Living the Dream
Quality Environmental, Inc. …where people think big
When Gustavo “Gus” Escutia was 15 years old, he and his family moved from Mexico to California in search of the American Dream. Their early years in the U.S., however, were anything but ideal. They found themselves in a high-crime area where drugs were more accessible than jobs. Gus slept in a living room with his siblings at night and worked in a factory making $3 an hour by day.
Gus’ father soon realized they needed to uproot again to find a better life. However, when he went to Gus’ brother’s school to explain why they had to move to a new city, fate intervened: the teacher knew a business owner who could offer them jobs there—and that’s how Gus and his father got into the environmental remediation business.
Today, Gus is the proud President and Founder of Quality Environmental, Inc., which specializes in environmental remediation and offers 24/7 emergency response services. Gus and his team resolve a range of environmental situations, whether it’s a complex demolition requiring asbestos removal, water damage, mold remediation, lead abatement, restoration services or fire damage.
“I always tell my clients, ‘Cheap is temporary, but quality lasts forever,’ “ Gus says. “If you want peace of mind and you want something done right the first time, we’re your solution.”
Starting a successful business didn’t happen overnight. In those early years of working in the asbestos and lead abatement industry as field workers, Gus and his father had to work hard to make ends meet.
Despite difficult times, Gus climbed the company ladder, advancing from worker to supervisor to operations manager and estimator. Throughout that journey, he was struck by some companies’ indifference toward protecting their workers from the hazardous materials they were working with.
“That’s when I decided to form a company with a culture of integrity that treated people with dignity and respect,” he says. “I wanted to create a quality company focused on ensuring employee safety and finding cost-effective solutions for its clients.”
Gus’ first attempt at entrepreneurship didn’t go as planned. He left his job as an estimator to partner with an inspector and start a business; but after putting everything on the line—including a loan on his house—the money never came.
“I lost my house, my job, my dreams, everything,” he says. “Then, someone gave me an inspirational book called “The Secret” and invited me to some seminars, and my mindset shifted. From then on, I operated under the belief that I could accomplish anything.”
A Family Business
With a renewed focus, Gus obtained his California license for Asbestos and Demolition, and in 2005 he sat down with his father and sister Lizbeth Delval to create a plan. Together, they would take their 50 years of combined experience in the asbestos abatement industry and form a company—one that cared about people and did things right.
They called it Quality Environmental.
“We founded the company upon core values and an adherence to all regulations,” says Lizbeth, Vice President of Quality Environmental. “We like to sleep well at night, and I think that’s what’s gotten us where we are. We just never cut corners, even when it’s easy to.”
That approach paid off. In its first year, Quality Environmental earned $1 million in sales operating out of a garage. When the 2008 financial crisis hit a few years later, Gus decided to fire 80% of the clients that were not of “integrity,” while focusing on the 20% that were.
“I realized that if I wanted to increase my sales, I needed to bring in more of those 20 percenters,” he says. “At first everyone said, ‘You’re crazy, we need the work.’ I said, ‘No, we need the quality work and quality people.’ So that’s what I did.”
That decision changed the course of the company; they went from $1 million in sales in 2005 to over $17 million in sales last year.
Pursuing the Most Difficult Jobs
With a focus on high-profile government, commercial and private projects, Gus says the team can tackle any environmental or demolition project by offering a diverse range of top-of-the-line services. That’s helped them become a trusted partner to general contractors, construction firms, government agencies, hospitals and property management groups throughout the region.
“We’re not the typical company,” Gus says. “We’ve found our niche pursuing the toughest, most difficult jobs that nobody wants.”
One recent project was at the Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles. It was once known as the “Killer King” for poor treatment until its closure in 2007. To bring the outpatient center up to code in preparation for demolition, the company removed all the asbestos and lead from the six-story building, including half a million square feet of flooring materials and pipe insulation.
“That $4 million contract kept 60 of our employees busy most of the year,” Gus says. “Another project that demonstrates the team’s commitment to tackling challenging jobs is when a Los Angeles County building had a flood in the attic, which caused high-profile criminal records to be affected by water damage, mold and asbestos. The team spent a year decontaminating and scanning millions of documents that were needed for legal cases to continue.
