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Cherie Koester of ‘Earthworks Environmental’: “Search for the best that you can train”

First and foremost, the journey is much longer than you think. Secondly, never bite off more than you can chew. Thirdly, when hiring staff, do not compromise. Search for the best that you can train. I hire on ability and potential, not necessarily experience. As a part of our series about women who are shaking […]

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First and foremost, the journey is much longer than you think. Secondly, never bite off more than you can chew. Thirdly, when hiring staff, do not compromise. Search for the best that you can train. I hire on ability and potential, not necessarily experience.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cherie Koester.

Cherie Koester is the CEO at Earthworks Environmental, an experienced environmental consulting firm in the U.S., specializing in dust control and stormwater pollution prevention. Cherie founded Earthworks after serving as Director of Environmental Compliance for an extensive landscape maintenance and landscape construction company in Metro Phoenix. Previous to that role, she was a compliance inspector for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department. Cherie received her Master of Science degree in International Environmental Technology Management & Sustainability in December 2011 from Arizona State University. She earned her B.S. in May 2008 from ASU and holds an associate degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in business administration.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Out of college, I experienced a strange paradox where I was either over or under-qualified. Finally, I interviewed as a compliance officer/regulator with Maricopa County, and before I returned home from the interview, they called and offered me the position. In time, I learned that I was good at interpreting regulations and teaching the required certifications to others. As compliance/regulatory officer, I wrote so many violations that one of the companies I was citing ended up asking me if I would consult for them. I took that as a significant compliment, which led me to think about branching out independently. I did so with the confidence of knowing I could succeed based on a reputation of knowledge and professionalism.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are disrupting our industry by challenging our competitors to walk the walk and talk the talk. Our clients love that we bring a very high level of communication and service to each project we do. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been hired on the heels of another company’s dismissal and the client is blown away by the level of service our company provides. That is true no matter which state we work, or which employee from our company you are dealing with. The reason I am confident in this is because it comes from the top down — it comes from me. To be a true disruptor in your industry, baby steps don’t help. You have to not only talk the talk (which is the easy part), but you damn sure better be able to walk the walk. Follow through is at the core of my company and something I drive each and every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first felt like I had “made it,” I booked my very first “first-class” business trip. I had always had a no-frills approach to travel, and traveling coach is perfectly fine for me. But every time I traveled, I was curious about the people sitting in first class and thought they were somehow more refined or worthy of their travel class. So, when my business was strong and I started making real money, I booked a first-class ticket. As I boarded the plane and took my seat, I felt unique, different. I got comfortable in my seat and nodded off while the rest of the plane boarded. Well, my catnap didn’t last long, and I awoke, making the loudest SNORTING sound I’ve ever made. The juxtaposition of how refined a first-class passenger should act opposed to the decibel of my snort made me laugh at myself, and I realized what I’ve always known to be true. People are people; flying first-class doesn’t make you special (or snort differently), and success isn’t defined by what you can or cannot afford materialistically.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My husband has been a huge factor in my success. He respected that I needed to be me and find my own way. At times, he will play the role of devil’s advocate, which drives me insane, but in the end, he is supportive of my choices, and he accepts both my triumphs and failures. Although we live very different day-to-day lives, he has always been the number one supporter of Earthworks. I cannot thank him enough for all the times he’s filled in for me while I’ve been working, traveling, or just simply too exhausted to keep up.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Another way my company is disruptor is in the relationships we form. Again, it’s doing things that others either don’t want to do, or don’t feel it necessary to do. This is the difference, and this is what disrupts the status quo. One of the biggest positive disruptive features of how our business operates is building positive relationships within the regulatory agencies. We formulate the bridge between regulatory agencies and the communities they regulate. This is an uncommon practice that has been frowned upon for decades within my industry and it shouldn’t be. I was a regulatory prior to forming my own company and I understand the value of a human, person-to-person relationship in place of the agency badges each person wears, then processes will (and do) unfold in a much smoother, more professional process — almost a partnership between people.

Interestingly, this is also the same example as a negative. Having a personal relationship with the regulators can place you in a jam. Our job is to protect our clients, their reputation, their projects along with our relationships (with both the client and the regulatory agencies). When an issue arises where the client is in the wrong, it becomes difficult to maintain an equilibrium while resolving the issue in the correct way. Sometimes the client is incorrect, and we can’t fight against a regulatory agency, or a person from that agency we’ve built a relationship with, just to clear the client of a violation or fine. At the end of the day, what is right is right and that will always prevail.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

First and foremost, the journey is much longer than you think. Secondly, never bite off more than you can chew. Thirdly, when hiring staff, do not compromise. Search for the best that you can train. I hire on ability and potential, not necessarily experience.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

The next disruptor for our industry is our proprietary ERX online compliance management software program platform. This program, along with the level of service we provide, is the queen of the ball. This custom-built management software developed exclusively for our industry is well known and one of the reasons our clients love working with us. Again, its communication and service and our ERX delivers both with gusto. We’ve decided to sell our program on a subscription base so that other companies (worldwide) can use our program to manage their construction sites. This has been a project six years in the making and it will certainly disrupt our industry in ways never seen before.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think that women continually have to prove themselves over and over and over and over. I’ve had so many instances where I prove my worth, then only a short time goes by, and I need to do it over again. If I was a middle-aged man, would that happen? Would people question me? I’ve even had people attempt to contact my husband to complain about me or inform him of a business decision I’ve made even though he has absolutely nothing to do with the business. Would people do that to a man?

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I am going to go the opposite direction with this question. I see many people attend self-help seminars or read books, etc. that will openly give in to inspirational talks. While it’s good to hear different perspectives and learn from others, what usually happens is the attendee attempts to mimic the speaker’s life into their own. This, in many cases, is a recipe for failure. What I am trying to say is that you have to explore your own talents, your own desires and take your own risks. I see too many people attempt to incorporate processes of success from others and adopt as their own only to fail and feel worse than they did prior to that seminar, or the book, or podcast.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to inspire more significant attention to teenage mothers. Because I was one, I understand the weight of that situation and the feeling of hopelessness. But what they don’t understand is that it can be a blessing and not a death sentence. Teenage mothers can still do anything they want, and now with reason and purpose to drive them. My advice does not stop reaching for the stars. I was fortunate because I have a strong will. Not all teenage mothers have that. That will would be the movement that could bring the most amount of good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The two quotes I live by are,” Nobody cares, work harder,” and “Winners focus on winning while losers focus on winners.” Both these quotes speak to a mindset of success. Nobody cares if you aren’t feeling well or would rather be doing something else. Sometimes you have to put on your adult pants and work through adversities simply. The second quote speaks for itself.

How can our readers follow you online?

I love connecting with people on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/cherie-koester-67097487/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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