August 13, 2010

Inspiration Dorsey’s goal, not distinction

2010 Women of Distinction - Business

The honor of “distinction” isn’t one that sits well with Judy Dorsey, founder and president of The Brendle Group, since much of her business philosophy focuses on the importance of collective action.


However, her career, commitments and courage have set her apart as a leader in the community and her field. As if being a woman in business didn’t make her enough of a minority, Dorsey chose to jump into entrepreneurship in the exceedingly male-dominated field of engineering. To add to the challenge, she launched her engineering consulting firm just as she was launching into motherhood.

Dorsey and husband Dan Epstein both earned engineering degrees at Colorado State University but after graduation landed jobs at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. She always knew she would return to Fort Collins and hoped to create jobs for the young engineers graduating from CSU so that they would not have to leave town for work. With that goal, a pregnant Dorsey started taking small-business classes while in Washington.

Fifteen years later, her firm has grown from its home office to a now-under-renovation building in Old Town and from a one-woman gig to a 15-employee empire.

Dorsey named her business after her own female role model – her mother.

“She died when I was young,” Dorsey explained. “She was an architect, so she was also underrepresented in her industry.”

In the 1950s, Eileen Brendle (later Brendle-Dorsey) was one of two women in a graduating class of budding architects. Brendle’s promising career and life were cut short by breast cancer in 1970 at the age of 39. Dorsey, who stayed close to her mother’s only female classmate, was inspired to hear that her mother had always dreamed of starting her own firm.

Dorsey hopes to also act as an inspiration, or at least a case study, for women tackling challenging careers. She wants them to know that in the business world women – even moms – can play, too. And play well. Dorsey also serves as the executive director of the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster and sits on CSU’s College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Board.

Mother to a 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, Dorsey takes pride that she and her employees can balance work and the rest of life. That balance, she feels, is an ingredient missing for many professional women, often forcing them out of their fields. To provide her employees with that balance, Dorsey surrounded herself with other top professionals. In that way, no one person must feel the entire weight of a project or client on his or her shoulders.

Her team, Dorsey explained, has also allowed the company to take on an avalanche of new work. In the company’s 15-year history, it has had three missions. The first, early mission was for Dorsey, herself, to stay current in her field while at the same time braving the wilds of parenthood. After bringing on its first full-time employee in 2001, the Brendle Group’s mission morphed into proving the business case for sustainability – showing that pro-environment and pro-business were often the same things, not mutually exclusive.

“The first 10 years were about persuasion,” Dorsey said. “When the tipping point came, I never knew it would come so hard or so fast.”

Today, the company intends to make Northern Colorado a launching point for worldwide innovation – one home, building and community at a time.

Click here for a list of the 2010 Women of Distinction and links to their profiles.

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