Foundation for Success: How Gina Crevello Built Her Own Business
When Gina Crevello’s last employer asked her to leave the field and go into sales, she was incensed. "How could someone as a business owner decide that they were going to change my career path?" she remembers thinking at the time. "I didn’t take it well."
She quit and started her own company.
That company is Echem Consultants LLC in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which Crevello describes as a team of building doctors. When clients detect a material problem with a bridge, skyscraper, or other structure, they hire Echem to find out what’s causing the problem or deterioration and how to fix it.
When Crevello set out on her own, she knew she had the technical know-how and the passion, but she’d never run a business. "The fear came from finding ongoing work to support my company," she says.
That fear soon abated. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Echem is a successful woman-owned business providing testing, analysis, monitoring, and maintenance to clients in the U.S., Canada, and, most recently, the U.K.
"Being technically strong, taking pride in the work that we do, developing a really good rapport, and creating a good outcome meant that a lot of clients would just continue to call me back."
– Gina Crevello
- Take advantage of programs offered by organizations focused on minority- and women-owned businesses.
- Keep your belief in your expertise and your eyes on your goals.
- Get involved to keep learning and sharing your knowledge.
Striking Out On Her Own
Crevello founded Echem as a highly specialized consultancy delivering in-depth investigations for material failures, corrosion, and repair designs on historic landmarks. Her mission was clear, but how would she transform that into a successful business? Her reputation was such that her historic building clients followed her to Echem. She knew that continued growth would depend on referrals and consistently delivering great experiences.
"Being technically strong, taking pride in the work that we do, developing a really good rapport, and creating a good outcome meant that a lot of clients would just continue to call me back," she says. And those clients, many of them highly respected structural engineers, championed Echem and recommended the company to others.
Crevello knew that for Echem to thrive, her business acumen had to be as sharp as her technical skills. Being her own boss meant developing sound solutions for marketing, finance, and business development. As Echem grew, Crevello trained specialists so that she could spend less time in the field and devote more energy to the business aspects of the company.
She also took advantage of opportunities afforded as a Woman's Business Enterprise (WBE). The certification puts Echem in the running for large infrastructure projects that are required to give as much as 30 percent of their value to minority-owned or women-owned businesses. It’s been enough of an edge that she regrets waiting three years to be certified.
"I’ve learned to navigate that system really well," Crevello says. "I have set us up in probably 20 of the states where we comply with a woman-owned or disadvantage-owned business enterprise."
As clients gained trust in Crevello, she, in turn, gradually added technical employees who could maintain a high level of excellence in the field. Her husband, Paul, a respected corrosion engineer, eventually joined Echem, and their combined technical and business abilities have driven growth over the last six years.
Training others in the field has been a challenging process, however. "It does take about five years to get technically proficient in some of the methodologies," Crevello says, "but we’ve got a good team now of younger engineers that we’ve trained." Currently, Echem employs 20 people across the technical and administrative areas of the business.
Echem has worked on landmark structures, such as the American Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Guggenheim Museum. Although the company is best known for its work with historic steel-frame and reinforced concrete structures, it also works on new construction. "We’re not limited by structure types," Crevello says. Echem has also expanded into the energy sector, finding solutions for high-voltage transmission lines, concrete substructures, and issues specific to concrete and energy transmission.
No matter the market, the goal remains to have a great mix of interesting projects for her team. "I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve done in the last year," Crevello says of Echem’s most recent work. "We’ve just had the best of the best projects."
Echem receives a variety of accolades for its expertise, including the American Council of Civil Engineers Diamond Award for Engineering Excellence, presented to WSP and Echem for its work on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. "We worked with WSP on an extensive evaluation where, through the scientific models we gave them, they then projected forward when the bridge was going to not be able to take certain trucks," Crevello explains. "The work we do allows people to understand timeframes for deterioration, and that is critical for a structure that needs to be either repaired or taken out of service in the future."
Echem has also been recognized by the Illinois Institute of Classical Architecture, the California Preservation Foundation®, and the International Concrete Repair Institute®.
A Model for Other Women
Women are well-represented in historic preservation engineering and architecture. However, the clients in infrastructure and energy fields are predominately engineers. Crevello says there are fewer female principals in large engineering firms, though she sees this changing.
Crevello has three degrees and a unique scientific background as an architectural conservator with training in corrosion science. "I was the first architectural conservator to be trained in electrochemistry for the diagnosis and repair of building envelopes and now we’ve got one other woman specialized in this," Crevello says. She used this distinction to set her business apart from the competition.
Crevello recognizes her responsibility as a successful woman business owner in her field. To fulfill that obligation, she strives to maintain a technical staff with a 60:40 female-to-male ratio. "We recently had four projects with 100 percent female investigation teams on major infrastructure and historic landmark projects of international renown," she says.
She has recently been elected as the President of the Board of Directors of the Association for Preservation Technology International, a prestigious industry organization.
She encourages her staff to be active in related organizations to give back while also shedding light on the unique capabilities of a woman-owned firm.
"I was the first architectural conservator to be trained in electrochemistry for the diagnosis and repair of building envelopes and now we’ve got one other woman specialized in this."
– Gina Crevello
In addition to WBE certification, Echem has benefited from a strong relationship with Key4Women for the last several years. "There’s just been such a wonderful outpouring of support from KeyBank in general, that when they gave us the opportunity to become involved with Key4Women and really start to network and learn more about business strategies, we took the opportunity," Crevello says. "I’ve sent a few of my younger staff (to events) as well so that they can learn and try to pick up some business skills and different opportunities to foster growth."
Crevello has sage words for any woman considering her own business, whatever the field. "Take advantage of programs offered by organizations focused on minority- and women-owned businesses. Get involved and learn as much as you can. Don’t comply if someone tries to steer you from your area of expertise. You know your strengths better than anyone."