Don McNabb

Don McNabb, '97 Alum

Eaton Rapids, Michigan
High School
Environmental studies and earth science
Co-founder and CEO of Triterra
College of Science and Engineering
Don McNabb

  • Hometown: Eaton Rapids, Michigan
  • Major: Environmental studies and earth science
  • Minor: Natural resources
  • College: College of Science and Engineering
  • Graduated: 1997

When Central Michigan University alum Don McNabb's employer announced it was shutting down its Michigan operations and moving his job to Wisconsin, it didn't sound like opportunity knocking. But McNabb took a deep breath, drew on his education, experience and leadership, and opened a new door to an entrepreneurial future.

Twelve years later, he is CEO and visionary of Triterra, the environmental consultancy he co-founded and nurtured into a 20-employee business. It serves Michigan and the Midwest from offices in Lansing, Alma and Grand Rapids. He said the company, which helps clients solve complex environmental and development challenges, has averaged 25% annual growth since its founding — and 10% growth in 2020 despite the pandemic.

McNabb bought out his original partner in 2013 and has two other partners now. The business has expanded its services over the past decade.

"It worked out as a better scenario" than moving to Wisconsin, said McNabb, a 1997 Central Michigan University graduate who double majored in environmental studies and earth science.

He was among CMU's first environmental studies graduates, joining the new program after it debuted in his sophomore or junior year.

The program was so new that it hadn't developed a network of employers for required internships, so in the summer before his senior year, McNabb tailored his own internship focused on sustainability at a private golf course.

He was able to make the course more sustainable — and save the owner money — through smarter use of water, pest control and other factors. By day, he worked the grounds.

"At night, I was doing the research," he said.

First-generation trailblazer

McNabb was the first person in his immediate family to earn a college degree. He chose CMU for affordability and because of its strong athletic training program — his first career idea.

CMU advisors encouraged McNabb to explore options. Earth science caught his interest, but he wasn't sure what career it might lead to. Then he paired it with environmental studies and natural resources just as Michigan was focusing on pollution from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.

He found a first job in DeWitt, Michigan, as an environmental scientist focused on investigating and cleaning up contaminated sites. His CMU coursework had built up the knowledge he needed.

McNabb said his instructors were a great resource, and he could have learned even more from them if he'd seized the opportunity.

"They were all helpful," he said, "but I probably didn't lean on them enough."

McNabb said CMU was full of opportunities to learn leadership and time management skills.

"I think that it was mostly from being involved," he said. He was active in a fraternity, played intermural athletics and worked a campus job sending out geography course materials to teachers across the U.S.