Rhonda Brose has a lot of experience being one of the guys. That experience has served her well, both professionally and personally.
As chief executive officer of Four Corners Environmental, Brose has a background of digging in the dirt.
“Basically, I love being in nature and geology. I call it the natural sciences. I was able to put together a lot of understanding going from physics to chemistry to looking at a mountain and seeing why it exists,” said Brose.
On the first day of her crystallography class at California State University, Los Angeles, she met a man named Richard. “I knew he was a person that would be very important to me.” They were married several years later, and their paths have been aligned ever since.
Brose laughs about her early days as a scientist, where the space for a women’s restroom had been transformed into a clean lab. She was hired by Fugro in Long Beach, which, later became Earth Tech. “I loved the culture that I was in: science. I always wanted to do what the guys did. I saw where the power was in the workplace and it definitely wasn’t the traits you normally associate with being feminine,” Brose said, reflecting back on her time spent in the field and on drill rigs. She is happy things have changed over time, with more women in the sciences.
In 1983, she gave birth to a son, and she and her husband continued advancing their careers. While enjoying the move up into management circles, she learned she was pregnant again. Brose ended up giving birth to triplets, doubling the size of their family. She decided to hang up the suits and raise her sons full time. “I had never thought of myself as having a lot of maternal instincts, but I am so glad I chose the path that I walked.”
The family moved to Phoenix from Southern California and Richard worked as the head of a regional geosciences company. Rhonda began doing a little bit of geology work part time. In 1993, they started a home-based business, Four Corners Environmental; Rhonda was CEO and Richard was the chief financial officer. The partnership has served them and their many clients well throughout the years.
But there were some rough spots, especially at the start. “One time we were working to get a job for the City of Flagstaff and I was on the phone; I literally had one foot on the door with kids screaming on the other side and it did not sound professional at all. That was pretty funny,” said Brose, remembering how the four boys always seemed to play quietly until she got on the phone.
Having a home-based business had its challenges, with the fax machine going off at odd hours, and the temptation to work 24/7, but the Brose family made it work. The boys grew up with their parents nearby, and business flourished.
In 2000, they were able to relocate to Flagstaff, which provided many of the outdoor activities they all loved, along with cleaner air. It was around that time that geology-based businesses segued into environmental work, expanding from a lot of groundwater contamination issues to include lead-based paint and asbestos containing materials and then facilities management. And of course, water issues are a primary focus for Four Corners Environmental, with identification of water sources and water quality being paramount for many people in the Southwest.
Along with changing trends in her line of work, Brose has been a part of other changes in her industry. About 75 percent of peer companies closed their doors or were bought out during the past decade. Opting not to accept offers to purchase her company, Four Corners Environmental made adjustments, remaining creative and continuing to provide jobs for their employees. They also have been able to remain true to their values.
The staff of 15 reflects today’s modern workforce, connected electronically across many states. In addition to the Flagstaff offices, the main administrative person works out of her home in South Dakota, the company draftsman lives in Wyoming, and several other people work in Phoenix. Independent contractors are hired to do drilling and lab analysis.
The diverse work group serves a variety of clients from Maricopa County, the City of Phoenix, the U.S. Postal Service, the City of Gallup, different regional airports and municipalities.
As the business has evolved over the years, so has Brose’s understanding of business and people. She is thankful for Richard’s budgeting skills, and for the qualified people they employ. Brose also enjoys mentoring people, something she considers a value of (and to) the company. She laughs when she hears someone is afraid to talk to her because she is the boss. “I’m just someone who, like a mom, has a group of people I am trying to raise in the profession so that they will contribute. I have always employed young professionals who have wonderful minds. And I try to relay my experiences: learn everything I have learned so you can take my job, please,” laughed Brose.
And while retirement may be a ways off, it has been a satisfying career. Originally, Brose saw herself continuing up the corporate ladder, making different life choices than her own mother who had nine children. “But, all of a sudden, we have this huge event in our lives, having all these children that needed to be raised and the only model I had was the one my parents gave me. Richard and I both recognized that if we had a commitment to these young children, we had better stand up and take it.”
Around this time of Mother’s Day, Brose reflects on the challenges of today’s working women trying to do it all. “I look back and say it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but it worked. And I wouldn’t change a thing.” FBN
Rhonda Brose pictured with the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award granted by the Arizona Psychological Association. Photo by Ronnie Tierney