Jackson — DeJonnette Grantham-King, president and CEO of Advanced Environmental Consultants Inc. (AEC), didn’t start out with the intention of becoming an advocate for women in business.
“It is just part of who I am,” says Grantham-King, who was named 2004 Women in Business Advocate of the Year Award for the SBA in Mississippi. “I was shocked when I received this award because it was totally unexpected. The willingness to help others is just the right thing to do. If I can share information to assist someone in reaching his or her goals, why not?”
The award is given to an individual who has advanced women’s business ownership through voluntary efforts to increase business and financial opportunities.
Grantham-King has enough to do running AEC, a full-service environmental consulting engineering firm specializing in project management, construction management, environmental management, environmental services (asbestos inspections, management plans, lead inspection, risk assessments, abatement, air monitoring, mold assessments, waste profiling and regulatory compliance. AEC also provides data management and computer programming services through its information technology division known as Advanced Information Technology (AIT).
As busy as Grantham-King is, she makes the time to mentor to others exploring starting a small business. Grantham-King gives motivation talks to various groups statewide, and volunteers as a mentor for start-up businesses and summer interns. She has spoken to thousands of women while serving as a panelist for the Mississippi Women’s Money Conference. The goal of the conference is to bring women together and teach them how to take control of their finances, save money for the future and start their own business. She also provided a similar message as an active panelist for the Mississippi Minority Business Alliance MED Week Corporate Symposium at Alcorn State University where she discussed best practices, survival strategies and the perspective as a female in a male-dominated field.
“I love science,” she said. “I am a science guru. One of my favorite things to do is to serve as a resource to the community. We travel statewide to provide services. I educate people about environmental issues that may impact their community, town, city, state, home and children. The quality of life affects the future.”
Public speaking on a frequent basis doesn’t intimidate her. Like most people, she will get a little nervous at first. But she copes by speaking to people in the audience as if she were talking to a friend. A smile or nod of the head while she is speaking reinforces that she is on track.
“People are usually very receptive when you are presenting them with information that is helpful,” Grantham-King said. “I try to be real and talk from the heart. I am not a jokester. However, I will attempt to tell a joke to lighten the mood. I find when I come from the heart and share experiences, it opens the door to the information that I want to share.
“When starting a business, there are so many resources out there you often don’t know about. If I can be an intricate part in helping someone get to where they want to go, I am delighted. Mentoring is my way of giving back. It allows me an opportunity to share my experiences and stress the importance of being prepared. Mentoring serves as a channel to allow me to assist others to strive for the unexpected and be the best that they can be. I introduce them to the world of entrepreneurship because it opens their minds to other options. It helps them to understand that excellence is not given; it is earned.”
Grantham-King’s opportunity to become a business owner came when the firm she worked for closed its office in Jackson. She was branch manager. The company suggested that since she knew the business and the clients, it would make sense for her to open her own business. They even offered support. While it was a major leap of faith going from the comfort of working for someone else to owning your own company, she felt that there was a window of opportunity, and the time was right.
It took long hours and little sleep in the early days to get the company launched on a successful path. The business began in the home of Grantham-King and her husband, Alvin King, which was converted to an office in only 24 hours.
“Salaries were waived for the first two years,” she said. “All monies were recycled back into the company to build cash flow for equipment and expenses to run the business. After two years of operating out of the house, the office was moved to a two-room office. Today, we occupy a suite at 5430 Executive Suite 2A, which is where we presently reside.
“Working for yourself is not the typical job where you are punching a clock. When I came onboard, I probably worked 18 plus hours per day for the first two years. I averaged four to six hours of sleep at night. Because of the strenuous hours and dedication needed to run a business, you must love what you are doing. When you are passionate and enjoy what you are doing, each day is a blessing.”
Grantham-King feels strongly that every facet of her life has led her to where she is today. She began her career in 1982 working as an environmental scientist with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. She was then employed as a business development manager for EPS Analytical Services. Later she held a position as assistant project manager at Woodward Clyde Consultants Inc., and lastly, she served as branch manager of Professional Service Industries Inc., Mississippi Operations.
“I have always given 100% to every job I have had,” she said. “If you work hard and persevere, good things will follow. I’d like to think that every job I have left, I have made a positive impact with that entity. It goes back to reputation. Your reputation is all you have. If you do your best and do what you are supposed to do, the rest will fall in place.”
Grantham-King received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from San Francisco State University, and a master’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s of business administration from Jackson State University. She is presently working on a doctorate in environmental engineering from Kennedy Western University, and has received numerous certifications in the environmental arena at the local, state and federal level.
There are few women in the field of environmental engineering. Grantham-King said that women often have to work harder to prove their capabilities when in a male-dominated field. Another issue she has had to deal with is the difference between working for corporate America and running a small business.
“It is a whole different mind set when you step out of corporate America,” she said. “For example, as a small business owner, the clients view you in a different manner although you are the same person. When we started, we knew what our goals were. Therefore, a strategic plan was vital to form the best roadmap to achieve those goals. I began research on everything from startup businesses, effective marketing, joining organizations and licenses to operate. In the process of doing all that, I was educating myself and gaining knowledge that was invaluable. Unknowingly, I was becoming a resource for others.”
Grantham-King stresses that business owners must be prepared to operate at the highest standards.
“You must be responsive to the clients whom you serve,” she said. “Treat your clients like friends, the way you want to be treated. Quality is never an accident. It is the result of hard work, sincere effort and proper execution. Always strive for excellence. That is the key to a winning formula.
Her community service involvement includes doing volunteer work for the American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Salvation Army and the Simpson County Homeless Shelter. She also holds several 2000 award recognitions including the Outstanding Business of the Year by the Mississippi Minority Business Alliance, Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year by the Mississippi Minority Capital Fund and the Successful Minority Business Enterprise by Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Grantham-King believes that her success today is a result of keeping life in balance with a strong commitment to religion, family, work and community.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.
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