Geology is the bedrock of her business


Meet Stephanie Hau, the 2014 SBA Small Business Person of the Year in Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Hau)

On some days, Stephanie Hau’s job is to protect the habitats of turtles in Maryland. On others, she assesses the damage highway construction could do to local wetlands, and determines where pollutant contamination is most likely.

It’s the perfect job for a businesswoman who describes herself as outdoorsy. Hau is chief executive and co-founder of Bel Air, Md.-based consulting firm Chesapeake Environmental Management, which advises public and private sector clients on how their construction decisions might impact the environment.

Hau is Maryland’s pick for this year’s Small Business Person of the Year. Hau said the company has experienced rapid growth over the past few years — for instance, between 2011 and 2012, revenue jumped 179.29 percent, she said. Each year, company shares 50 percent of its profits with employees, and another 5 percent with nonprofits.

Hau and her husband, Joe, founded the company together about two decades ago. The two met as geology graduate students at Kent State University in Ohio. Hau was specializing in hydro-geology, the study of groundwater, an expertise she still uses on consulting projects today.

“It had been a goal after we got married to start our own company, and for whatever reason, 1993 seemed like the right time,” Hau said. After graduation she and her husband returned to Maryland — Hau is a Baltimore native — to grow the business.

What began as a two-person venture dedicated to “applying practical science to improve communities” (the company’s slogan) is now a 58-employee firm, consulting for organizations primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region.

CEM recently advised the state of Maryland on the Inter-County Connector, an 18-mile highway running through Montgomery County, on how to protect natural resources during the road’s construction. As part of this project, CEM conducted hazardous material investigations on almost 2,000 properties and assessed 16 acres of wetlands, according to the company.

It was during this project that CEM was examining the best road alignment for protecting the natural habitat of Maryland’s indigenous turtles, Hau said.

Most of CEM’s employees are engineers, scientists, database specialists and landscape architects.

Though she enjoys managing the company, Hau said, it’s been tough to stay inside the office while her employees are on the field.

“When it was just the two of us it was a scientific consulting firm at the beginning — you were going and getting the work, writing the proposals, doing the work, preparing the deliverables, getting the invoices out, collecting the money, doing everything that goes along with the administrative aspects,” Hau said.

“Now with 50 people you would not be able to do all those things yourself.”

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Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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