Diane C. Creel, one of the first woman CEOs of a major engineering firm, is leaving Earth Tech to head up an industrial waste treatment technology startup firm in Rochester, N.Y.

Creel says the move will return her to her entrepreneurial roots, but others say it is a consequence of changes in Long Beach, Calif.-based Earth Tech's management, caused by a scandal involving its parent, Tyco International Ltd., Exeter, N.H. It bought Earth Tech in 1996.

Creel on May 19 will become chairwoman, president and CEO of AnAerobics Inc. The firm, founded in 1995 by Cornell University researchers and backed by venture capital, has a proprietary technology that treats organic waste streams on site, primarily for food and beverage makers. Revenue this year will be about $7 million, says CFO Ken Garcia.

Creel has been at Earth Tech since 1984 and was named CEO in 1993. The firm has about $1.5 billion in annual revenue. She says her resignation stems from a desire to build AnAerobics into a major player. Garcia wants to grow revenue to $50 million by 2006. "I decided to leave because I believe in the technology and the people," she says.

NEW TECH Startup firm' process treates waste on site.
(Photo courtesy of Anaerobics Inc.)

Creel admits the 2002 tax evasion and other financial charges against former Tyco CEO Dennis Koslowski and other top officials have altered life at Earth Tech. Neither the engineering firm nor its executives was implicated. Acquisitions, once her hallmark as well as Tyco's, have been halted and Earth Tech has faced numerous reviews of accounting practices, and had strict changes in corporate governance. "We've worked hard to convince clients that the corruption is confined" to Tyco, she says.

A Tyco executive now runs Earth Tech, but a CEO search is ongoing. Internal contenders include Sandy Cuttino, head of the environmental business, and Robert Costello, who heads its transportation unit.