Terra’s 6 Principles Defined

Terra’s 6 Principles Defined

Integrity   Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Safety   Practicing the Loss Prevention System (LPS) to ensure that no one gets hurt.

Customer Focus   Seeing everything through the eyes of the customer.

Intensity   Maintaining high awareness of surroundings at all times.

Training   Engaging in continuous improvement.

The History of Terra’s 6 Principles

Although Terra was founded in 2001, the heart of our company is much older than that. Please take a few minutes to read the story that follows. I hope it helps you better understand and appreciate the kind of organization we strive to be at Terra. -Steve B. Taplin

If you work at Terra, one thing you can be sure of is that you will often be reminded of the six principles—hopefully at least once a day, if not more often. These six principles by which we make all of our important decisions are no accident. They weren’t made up in some dark, smoke-filled room. We didn’t find them in a trendy management book. In fact, Terra inherited these principles, and we gladly accepted them because they had been tried and tested in the field to prove their worth. They came to us directly through decades of service from my father, the late Al Taplin. This is his story, and the story of how these principles came to be.

My father, Al Taplin, was not a college graduate. In fact, he never attended college, which was common for people of his generation who lived through the Depression and World War II. He worked for a manufacturing company in Kalamazoo, Michigan as a machine operator. One day, some co-workers offered to sell him a small business that they had started and decided they no longer wanted. Their operation was a sewer and drain service company called A&B, the initials representing the first names of the two founders. A&B cleaned out residential drains and sewer lines. It was my father’s great dream to have his own business, but he had no capital, just the will to work hard. He borrowed $800 from a relative and bought the business. The year was 1952.My father didn’t quit his job as a machine operator. He still went to the plant in the morning, and came home at day’s end, but instead of putting his feet up and reading the paper, he took up the labors of his second job.

All he had was a used truck with basic equipment, a strong back and the will to succeed. He turned the kitchen into his office, installed a second phone line dedicated to the business, and recruited my mother to be accountant, secretary, inside sales and backup. Then he began to build his customer base, making service calls in the evenings and weekends to fix the drain and sewer problems of his customers.In wasn’t long before his business began to grow and for very good reason. My father was demanding of himself and insisted that each job be done as completely and as perfectly as possible. He always tried to do more than the customer expected, and the word spread through the neighborhoods. That telephone on the kitchen wall started to ring with regularity.Within a couple of years, my father had built A&B into a full-time job, so he resigned from his machine operator’s position and threw himself full force into his business. He had vision and he had energy. He also had help: As my father and mother grew their business, they also grew the family. First came Mike, then Pat, Charlie, Dennis and myself. As my father’s business expanded, he hired employees, but also as his sons came of age, they were expected to contribute to the family livelihood.

My father was ever on the watch for new opportunities and after a few years, he spotted one: servicing septic tanks. So he bought his first pump truck and added new customers. Then he realized there was more business waiting to be had by building the septic tanks and drywells themselves, so he expanded his services once again. At first he built his drywells the old-fashioned way: with 8” concrete blocks in the excavated hole. Each of us boys has memories of my father’s exacting, principled way of doing things. He was not a believer in wasted effort or time. He would get into the hole and have my brothers Mike and Pat toss him a block. My father had taught them to throw it in a certain way so that he could grab it with a single swipe and put it in place quickly, so he would be ready for the next one. Mike remembers getting sloppy and throwing the block in at the wrong angle.

My father snatched the block and with one arm, tossed it up and back out of the hole to Mike, insisting it be done the right way.Later, my father decided to improve on his method and create concrete forms that could be dropped into the hole instead of his having to build the drywells with blocks. So he set up an operation for building the concrete structures using wood frames, eventually purchasing steel forms. In the beginning, he poured the forms himself, and then brought his sons into help.

We noticed that he would initial the forms, and no one could figure out why: we knew they would just end up underground where no one would ever see them. But my father’s explanation was simple and unforgettable: “Be proud enough of your work to put your name on it even if you’re the only one who sees it.”But oftentimes his work was very visible. My father became well known for his ability to put in a septic tank without leaving a mark on the lawn. He learned to make the first cut into the customer’s lawn, what he called “the key,” in such a way that when the sod was put back in place, there was no sign that any digging had occurred.

Further, he would lay down plywood on the lawn so that the backhoe and trucks wouldn’t leave tire tracks. His attention to detail and focus on his customer were breathtaking at times. My mother remembers that when he bought new trucks, he always picked white because the dirt would show easily and would serve as a glaring reminder that they needed to be washed. His trucks always gleamed as they rolled down streets and roads.

My father’s business continued to grow. He branched out into commercial and municipal pipe and sewer work, and that led to entering the industrial market. Providing liquid waste-hauling services, as well as industrial pipe, pit and trench cleaning, A&B became the first industrial services provider in Southwestern Michigan.

With environmental awareness developing throughout the 1970’s, my father, with the help of his five sons in Kalamazoo, recognized other potential opportunities. Emergency spill response, site remediation and municipal sewer rehabilitation services were added to the list of services. Along the way, he bought equipment sensibly, paid his debts, insisted on excellence from all his employees, and treated people fairly and with compassion—the way he wanted to be treated in return.

By the time A&B entered the 1980’s, it offered a complete range of commercial services and had grown into a multi-million dollar company. And it continued to handle residential septic and sewer work.

