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One sunny afternoon in Chicago, Lisa Harris found herself at a crossroads.

Despite her well-paying job at an advertising company, Harris was feeling lost—she’d always had a passion for science, and was considering a whole new career. Standing at the corner of a busy downtown thoroughfare, she got the inspiration she needed. “There was no wind, no lightening, nothing. It was a calm day,” she said. “Then, this huge light post I had been standing next to just fell into the street, on top of a taxi cab. I realized this was my sign!”

Harris went back to school, earned a doctorate in wildlife ecology, and then started her own company in 1993—a one-woman show. Today, she manages 25 employees and a growing number of contracts as the CEO of Harris Environmental Group.

“Right now, we’re mostly working on public works projects with the federal government,” she said. For infrastructure and real estate projects large and small, Harris and her team are there to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. They provide expertise on the thorny issues of environmental compliance and regulation, conduct archeological surveys to protect sites of historical importance, and offer natural resources services to ensure that clients’ projects are ecologically sound.

“And we’re expanding into new markets like energy auditing—helping institutions, such as hospitals or schools or military bases, cut their utility bills and be more efficient,” she said.

Now that Harris is doing what she loves, her enthusiasm is contagious—and profitable. “I encourage my employees to chase after projects they personally want to work on,” she said. “That makes them happy employees. And our clients want to work with happy people, so that makes them more money!”

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