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WomanOf the Month 2-07: Kristina Feighan, President, Northeast Environmental

Entrepreneurship was all in Kristina Feighan’s family, inspiring her in the years after college as she mulled career path options. After graduating from Mercy College near her White Plains, New York, home with a BS in sociology, she considered social work or a PhD. “But I wasn’t in the mindset to continue my education further at that point,” she says. Her parents owned a construction company and along with a waitressing stint she lived at home and worked for them.

“It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do. My father’s company did everything from waterproofing to restoration work. My father also had an underground storage tank and environmental service business which gave me the idea of starting one—but on a much smaller scale of course. I had a friend who had been working in the government agency that oversaw such work who was interested in being a co-owner. It was like putting puzzle pieces together—I had business know-how from working with my parents, while he knew the rules and regulations and had different kinds of contacts than I did.apostrophe In 2006, the company they founded grossed $3 million-plus in revenues.

Feighan and Dwayne Monaco, her co-owner, kicked off Northeast Environmental in 1998 with youthful exuberance (she was just 24), rented office space, one truck, and basic tools. Dwayne did the jobs himself, one job at a time. Financing stemmed from a small loan from Feighan’s father and a bank loan for the truck. Feighan took no salary and held on to her waitressing job. As jobs came in, profit was plowed back into the company so they knew when they could buy machinery.

What gave them the nerve to launch a small business with so little to go on? “Today, now that I’m married with children, and knowing what I know now, I have to say I think being young was helpful,apostrophe says Feighan. “When people would ask us what we were doing we would have answers only about half the time and I think that was good—if we had been able to answer all the questions it might have scared us away!apostrophe

“Luckily we didn’t make too many mistakes. Today with 16 employees I feel we’ve been extremely successful. We figured out that if we did jobs well and as fast as possible, we’d have more money in our pockets.apostrophe

How has being a woman in a male-dominated industry like construction affected the success of Northeast Environmental? “It has been a factor but not as much as I might have anticipated,apostrophe says Feighan. “A lot of the meetings are over the phone, so clients could not see how young or old I was. Every once in a while, a client would ask for a man to deal with, but not very often. Interestingly, it was a woman who was once the most adamant that I could not be the owner. Usually, once I’ve answered all their questions the discussion moves on, and I’m confident answering questions and I’m honest in admitting if I don’t know the answers.apostrophe

Feighan notes that while a number of other competitors moved into the underground storage tank and environmental service industry in the last five to seven years, there are really only several who are on an equal par. Northeast sets itself apart by paying attention to the “little thingsapostrophe: showing up at appointments, answering the phones, and creating an office atmosphere of preparedness.

“Anytime there are disagreements or a mistake, and these are not detrimental mistakes, we talk about how we can prevent it from happening again. How could we have been more prepared? We also focus on how we can continue to grow our revenues through new and bigger clients. For example, rather than simply sending out contracts, now we take an hour to send out follow-up letters to those contracts and we’re getting a lot of those back.apostrophe

Like many women working outside the home, Feighan, a mother of two girls and expecting a third child, balances family and her professional life. Entrepreneurship offered the “ultimate flexibilityapostrophe, and was one of the attractions when she started the business. When she needs to take time off for her children she can. Two of her sisters also work at Northeast Environmental, and sometimes they back each other up as well.

Feighan is a self-described animal lover and has made specific donations to the Wolf Conservation Center to fund programs at her and her co-owner’s local schools. In addition to her children and husband, her family includes 2 frogs, 2 dogs, and a cat.

She’s also been recognized by the Business Council of Westchester (New York) to receive the 40 under 40 honor for accomplishments in her field before her 40th birthday.