Atlantic Environmental Solutions Inc., a Hoboken-based environmental consulting firm, has focused on diversity and mentorship as part of its business strategy. From left: Patricia Petrino, technical director; Rebecca Garofalo, environmental scientist; Christine Lezette, operations director; Leah DeEgidio, project manager; and Jeff Anderson, vice president. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By David Gill
Patricia Petrino joined Atlantic Environmental Solutions Inc. earlier this year, bringing more than three decades of experience as an engineer and consultant.
She recalled one of the key selling points of the Hoboken-based firm.
“I was pleased to see that there are so many women who work here,” said Petrino, a technical director with Atlantic Environmental Solutions, or AESI. “In companies where I have worked in the past, there were not many women. This is a male-dominated industry, so the fact that this company has so many women attracted me.”
That’s not lost on the leaders of the 22-year-old environmental consulting firm, which provides guidance on remediation, due diligence and project management to both buyers and sellers of commercial real estate. More than half of AESI’s professional staff are women, a number that is expected to rise as the environmental field becomes increasingly diverse.
Embracing that diversity — in not only gender, but age, ethnic background, religion, language and experience — is a critical piece of AESI’s larger goal of attracting and developing talent in key leadership roles.
“Our company’s values are aligned with those of each of our employees,” said Michael Novak, AESI’s president. “By providing an entrepreneurial and collaborative workplace where all staff have ample opportunity to acquire a range of business skills, AESI is able to accelerate the career growth and value of each employee.”
Christine Lezette, the company’s operations director, is an example of how AESI’s culture encourages its employees to grow into new roles of increased responsibility. She joined the company as a project manager seven years ago, noting that she began by working in the lab and didn’t have any consulting experience at the time, but migrated into management roles after about four years.
Lezette still does technical work, she said, “but more on an oversight level.” She also noted that AESI’s business model fosters opportunities for employees to grow in a number of directions.
“Our model is to try to develop an employee’s project and management skills,” Lezette said. “We’ve grown and changed our operating processes to have team leaders. We always have senior members mentoring and developing junior members. We allow our employees to grow themselves through our team system. We want each team member to elevate themselves.”
That strategy has also paid dividends for younger members of the industry. For Leah DeEgidio, a project manager, AESI provided her with her first job after graduating college. She has now been with the firm for four years.
“This was the best-case scenario for a first job,” she said. “They give you the opportunity to grow into your role. There are also opportunities for you to move up in the organization. I know I can definitely take on more operational roles. They constantly ask the question of ‘Where do I see myself next?’”
The company divides its staff into teams of three, DeEgidio explained. As a project manager, she is in the middle tier of her team, she said, adding that “you grow into your role” in this system and, “Now I’m teaching others how to do their jobs.”
Petrino noted that AESI teams get their projects and divvy up their assignments, giving way to meetings every Monday to discuss where each project stands.
“As team members, we do specialize in different types of work, but we’ll assign a variety of types of projects to each team,” Petrino said. “This gives the teams a wide exposure to different types of projects, and it also allows each team member to set their own goals.”
To Jeff Anderson, AESI’s vice president, the company looks to plug its staffers into projects “where they can grow and be successful,” allowing them “to be challenged and also be comfortable.”
AESI also sees education as part of each employee’s growth process.
“We make sure they have the on-the-job training and classroom training they need to do their jobs and grow their careers,” said Anderson, who has been with AESI for 15 years. He also noted that AESI employees do their classroom work in institutions such as Montclair State University and Rutgers University.
“This has proven more rewarding for the employees,” he added. “They find a lot of joy in their work as a result.”
Every facet of AESI’s corporate philosophy has seemingly played a role in the company’s success. Since its founding, the firm has handled more than $60 million in environmental projects at more than 5,000 client locations across 47 states.
In mid-August, the firm earned a spot on Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. Appearing on the list for the second consecutive year, AESI had a three-year revenue growth of 74 percent and was one of only three New Jersey-based companies ranked in the “Environmental Services” category.
The company has experienced year-over-year growth for nine consecutive years, AESI representatives said, adding that 2019 will bring that streak to a full decade of growth.
According to employees, the firm’s other keys to success include having a non-hierarchical executive structure and an open dialogue with Novak and the other top executives.
“Mike is not an overlord,” DeEgidio said. “I feel I can go to him any time and explain what’s happening on a project.”
Other team members echoed that feeling.
“AESI gives you the freedom to be outspoken about your ideas and opinions, regardless of your position within the company,” said Rebeca Garofalo, an environmental scientist with the firm. “I believe that as long as you are hardworking, stay focused on your goals and are driven to learn, AESI is a workplace where you will be given the opportunity to achieve your career goals.”