Jim Tedrow refutes any media reports that today's political and economic climates have squashed free enterprise. His thriving business proves the American dream is alive and well, he said.
“If you want to make great decisions and work hard, the opportunity for success is still there,” said Tedrow, who founded and runs Compliance Resource Group. The 13-year-old company, which had $2 million in sales last year and employs 18, dominates the area market for drug and alcohol testing for job applicants, current employees and people involved in workplace accidents.
“I wish I could say I have tremendous business savvy, but I don't,” Tedrow said. “I've just carved out a niche in the industry, and manage my business like I manage my own checkbook, including not spending more money than I make.”
From his offices at 304 N Meridian, Tedrow, 42, sat down with The Oklahoman last week to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Medicine Lodge, Kan., where my father pastored a church. He and my mom, who was mostly home for me and my brother when we were growing up, serve as missionaries in western Mexico today. When I was really young, my dad grew wheat on a farm in western Kansas and rodeoed. But a few months before my third birthday, he was thrown from a saddle bronc, broke his neck and was paralyzed from the neck down. I was in the stands with friends. My parents had separated, and were a signature away from a divorce. But my mother couldn't leave my dad after the accident. Six weeks later, he realized he could move one toe and, since several months afterward, he's walked on his own, though he drags a foot and has atrophy in his hands. As terrible as it was, my dad said he wouldn't have it any other way. The trauma led to his spiritual awakening and, eventually, his call to the ministry. God became a big part of my parents' marriage and, consequently, my life. My parents' staying together probably has been the most profound influence on my life as anything. If they hadn't, God knows where I'd be. My brother, who's five years younger, wouldn't be here.
Q: What were the highlights of your school days?
A: Sports. Being from a small town (my graduating class was 60 and that was a big one), I played every sport available. My dad helped coach my ball teams, and he'd play catch and hit ground balls to me in the backyard.
Q: And college?
A: My first year, I attended Garden City Community College, where I played football (free safety). Originally, I aspired to play big-time ball at a four-year college, but I realized I was too short (5-foot-10½-inches) and too slow. I went on to Wichita State University, where I earned a bachelor's in medical technology and completed some work toward a master's in health care administration. I took more graduate classes at OSU later, but quit after I started my business. I figured if I got my master's, I probably wasn't going to give myself a big raise.
Q: What led you to start your own business?
A: The first few years following graduation, I did bench tests in a clinical lab in Wichita. As much as I liked the analytical thinking involved in science, I knew that sitting in a room all day studying samples under a microscope wouldn't do it for me career-wise. Then, I got some management experience as lab director at the Warren Clinic in Stillwater, where my mom worked and told me of the opportunity. The lab collected drug and alcohol samples, but sent them elsewhere for testing. I was constantly getting calls from companies about needing their results quicker, and that spawned the idea to pursue a way to test and get results quicker. So at age 29, I made the crazy life decision to quit my job, borrow money and start CRG. I bought a 28-foot class C motor home so I could drive up to workplaces, collect urine samples and do the tests right there. I started with some of my Warren Clinic clients, but moved to Tulsa to set up shop in a larger market. Two and half years later, in 2002, my brother, who's my operations manager, and I relocated to Oklahoma City to take over a walk-in facility, which was running into issues because of unethical practices of its former lab director. We knew that if we'd establish a legitimate, trustworthy lab, the market was ripe and would respond well.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: Her mother played matchmaker. I was volunteering as coach of the seventh- and eighth-grade football team of Mount Saint Mary's, a client of mine, and coached my future brother-in-law, my wife's baby brother. Eliana and I met at a game, dated one and a half years and married when I was 35 and she was 25. Nearly a year to the day later, we had our first child, and it's been nothing but a blur of kids since. It's awesome.
Q: What are your long-range goals for CRG?
A: We recently bought Edmond-based Laboratory Consulting Services, which manages drug testing for some 600 clients. We believe the acquisition will help us increase revenues 40 percent to 50 percent this year. Our sales target for 2013 is $3 million.