“We encounter jobs like this that aren’t typical,” Gus says. “We pride ourselves on our resourcefulness and ability to come up with cost-effective plans for any job so our clients can decide if they want Plan A, B or C. For me, there’s only one plan: the quality way.”
According to Lizbeth, that ability to diversify and tackle any project lies in the knowledge and abilities of their team.
“Our field staff are certified for all trades,” she says. “If we’re doing a standard demolition, our staff can also perform in other areas such as lead stabilization or disinfection cleanups. We consistently train our employees and provide new and updated equipment to facilitate the completion of any project.”
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, for example, the company reached out to suppliers and decided to purchase a large amount of personal protection equipment (PPE) so that none of the customers would face shortages. By using their experience working in health care facilities, the team began offering disinfection services to government entities, contractors and any other clients who needed it.
“Whatever comes up, we’ll innovate in a way that will help the industry abate a problem,” Gus says.
“I always tell my clients, ‘Cheap is temporary, but quality lasts forever.’ If you want peace of mind and you want something done right the first time, we’re your solution.” Gus Escutia, President and Founder, Quality Environmental, Inc.
According to Gus, Quality Environmental’s success is due to his team. He says he looks for people who have the character and skills to live up to the company name.
“I’ve learned to hire people who are leaders in the field,” he says. In fact, he’s hired some of the people he worked with when he and his dad got their first remediation employment. “Many started from the bottom and climbed the ladder along with me. I don’t just hire estimators who play with numbers; I promote and train people from the field to estimate. Once you’ve been in a respirator and a suit, you understand that every job is unique, and you know exactly what each entails.”
Gus and Lizbeth offer their team a range of incentives such as awards, employee appreciation events, empowerment programs, teambuilding outings, trainings and seminars. Inspirational quotes are displayed on the office walls.
“We like to empower our people to feel special, because they are special,” Gus says. “When we’re back at work, that translates to how they do things and how they care about one another—not just their co-workers but our clients as well.”
The office is equipped with a state-of-the-art training center that can fit Quality Environmental’s 100 employees. Safety meetings and employee training are priorities that resulted in an award from the State Compensation Insurance Fund for a three-year accident-free record.
In this line of work, Gus insists that’s critical.
“In the past as a worker, I had so many injuries working for companies who didn’t care and who gave me the wrong PPE,” he says. “I purchase the top-of-the-line PPE because I know the importance of my labor force. If they don’t have the right equipment, they won’t be able to perform in a safe manner, and that’s the No. 1 priority in the field—I want to ensure they go home safe.”
Elva Alatorre, Staff Accountant and Office Manager at Quality Environmental, can attest to the commitment of the company’s owners. She came to the company seven years ago with 20 years of experience in construction.
“I hope I don’t sound cliché, but when I say this place is family-oriented I really mean it,” she says. “Gus and Lizbeth place a high value on family, and that means they take care of their employees. Knowing they care for you inspires you to do your best. We have a really good group of people who are always seeking to contribute, and you don’t find that in a lot of places.”
This year, Quality Environmental enters its 15th year of delivering abatement and demolition services to clients. Looking back, Lizbeth said she never thought twice about starting the company with her family.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done and how far we’ve come over the years,” she says. “Most of all, I’m proud of the relationships we’ve built and the family we have here.”
For Gus, it’s a culmination of starting from the very bottom and working their way to the top.
“I want everyone to know who we are and where we started,” he says. “We weren’t fed with silver spoons. We really had to learn all the trades and how to hustle and to do things right.”
Gus draws on the memories of all he overcame in pursuit of a better life for his family.
“We’re humble because we had humble beginnings,” he says. “I still have all the guidance from my family in Mexico when we left; all those principles and morals. They were not rich, but their words are ingrained in my soul. I’m able to draw on them every day to create a culture of respect and dignity.”
Of all the incentives and teambuilding opportunities they offer their employees, Gus’ favorite activity is creating vision boards. Every year, he brings in piles of magazines, paper and scissors and asks his team to put all their personal and professional goals on the page.
“We put crazy goals out there and use a lot of imagination,” he says, knowing firsthand the power that big goals can bring to a life. When asked what’s on his own vision board right now, he lights up.
“In the years to come, I want to continue building our company legacy. It’s about the dream and to keep living for that dream every day. I always have that little kid next to me—me, when I was a child—and I look over at him and think, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long, long way.’ “