When Joe Lorenz joined his father, Jim, in the family-owned business in 1990, he admits he did so with some reluctance.
“I resisted a bit because I didn’t know what the environmental sales group was about, but I came on board and said I’d give it a try,” says Lorenz, who came from a marketing and advertising background. Eight years later, he took over as president of PRO-TERRA Environmental Contracting Co., a growing environmental contracting business, as his father prepared for retirement.
“We transferred the reins in 1998, but we had been working on the plan for about five years,” the younger Lorenz says. “We spent a lot of time talking to employees about what would happen when Jim retired.”
As part of that preparation, Lorenz returned to school, earning an MBA from Franklin University, and began developing his leadership skills and taking on more leadership responsibilities. Early on, he became a key member of The Executive Committee (TEC), and after becoming president of PRO-TERRA, joined The Executive Group, an organization of CEOs.
“We’ve tried to set up some support mechanisms outside of the family to help me develop my abilities as president, and that has been very helpful,” says Lorenz. “It has challenged me to work at a higher level and to be more prepared, more planned and more structured.”
Part of that structure involved establishing a board of directors, which includes Jim Wyland, president of Professional Planning Consultants, a company that helps entrepreneurs manage both the financial and business succession sides of their business.
“Joe has a nice balance of strengths,” says Wyland. “He knows how to sell. He knows how to motivate people. He knows how to do all the things that are necessary to run that business from an operational, bidding and performance standpoint. He has grown a lot and has become a very successful leader and manager.”
Lorenz says his vision is for the company to be Ohio’s preferred environmental contractor in the services it provides, among them landfill closures, emergency spill response services and hazardous and nonhazardous site remediation services, which makes up 60 percent of PRO-TERRA’s projects.
“We work closely with the engineers on these different technologies and solutions,” says Lorenz. “We work really hard to build trust with the engineers who, in turn, can say to the owners, ‘This is our preferred contractor. Because of the relationship we’ve had over the years, we know they will do a good job and will stand behind the work they do.'”
Under Lorenz’s leadership, the company has grown from five employees to between 45 and 50, and from a first-year revenue of between $500,000 and $1 million to a 2001 estimate of between $7 million and $8 million. In 2000, PRO-TERRA also moved into its new headquarters at 2000 Integrity Drive South, which offers plenty of room for growth and expansion.
The company works primarily in Ohio for customers including Ashland Chemical, Honda, General Motors, United Parcel Services and The Scotts Co. Its central location in the state is a tremendous benefit because it allows the company to work anywhere throughout the state without lengthy travel times.
“There’s something to be said for being able to get in the car and drive a couple of hours to be home for a family occasion,” says Lorenz, the father of a 9- and 7-year-old.
In addition to his involvement at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church, Lorenz coaches soccer and baseball and was named 2001-2002 Cub Master for Pack 324 of the Boy Scouts of America.
Lorenz says he greatly admires his father, Jim, for his ability to step away from the company he founded to allow others to grow within the company.
“It’s definitely an accomplishment to be able to build that confidence and to know that Jim is willing to step away and that he is happy with the results. That’s sort of the ongoing success of being able to build the business-controlled growth, but also building people’s lives and having them be successful and having an impact on their lives and their families’ lives,” he says.
Since becoming president of PRO-TERRA, Lorenz and the company have received numerous awards and recognitions. In 2001, both Joe and Jim Lorenz were finalists for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in the Construction/Real Estate category.
Wyland calls Joe Lorenz a classic entrepreneur.
“He’s one of those entrepreneurs who is striving to learn and to make his organization a continuous learning, growing group,” he says. “I have watched him build an excellent team where there wasn’t one before. He has done the things it takes to bring on the right people and teach them and let them grow and make mistakes somewhat to lead the business to the level of success it has had.”
But Lorenz insists the company’s focus is simply on providing good service to its customers.
“We want to be considered all the time as being able to offer up solutions, to be honest, timely, and cost-effective, and to do what we say we’re going to do,” he says. “We try to keep a low profile. We just want to do good work for the customer, but we don’t necessarily need to be in the limelight. We try to be as professional as we need to be and still be in the contracting business.
“We’re not in the design service business. It’s difficult to explain at times, but that has helped us in knowing our position in life and not going over to design services and to be very true to our word on that. And that has helped us build a lot of relationships over the years.” How to reach: Joe Lorenz, PRO-TERRA Environmental Contracting Co., (614) 443-3737 or [email protected]
Jo Ann Judy is a free-lance writer for SBN Magazine.