Latitudes was featured in a Business Highlight article from the online magazine VoyageHouston
“David, the President and Founder of Latitudes is originally from Richmond, Virginia, and has been living and working in Houston since 2000. Mr. Lewis studied Biology and Chemistry as an undergraduate (Radford University), and then went on to graduate school to study marine ecology (Old Dominion University). After graduate school, he accepted an Environmental Scientist position with a full-service engineering firm based in Virginia Beach.
He began his professional career working primarily on transportation and land development projects, with emphasis on wetlands and natural resources assessments and permitting.
After 3 years, he moved to Houston to accept a position with a national engineering firm, focusing on environmental planning for roadway projects. Post-Sept. 11, 2001, highways budgets were cut, and he came upon an opportunity to move into the energy sector- focusing primarily on oil and gas regulatory compliance. His next 12 years or so were spent working primarily in the oil and gas sector, holding a number of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) positions with consulting firms and service companies. With the downturn in the oil and gas industry in 2015, he made a decision to start Latitudes Environmental, with a vision of providing quality, cost-effective environmental and safety solutions to a range of industries.
Latitudes are proud to be approaching 2 years as a company. They have been successful in building partnerships with other local businesses, to satisfy the specific needs of their customer base. They have also partnered with local Universities, including the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, to build their professional staff with youthful and ambitious talent who will represent the next generation of environmental decision makers.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting a new consulting firm is NEVER a smooth road, especially in the environmental and safety industries. The ‘struggles’ that I will discuss below are very real, although they do not discourage our ambition and drive to build a great company.
1) The competition is stiff in the ‘city of industry’ – there are many good, established firms who offer the same or similar services as what Latitudes offer. The key is for us to continue gaining name recognition, and have the opportunity to bid against our competition. After a project ‘win’, we are then able to prove ourselves as professional, trustworthy, reliable and most importantly, cost-effective.
2) The environmental and safety services industry covers a broad area. To be successful, you must focus on what your customers and future customers actually need, and not on what you particularly like to do, or feel that you are good at. The ‘need’ generates the work, although it can take some time to figure this out. Needs also change over time- looking back, we have definitely seen peaks and valleys in certain service lines.
3) Heavy industry on the Gulf Coast has seen a downturn, particularly over the last couple of years. Although critical for the long-term health of a corporation, safety and environmental compliance initiatives are sometimes viewed as an overhead expense, without a director ‘tangible’ return on investment. And when companies are in survival mode, environmental and safety programs are sometimes put on hold. The HSE Manager (our Client) may hear, “stop spending money”, or “stop outsourcing to consultants, and perform this work in-house”.
4) Business development is a large investment, however, it is absolutely essential for a start-up company. From building marketing collateral to social media posting, to traditional networking and outside sales…..it is a LOT of money going out, before any of these efforts may pay off. It can be a waiting game; it takes patience to figure out which efforts yield the most work, and know that you will be going ‘back to the drawing board’.
5) Relationships are EVERYTHING- whether between Latitudes and our Clients or among our own staff and team members. We are not selling ‘widgets’; we are selling our knowledge and our time. Without sound working relationships, we cannot: a) win work, b) perform quality work on time and budget, or c) maintain a consistent and committed team of professionals. We realize that healthy working relationships must be a win-win for all parties involved, although this special balance does not come without some ‘struggle’.
One positive note that I would like to mention about our industry- at the moment, there does not seem to be a shortage of talent in the environmental and safety fields. With the numbers of HSE personnel coming out of the oil and gas industry downturn, and recent science graduates from our universities, we have been fortunate with our recruiting.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Latitudes Environmental story. Tell us more about the business.
We provide environmental and safety services to the energy, industrial and land development sectors. From land development support, to industrial wastewater permitting, to emergency response planning- we do it all. We enjoy being a small local company, Houston may be one of the larger cities in our country, but it very much feels like a close-knit community. Our customer service and prices set us apart! Our motto is “Improving Your Environmental and Safety Performance, While Keeping Your Costs In Mind.” We have the experience to meet any challenge.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I am fortunate to have been consistently employed for nearly 20 years prior to starting my own company. It is under my prior employers, where I have honed my skills- I have been able to experience what works and what doesn’t, and this has been critical for developing the Latitudes business model.
My mother once told me, “David, moving to Houston was the best move you have ever made…..” I know this to be fact- from a career standpoint, there are not to many places that can match ‘Space City’.”
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