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Phoenix Forward

University of Phoenix student Ernest Harris turns class project into job

Ernest Harris, Coast Industries Inc.

Lots of people sit around and dream of career possibilities. But Ernest Harris took a class project that entailed describing his ideal job, followed through and turned it into a reality.

It all started in 2010, when Harris was taking an Organizational Leadership class as part of the MBA program at the University of Phoenix Cascades Station Learning Center. Students were asked to write papers describing everything from the desired salaries to the responsibilities of their perfect job. Harris focused on a previous employer, Coast Industries Inc., a Portland, Ore., company that provides security services and facilities maintenance to commercial and government entities.

From 1992 to 1997, Harris had worked at Coast as an operations manager in the company's commercial division, managing contracts and training employees. But Harris was drawn back to Coast during his studies because he enjoyed working for the company. So in the Organizational Leadership class, he outlined a plan for Coast to establish a national Disaster Relief Division. The division would help with debris cleanup and security needs, and would work on both residential and commercial projects.

I believe all of his hard work is simply a prelude — a lead-up to the many accomplishments he'll earn throughout the remainder of his career.

Harris pitched the idea to Coast's owner and chief executive officer, Bernadette Artharee. "Two weeks later, she called me back and offered me a job," he says.

"His idea was innovative and I saw the potential for Coast to increase its revenue based on his idea," Artharee says, adding that Harris is "people-oriented, insightful and a problem-solver."

Harris now works as Coast's vice president of operations, where he focuses on sales, employees and contract specifications, among other duties.

The Disaster Relief Division is still in the organizational stages, but Harris already manages almost a dozen employees and says his goal is to generate $20 million to $40 million annually for Coast once the unit is fully operational.

Harris credits University of Phoenix faculty member Robert Ridel, who taught the Organizational Leadership class in Portland, for prompting him to think creatively about why businesses flounder or succeed.

"Ernest possesses a rare combination of being book smart and street savvy," explains Ridel. "I believe all of his hard work is simply a prelude — a lead-up to the many accomplishments he'll earn throughout the remainder of his career."

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