sophisticated, which makes us more poised and prepared for growth.”
Employee involvement also makes implementation of the plan
“Those individuals carry the message to their departments, and
then we carry it further to employees and outside business associates, mainly through our company newsletter,” Greber says. “When
you get down to the nuts and bolts of implementation, you’re talking
about individuals having specific responsibilities.”
He says you need to review the plan periodically and don’t be afraid
to make changes.
“Be sure to go back and make certain that you’re following it, and
if you’re not, modify it,” he says. “You can’t write a plan just for the
sake of writing one or putting it on the shelf and letting it collect
One of the biggest challenges he faces is trying to balance the
steady, planned growth with the spikes caused by major events.
Dealing with sudden increases in growth means being prepared for
them when they happen. Shortfalls in staffing are made up with temporary workers, but Greber has invested in additional resources and
infrastructure needed for these events, even though it may mean
spending money on capacity that isn’t needed year-round.
“It’s being willing to make those decisions and financial commitments but not too much or too large or too fast, and then relying on
dedicated staff that will put in sometimes significant additional time
and effort to meet the project and customer needs,” he says.
Hire and develop the right people
Having the right people in place can help you get through growth
with minimal problems, and in EQM’s case, deal with emotionally
and physically exhausting projects.
“The stronger an individual is, the more likely that they will be successful with customers and sell themselves more, so their value and
contribution is more apparent,” Greber says. “The better job we do
in identifying the right people, bringing them in and integrating them,
then the better they’ll perform, the more work we’ll get and the less
turnover we’ll have.”
Greber looks for people who are flexible and have character, integrity, loyalty and dedication.
“Technical talents and skills are essential, but if you don’t have
some of those other features first, you will not be effective,” Greber
You get a sense for these qualities during an interview by asking
direct but discreet questions about the candidate’s work experience
and personal working habits and styles.
“You don’t ask someone, ‘Do you have high integrity?’ but you get a
sense of those things, and experience is valuable,” Greber says. “For
loyalty, look at an individual’s work history and interpersonal skills of
working in a team environment. If someone seems to be introverted
and independent, they may not be loyal to a business or the common
Once hired, EQM has a mentoring and training program to help
integrate employees into the company.
“Every employee has one or two mentors, and then we have classroom and on-the-job training,” Greber says. “We believe a lot in training and that it can improve an individual’s capabilities and performance.”
He has found that these programs help teach employees the nec-
essary skills and help them better understand their job responsibilities and company expectations.
“It makes the individual feel more comfortable in their job,” he
says. “They are more confident in themselves, which makes them
more effective and productive. Through good mentoring, individuals become part of the team as opposed to being shoved off into a
cube. Training does the same thing and makes them a better professional with more qualifications and more valuable to the customers.”
Once you have the right people, you have to make sure you are
working to keep them. Support and recognition are important keys
to keeping people at your company.
“I make certain that I do not allow the magnitude of the events to
keep me from giving people recognition for their hard efforts and
important work,” Greber says.
Recognition can be as simple as an e-mail or a more formal note or
“Make certain you recognize that person face to face and provide
awards for performance and dedication,” he says. “On the Katrina
and Rita response, we had so many people involved, who did such a
good job, I made sure they were constantly recognized through e-mails, phone calls, personal visits and companywide newsletters.”
EQM has also established an annual awards ceremony called the
Pillars of Excellence, where employees who have contributed to the
excellence and quality of the company are recognized.
Recognizing employees makes them feel valued in their jobs and
makes them more willing to work through those growth spikes for
the betterment of the organization.
“It energizes them and makes them feel important,” Greber says.
“They’re more willing to support the project and customer, and it creates a culture of everyone’s important and everyone’s hard work is
genuinely appreciated. It creates a good atmosphere and high morale,
and it carries over into the industry.”
Be a strong leader
You are going to face challenges during growth, so Greber says it’s
important to be open to change, communicate openly with employees and be visible throughout the company to overcome these challenges.
“Change is necessary and good, so embrace it,” he says. “If we
remain set in our ways and stagnant, our business will become just
that. We try and promote a culture of change, that it’s necessary to
recognize and embrace it, because if we don’t, we will fall behind our
For maximum effect, align yourself with people who embrace
change. They will be the ones that can provide the ideas you need to
get through your most challenging times. When this happens, you get
everyone working together.
“That doesn’t mean everyone thinks and behaves in locked step
with each other,” Greber says. “You want fresh ideas and innovative
thinking, but you want a team of people who recognize the importance of and embrace change. Walk the walk and talk the talk, and
then articulate on a regular basis why change is important and necessary, not just for the sake of change.”
He says you identify these people by working with them, discussing ideas, and getting an understanding for their character and
If he finds someone that is not embracing change, he will move the
person to another part of the organization.
“We would try to find a slot where they fit best, and try to offer them
some training and mentoring,” Greber says. “If their attitude to training doesn’t fit within our business, we would, in a very well-intended
way, talk with them about what their business talents might work
Open communication with employees will help you identify who’s buying in to change and who isn’t, but it takes a lot of work on the
part of the CEO.
“I’m a hands-on, open type of CEO, and I try to make myself visible,” he says. “I’m not somebody who stays in their office. I enjoy people, and I like to get out among them.”
Being visible has allowed Greber to learn information from his 280
employees, including new business or customer opportunities,
resources that are needed and how the business can run more efficiently.
“As many times as I visit with our different operating units and as
many people as I see, I learn how fortunate we are to have so many
talented, loyal and dedicated people, which re-energizes me,” Greber
says. “I realize how important it is to be a visible and available executive. It’s not expected, but it is appreciated and valued.”
He says you need to force yourself to schedule time to get out and
“Set a plan and follow it, embrace it and be open-minded,” he says.
“Hopefully, the results will be infectious, and you’ll see the value in
being visible and do it more and more.”
Being visible creates a culture of mutual respect between you and
“It creates a sense of importance for all your associates and a value
for the business,” Greber says. “Everyone has their own role, and that
translates into more productive individuals and a more cost-effective
and profitable business.”
Greber plans to continue growing EQM while dealing with the
occasional growth spike. The company is in the midst of its “210 by
2010” plan, to reach $200 million gross sales and $10 million in earnings before interest and taxes by 2010.
“Have a well-thought-out, documented plan,” Greber says. “Have
dedication and attention to detail in implementing that plan, be persistent and stay the course, even during the difficult and unsuccessful periods but yet not so strong or narrow-minded in being afraid to
make a decision to deviate from the plan, where it becomes obvious
that you need to change the course.
“Constantly challenge yourself, particularly if some element of the
plan is not working. Lead with confidence and certainty so that others
have the same confidence and certainty in implementing your plan for
HOW TO REACH: Environmental Quality Management Inc., (513) 825-7500 or www.eqm.com