Dana West and Marcia Harrison leave a legacy of environmental progress through partnership
They seem an unlikely pair.
He was the son of an Army officer; born with a thirst for adventure that took him from extended fishing trips across central America to being the man in charge of a massive cleanup following a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
She was a quiet, studious girl from Tucson, Arizona, who dreamed only of one day embarking on the ultimate adventure: falling in love and raising a family.
But Marcia Harrison and Dana West have more in common than meets the eye. They both have twin siblings. They both have a natural ability to adapt to their surroundings. And they both have an innate desire to be of service – whether that service is helping a company get back on its feet or cleaning up the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
“We both live at a pretty frenetic pace and we both love a challenge, learning new things and stepping in to fill a need when you see a vacuum start to develop,” West said. “Marcia never starts her workday with a personal motivation. She starts from a professional motivation to deliver the very best services for our clients and that’s how you earn a reputation and earn respect. That’s how you become a great leader.”
It had to be fate that drove Marcia to start looking for a job after moving her family to Sarasota to be closer to her in-laws.
She applied for an executive assistant position at a small environmental consulting firm called Biological Research Associates LLC, (BRA) working for a man who was off on vacation throughout her interview and hiring process.
“I knew nothing about environmental consulting,” Harrison said. “On that first day I was driving to work wondering, ‘What have I gotten myself into? I haven’t even met the person I’ll be working with or the team!’ But it was a perfect fit. We clicked right away.”
Roughly 25 years later, Marcia and Dana still click. They’ve lived their lives in tandem – from hirings to embarking on new ventures to retiring … and then un-retiring when the call came in for help.
Together, they managed to grow BRA to a company of roughly 250 employees in 13 offices across Florida.
“You develop a rhythm,” Harrison said. “Dana was a much sought-after consultant, so it was my job to help put in his hands whatever he needed to go into that next client meeting. And he was very, very busy, so I just had to keep up.”
It didn’t take long for Dana to see that he had hired much more than an assistant. Instead, Marcia became a business partner, helping him not only keep up with his daily work demands, but also turn idealistic dreams for the company into reality.
When the time came for BRA to build bigger, better headquarters in Sarasota, it was Marcia who helped Dana turn it into something special – creating a quintessential old Florida home, with wrap-around porches and rocking chairs, lush landscaping with a koi pond and waterfalls. An environmental oasis designed to fuel the passions of those working inside.
The building was, and still is, a beautiful testament to what they accomplished in their early days on the job, West said. But the longer the two worked together, the more they began to build a culture of influence that extended far beyond their office walls.
As the company’s confidence grew, so did the culture of trust, open communication and commitment to personal and professional growth that attracted a growing portfolio of loyal clients.
“The most remarkable accomplishment was the environment we were able to create within that office and the culture we were able to develop, the camaraderie,” West said.
In the mid-2000s, BRA merged with a company called ENTRIX Inc. – growing West’s staff to roughly 600 employees, and even more once he took over the firm’s business dealings for the entire eastern U.S. In 2010, new ENTRIX, Inc. merged with Cardno Limited – a publicly traded, Australian-based company – under the Cardno Limited name. In 2021, Stantec acquired Cardno Limited and continued growing environmental services.
And then, as if on cue, in 2010, the Gulf of Mexico was subject to an oil spill that posed the most significant environmental challenge of our generation, and the bourgeoning firm got a new job – a big one.
West and his team of experts were tasked with assessing the ecological and economic damage from the massive oil spill. A decade later, it is now known that the accident was and is considered by many to be the largest environmental disaster in world history to date.
But in 2010, with countless gallons of oil pumping into the Gulf, Dana and Marcia only knew they needed to get to work – and fast. Dana was named principal in charge of roughly 700 scientists scrambling to collect data, contain, and clean up the oil.
It was up to Marcia and team to get them there, booking day-of flights, hotel rooms and rental cars, to keep the scientists safe as they attempted to assess the damage, and to keep the company organized and on track as they methodically chipped away at their monumental task.
“Everybody was living in a 90-hour work week, ready to get your bag and go at a moment’s notice,” Harrison said. “It entirely consumed our lives for over four years. But we were playing a very, very integral role in the environmental event of our generation.”
By the time their work on the spill neared its end, Dana and Marcia were managing the largest group of natural resource ecologists in the world. They were exhilarated and exhausted. It seemed the perfect time for the dynamic duo to retire.
Then came another call – this time from Dana’s colleague Bob Kloepfer. He had just been hired as the president of ECT and he needed a strong right-hand man. West liked ECT and they estimated the work would take maybe a year or two at most. He took the job – but only if Marcia agreed to come too.
“He said, ‘You know, I don’t know that I’m done yet,’ Marcia said. “And I said what I always say: ‘Okay, whatever you decide I’m in.’”
It became their next great adventure: helping ECT evolve into a more nimble and progressive organization that empowers and values employees and fosters continued personal and professional growth. Together, they worked with ECT leadership to leverage the strengths of the organization and build new opportunities for competent, confident, and conscientious environmental consultants. As new leaders emerged, it took less and less effort to keep that momentum going, Marcia and Dana said. Now, they can’t help but smile when discussing the new leadership that’s ushered in a “new era” for ECT.
For West, the secret to ECT’s continued success is in the way his coworkers continue to take chances, help each other build upon new skills, and continue to find innovative ways to get work done while gaining clients’ trust.
“We did not come in gently,” West said. The duo were still used to the frenetic pace of their oil spill days and were eager to make some much-needed changes at ECT as quickly and effectively as possible.
For Marcia, the work went far beyond the traditional Executive Assistant. She spent long nights updating computer systems, organizing project libraries and decades worth of data, and even created new programs that would grow to become ECT’s intranet.
That willingness to constantly adapt and learn – the same traits that form the bedrock of West and Harrison’s partnership – is now reflected in the work of ECT employees, he said. That’s why when he retires this time, West knows it will be for good.
“I’ve probably had to reinvent myself a dozen times over my career,” West said. “I was a really, really good scientist and just loved being a naturalist out in the woods. But then the time came when that wasn’t what my company needed me to be anymore, so I figured out how to be a really good project manager, and then I figured out how to be really good in operational and corporate roles. I think that’s the most valuable thing we do – we can see a need and figure out how to meet it.”
It’s a character trait that isn’t easy to develop. West said. Yet, that adaptability has been at the heart of ECT’s expansive growth over the last decade. The company isn’t simply a replica of the Marcia-Dana Work Method, but a true cadre of employees who work as partners.
And that’s why this time, West and Harrison are retiring for good.
Marcia will be busy managing lunch dates and deep conversations with her 4 children and 10 grandchildren. Dana will have time to go fishing with his family.
“If ECT wasn’t on solid ground and doing so well, …Dana would feel like he wasn’t done yet; like he can’t be done. And so would I,” Harrison said. “We both believe in our hearts that this is the time for us to make that quiet exit, with a clear conscience and confidence in the company we’re leaving behind. And that’s a feeling of accomplishment and joy and satisfaction beyond my wildest expectations.”