Only a year out of New York University with a degree in environmental studies, Kiran Gill bought PARS Environmental in Robbinsville from her father in 2003 with a combination of her own savings and a seed loan from her entrepreneur uncle, Harpal Singh.
The firm was founded in 1984 by Lena and Ron Meck and purchased in 1999 by Gill’s father, Harcharan, formerly the CEO of Envirogen, an environmental remediation company with offices on Quakerbridge Road, with the idea of rebuilding it with the handful of remaining employees. Gill had gained extensive environmental experience and a web of relationships with universities and other research companies at Envirogen and, before that, a partner at the engineering firm Dames & Moore.
Kiran Gill started working at PARS Environmental summers while she was in college and joined full time after graduation. She had a chance to work with both her father and the Mecks, who stayed on for awhile as consultants, learning all aspects of the business — from managing projects and business development to relationships with clients to operations and finance. “He has been helpful in teaching me things about business and how to run a business,” says Gill. Her mother, who ran a laboratory in Washington, D.C., has also been part of the family support system.
Gill also got some hands-on practice early on, working at her uncle’s firm, Supply Chain Consultants, while she was a student at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School. His firm was small then, which gave her a chance to do marketing research and whatever else was needed. Today the firm has about 100 employees, and he gives Gill a lot of support. “For anybody that goes into business, it’s always nice to have people to bounce things off of who can understand where you’re coming from,” she says.
What captured Gill’s interest in the environmental field and revealed to her its potential as a career was a college project she did in Costa Rica on preserving its several ecosystems. She observed the different ways that people live in and develop the environment and realized how applicable the same ideas were to industrialized New Jersey.
PARS Environmental has experienced considerable growth since Gill took over the Robbinsville firm. Without any additional financing, the firm has grown from a 2005 revenue of $853,703 to $4,670,731 in 2008, and from a handful of employees to about 40 geologists, environmental scientists, engineers, and industry hygienists. Gill’s father now serves as a consultant, but she is in charge of day-to-day operations. She says that is a good arrangement since as she is detail oriented, while her father, she says, is more of a “big picture” type.
Gill attributes the firm’s rapid growth to its use of technology and willingness to take on difficult clean-ups, including those where clients have already tried two, or three, or more approaches. “When you’re a small, growing firm, you can’t offer the same thing everyone else is offering,” she says.
To get the attention of new clients, the firm has developed technologies that, she says, are better, faster, and less expensive. “I structured the organization so that we focused on innovative ideas and solutions in a meaningful way,” says Gill, “to see what was out there in industry and in academic research, what makes sense, and what has value to the marketplace that makes sense to commercialize.” The new technologies that these collaborations with academe and industry have produced are used primarily to remediate environmental contaminants.
This year the firm has also updated proprietary software developed earlier in its history for doing chemical inventories to help businesses and school districts comply with regulations.
Gill’s second strategy for growth has been to diversify the client base. She consciously decided to reach beyond the firm’s existing clients, who tended to be similar companies with similar needs. “When you diversify, you open yourself to more opportunities in different areas,” she says. “You can offer more services because of the different environmental issues clients are facing.”
Clients include government agencies, manufacturing companies, and major utilities. Gill has registered PARS as a woman-owned business, and says that designation does help to bring in some business — but maybe not as much as would have been the case in the past. “I received the certification two weeks before New Jersey ended its set aside program,” she says. Under that program a certain percentage of state business had to be “set aside” for women-owned businesses. While there is no formal program, she says that the designation does carry some weight. Even in the private sector, she says, many companies like to have contracts with women-owned businesses on their books.
Several years short of her 30th birthday, Gill is carrying a lot of responsibility — and a full work load. She says that she likes to travel, but never has time to do so. She also likes to play tennis, and she adds wistfully, “I used to volunteer at church, and I even used to teach the harmonium.” Now she is up at 6 a.m. to eat a breakfast of soy yogurt and tea, and to read her E-mail, before heading off to work, where she generally stays until 6 or 8 p.m.
Gill’s routine as president of a growing company includes work on business development, meetings with accountants, writing proposals, visiting remediation sites, recruiting and supervising employees, and much more. Basically, she says, “I do everything.”
PARS finds most of its clients in New Jersey now, but also has a number in New York and in Pennsylvania and some farther down the eastern seaboard. Gill plans to expand the company’s reach substantially. “We’re going to be national,” she says.
When the company reaches the next level, or perhaps the level after that, Gill expects that she will be able to pull back a bit from managing all of its day-to-day functions. She will hire others to take over some of the load. That will free her to spend more time on her favorite aspect, business development.
Hiring, whether of these future key employees, or of the employees she now needs, is “a balancing act,” she says. In a firm that uses sophisticated technology, and that also works closely with clients, the ideal employee is tech savvy, but is also good with people. Is one skill harder to find than the other? “It’s hard to find the combination,” says Gill. But she is pleased with her hires, and works well with them. PARS employee role contains about as many women as men. Gill sees more women entering the field of environmental clean-up as all aspects of the environment get more attention.
But environmental clean-up is still largely a man’s field. Competing for work both as a woman and as a young person can be a challenge. “When I walk into a room, I am often not what people expect to see,” says Gill. She sometimes uses introductions by her father to warm clients up, and says that after she makes her presentations and begins work with a new client, the fact that she is a young woman no longer seems to matter.
Since graduating from college, Gill has beefed up her credentials by taking courses in industrial hygiene and environmental science, and in 2007 she finished a master’s degree in business administration through the executive program of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Gill weighs in on Lisa Jackson. “I don’t know her personally, but she seems quite knowledgeable,” says Gill. “She did well at NJDEP, and it is good to have someone from New Jersey at the EPA.”
PARS Environmental, 6 South Gold Drive, Robbinsville 08691. 609-890-7277; fax, 609-890-9116. Kiran K. Gill, president. www.parsenviro.com.