Meeting new people is one of my most favorite activities in the world. With this guy right here, I was wondering how in the world he ended up in our region! Odds are if you haven’t heard Jeff Bedard’s name then you have heard of one product line manufactured by his company, Blue Lizard Sunscreen. Jeff’s take on business and life will inspire you. Take a minute to meet Jeff, you will be better for it.
BRIAN: First off, thank you very much for your time and letting us get to know you better. You grew up somewhere similar to this region. Where did you grow up and how did that shape who you have become?
JEFF: I grew up in a community very much like the TriCities. Waterloo, IA was a mix of factory jobs like John Deere, Farm related jobs like Rath Meat Processing and a regional university (UNI) much like ETSU. My first job at the age of 5 was to help my grandfather pick sweetcorn and then go door to door to sell our product. It was 12 ears for a dollar but I always made it a baker’s dozen if they knew our family. My family was very much centered on hard work and entrepreneurship. Seeing those struggles and successes really prepared me for the career path I have chosen.
BRIAN: You have worked all over and your company could have been built just about anywhere. What is so special about the Tri Cities that made you decide to locate here?
JEFF: I had never been to this area of Tennessee, but my business partner Don Kilday invited me out to look around. Once I came out from San Diego for a visit I realized this area very much reminded me of where I grew up in Iowa. There are so many wonderful people here and the physical beauty of the mountains just made it seem like a perfect place to relocate Crown. It didn’t hurt that there was a manufacturing facility built by Baxter that was available either. It really had all we needed to expand our manufacturing capabilities.
BRIAN: People think businessmen just appear out of thin air, successful, and on top of the world. That just isn’t the case and it has got to be very trying as a person. Will you talk a little about what the emotions of going through ups and downs while growing a business is like? What gives you the strength to push through the down-swings?
JEFF: My dad told me a long time ago to find passion in my career choice and if I did I would never work a day in my life. I found out early on that working the third shift cleaning the meatpacking plant was not where my passion lied. I truly believe everything I did before starting Crown prepared me for this journey. If you are part of entrepreneurial companies or around entrepreneurs you quickly learn success never truly is the end goal. Life is all about enjoying the path not about arriving at the destination. So, if you look at the ups and downs with an eye towards it all being part of your journey it certainly makes it easier to push through those difficult times. Strength to push through simply comes from the fact I have a lot of people that are counting on me not to fail and a number that would love to see me fail. One group I never want to disappoint and the other I hope to disappoint daily.
BRIAN: Balance is something that is hard to find in life a lot of the time but you do it well. Family is obviously very high on your priority list, so you put them first. How do you find the time?
JEFF: Early on when my kids were very young I traveled extensively, it often left me missing out on dance recitals, athletic events and school functions. At one point, I had a choice to make because I just was not willing to be the phantom dad, the one that always missed those once in a lifetime events. Since then I have tried to put them first. When possible I have arranged for them to travel with me if their schedule allowed and if not I have tried arranging my commitments with them in mind. All three of them at one point or another have gone on trips with me that have provided them an opportunity to experience new parts of the world or learn new things that they can apply to their lives. They have all worked at events selling Blue Lizard or attended medical conferences with me to understand the business side of medicine. Because we truly view Crown as a family it has made it much easier for me to create that balance in my life and by virtue extend that to all our employees as well. We don’t just talk about a work life balance and the importance of family at Crown but we create an environment where people feel free to truly live a life that puts family first.
BRIAN: There is absolutely only one way to end this interview! Crown Labs is going like gangbusters and you have so many exciting things going on I can’t list them all. What are your favorites right now and how can people learn more?
JEFF: You know I get asked that question a lot. There are just so many amazing things that are happening at Crown. For the first time Blue Lizard will have national distribution in Walmart and with that has come opportunity to expand our consumer base and reach millions more people with our sun safety message. In our prescription drug business we have developed a robust pipeline that we have been able to take from concept to commercialization and through that process become a leading company focused on medical dermatology.
Since 2013 we have seen the number of employees grow from under 40 to over 240. These jobs are important because they have provided not only manufacturing jobs but also highly skilled jobs in research and development, marketing and pharmaceutical sales. We have committed to making this area our corporate headquarters and because of that have relocated 12 families from other parts of the country and they now call the TriCities home. We will continue to add to that number as we look to build out our team with the very best talent we can find. Crown has become a destination employer because of the focus we place on creating a work environment that encourages teamwork and success not just for Crown but for the employee as well.
Having said all that by far my favorite part has been the ability to become even more involved in our community through encouraging employees to volunteer and Crown’s ability to support many of the great causes our employees care deeply about. A big part of our responsibility is to be a good corporate citizen and to give back to the community we call home.