Business Dynamos

Black women are making inroads in the world of business. Like these three, you can tap exciting markets and achieve entrepreneurial success.

teach the client how to implement the new solution. “A company’s environmental liability could cost more than the project itself. They can lose a lot or even shut down if they don’t know their risk factor,” states the 39-year-old Conner. “But most people don’t want us on a project site because our findings could also lower property values. We are the most dangerous entity on a job.”

With 90% of her projects out of state, Conner has been the troubleshooter and savior for entities ranging from the U.S. Department of Justice to J.C. Penney. The Department of the Navy declared that she “walks on water” after she got perfect storm water samplings in a region considered to be a drought area. Instead of taking a year to complete the job, she did it in one month. Quick turnaround has been G&C’s trademark and the trait that has gained her repeat contracts.

Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Conner was fascinated with nature and the environment. “They tried to put a landfill in my community, and my dad fought it forever but was eventually unsuccessful,” says Conner of her father, who owned several small businesses during his lifetime. “From then on I wanted to know about everything environmental that impacted my life.”

In 1982, Conner earned a B.S. in biology and education from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and continued her environmental engineering training and certification while working for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Industry and Labor and Human Relations, as well as the Bartolo Corp. in Youngstown, Ohio.

When she set out on her own in 1988, her first contract was developing an EPA-accredited curriculum for her alma mater. The University of Wisconsin gave her a 50% retainer of $5,800, which she used to start her business in lieu of a business loan. She also avoided 8(a) contracts the first four years, preferring not to build her business on government contracts that could disappear once she graduated from the program.
Providing services specific to a company’s needs is another cornerstone of Conner’s business philosophy. “We don’t mimic other companies. There are standard protocols, but different interpretations. We design procedures and policies specifically for that client,” states Conner, who averages 50 projects annually. Her husband, also an environmental engineer and biologist, left Scott Paper two years ago to handle G&C Environmental projects related to employee safety.

Earlier this year, G&C Environmental was given a J.C. Penney Supplier Development Award. “J.C. Penney didn’t force me to ‘tap dance’ in order to prove that I was competent. They took me at face value,” says Conner. “That was important, especially in an industry dominated by men and non-minorities.” Not resting on her laurels, Conner delivered and her contributions were recognized from on high. “G&C has helped J.C. Penney keep its many facilities nationwide environmentally safe. The company has completed over 100 projects for us, resulting in zero regulatory citations on any project it has managed,” says James E. Oesterreicher, J.C. Penney chairman and CEO.

Nonetheless, Conner

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