Turnaround expert saves companies, the environment
Stephen Simmons ( BS, 67 BSF, 69 )
Owner, Kiawah Consulting Group, LLC
At Camp Filbert Roth, I learned how to lead and work effectively in teams. But my favorite memories are going to the 1965 Rose Bowl and meeting my wife of 48 years, Suzanne (U-M Nursing ’68), for the first time at the Michigan Union Ballroom.
If you’re working on solving environmental problems, there are two sides to each of those problems. Be open minded while you explore the intricacies of the facts that you confront.
When Steve Simmons went to work for Harza Engineering Company in early 1968 – freshly minted SNR BS degree in hand – he was the first employee the international engineering company hired without a degree in engineering or a related field.
“I was fortunate that my interest and studies in the environment came coincidently at a time when the country at large was beginning to focus on environmental issues and the cause and effect of projects, like the water projects I was involved with in my early career,” Simmons said. “It was the beginning of formal consideration, at a federal, state and local level of the environmental effects of industry in this country.”
Much of Simmons’ career has been spent dealing with those effects and strategizing ways to mitigate them – including at infamous Superfund sites. In one Superfund case, Simmons worked to clean up an old landfill that contained contaminated waste in the form of 1960s and ’70s demolition debris. The delicate negotiations included the site owners, transporters, generators, and operators, a native American tribe, the EPA, and the US Department of Justice, but Simmons was able to get the site restored and delisted from the National Priorities List through a cooperative approach that rested on using good scientific data. Out of about 2,500 Superfund sites nationwide, only 341 – an incredibly small percentage, since the program started in 1980 – have been delisted. It often takes decades.
“I like working with polluters to try to straighten out their problems to arrive at beneficial solutions to the communities that are most affected. You have to have good people working on both sides of the equation to come to effective resolutions,” Simmons said. “Providing my expertise to owners of Superfund sites was an opportunity to bring problems that affected the environment negatively to a positive outcome. Having worked through issues like this for four decades, I believe most people really do want to be socially and environmentally responsible.”
Notably, Simmons’s tactics in Superfund resolution have also saved companies from bankruptcy, resulting in both environmental and financial sustainability.
He said, “It’s not about one side winning or losing. If you focus on the end game, you can come to mutually beneficial agreements that save site owners from bankruptcy, allocate liability equitably, and enact balanced environmental restoration plans.”
Today, Simmons is an independent consultant, developing and implementing turnaround strategies and business betterment roadmaps for engineering and technical firms that have lost their competitive edge or are experiencing ownership transition because of retirements. He enjoys helping firms that have lost focus, and preparing clients for mergers and acquisitions.
“I’ve worked a long career and accumulated a lot of experience… maybe even some wisdom and knowledge. I can still apply that in the outside world through consulting and as a current member and chair of the SEAS External Advisory Board,” Simmons said. “It’s stimulating, it keeps me connected to my colleagues, and as long as I have good health and the time, I’ll do it for a little longer. In the end, what you learn lasts a lifetime.”