My father still ran the company, but most of us sons were deeply involved—we took on management and sales responsibilities, but we also got our hands dirty with the hard, physical work. We knew how to handle water blasters, drive trucks, and operate an excavator. And we continued to learn from my father’s methods. He paid his vendors on time, oftentimes early. He was loyal to vendors and employees both, and rewarded them for their loyalty in return. And he looked out for their safety and well-being. He absolutely insisted on the highest level of quality and wouldn’t put up with less. He was a man of his word, sealing deals with a handshake. If he was wrong about something, he wasn’t afraid to admit it. And he was a firm believer that hard work would get you where you wanted to be.

In the 1990’s my father retired, and eventually we boys each took a piece of the business to run on our own. My father watched our careers develop, offering advice from time to time. He watched his grandchildren come into the world, and took great joy in seeing his large family prosper. In January, 2008, Al Taplin died at the age of 84. He lived to see that the companies that had gone their separate ways were brought back together under a purchase agreement, and that many of his sons—and grandsons–were working side by side. The new organization, called the Terra Companies, now included all the services that were once offered by my father’s company, except, ironically, for the original residential sewer and septic service, which still operates separately under the same A&B name that my father purchased in 1952. He did not live to see that one of those companies, Terra Contracting, would be named “one of the 50 companies to watch” in the State of Michigan for 2009.

What principles can be gleaned from this story? All six Terra principles are clearly there to be found:

Integrity   Safety   Customer Focus   Intensity   Training   Teamwork

They are the true foundation on which our company is built. They guided my father’s company for decades, and they guide us still. Especially in difficult economic times, they are more important than ever.

It’s been 57 years since my father, the machine operator, decided to take a shot at realizing his dream of owning his own business. That decision led to the enterprise that sustains all of us today.

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Asbestos, Lead & Mold Abatement

Terra provides comprehensive asbestos and lead abatement solutions, including hazardous waste management services, for commercial, industrial, municipal and residential facilities.

ACM’s (Asbestos Containing Materials) are most often found in older buildings, built before 1986. ACMs are a regulatory material that cannot be disposed by conventional methods. Most surfacing materials, flooring and wall materials, and insulation are presumed to contain asbestos unless installation records or testing state otherwise. Terra can employ third party consulting services to review the site and produce asbestos summary documentation. The project is then thoroughly estimated, planned and designed by Terra. The abatement process is then implemented, including enclosure, encapsulation, or removal and disposal. Third party verification and testing is performed throughout project to ensure worker safety and elimination of hazard and residue, followed by post inspection and documentation.

Commercial / Residential / Academic


Roofing material

Floor tile

Ceiling tile

Spray-on materials

Lead paint removal

Mold & fungus removal




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Floor Tile

Mechanical demolition

Lead paint abatement

Removal in confined spaces

LBP (Lead-Based Paint) and LCP (Lead-Containing Paint) are found most often in structures built prior to 1990. Surface coatings are presumed to contain LBP unless records or testing indicate otherwise. Terra can employ third party consulting services to review the site and produce lead summary documentation. The project is then thoroughly estimated and planned. The abatement process is then implemented, including enclosure, encapsulation, or removal and disposal. Third party verification and testing is performed throughout project to ensure worker safety and elimination of hazard and residue, followed by post inspection and documentation.


Mold remediation

Mold is an ongoing problem at any site where moisture and food sources are prevalent (i.e. wall paper glue, plywood – any material with organics). While there are numerous types of molds, all share a common feature: the production of spores that become airborne and can carry health-threatening mycotoxins as well as other irritating chemicals. Molds can spread in hidden areas as well as visible ones. Identified early, molds can be effectively controlled through remediation and preventive measures reducing the requirement for the replacement of building materials.

Terra is fully equipped and can provide trained personnel in order to eliminate an existing hazard and to reduce the potential for future reoccurrence. Terra employs methods that are effective in removing the hazard while maintaining a high level of safety to protect other facility personnel during removal activities. These methods include:

Containment to isolate infected area

Use of Negative Air System to prevent bio-aerosol release of toxigenic fungi

Use of removal methods that reduce toxic spore emissions from the source

ACM repair

Biocide application

Hi-velocity HEPA Vac loader operations

Particulate “deep clean” operations

Pigeon waste cleanup and deterrent services

Abandoned site cleanup & restoration

Facility closures

Waste Transportation & Disposal

24-Hour Environmental Response

Confined space entry & rescue


Waste Transportation Disposal

terra offers a comprehensive resource management program that is customized to each client’s solid, liquid, and semi-liquid hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams. This includes waste characterization, program design, all necessary containers, transportation and disposal for these waste streams. Terra can also assist with programs to reduce and recycle waste and in turn reduce the costs associated with waste. Terra has relationships with a wide range of disposal and recycling facilities across the country, which enables us to do the leg work to find the most cost effective way to manage client’s waste streams. Solutions include:

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Terra provides a wide range of transportation equipment for hauling non-hazardous and hazardous waste, such as:

Box vans and van trailers
Carbon or stainless steel bulk and vacuum tanker trucks
Dump trailers and flat beds
Gravel trains (Michigan and Canada)
Roll-off and vacuum boxes

Waste management

Documentation and TSDF scheduling coordination
Labeling / containerization
Reducing and recycling programs
Site inspections

Hazardous waste transportation & disposal
Non-hazardous waste transportation & disposal
RCRA removal
TSCA compliance
Waste disposal