Helping heavy industry safely complete dangerous work.
by Kathy McKimmie
“We started selling hard hats and safety glasses,” says Michael J. Miller, describing the early days of Code Red Safety, headquartered in Hammond. Founded in 1995 by Miller and two of his fraternity brothers from Indiana University, Gregg Mohoi and Robert Tepperman, it’s now a multimillion-dollar business with nine locations in four states providing complete safety services to heavy industry, primarily to the steel, oil and gas, chemical and power segments.
The three founders didn’t get together right after graduation. They each began other careers but stayed in touch. Miller, who had worked in sales and management for Inland Steel and Baxter Healthcare, formed Miller’s Precision Enterprises (MPE) in Hammond in 1987, selling recycled Tyvek protective garments. Tepperman became part owner of MPE in 1992 (the company is still in business). Three years later, Miller, Tepperman and Mohoi jointly established Code Red Safety.
They concentrated their initial efforts with industries in the Northwest Indiana and Chicago region, and built their services block-by-block from confined space to equipment sales and rental, to safety staffing and OSHA training. “By 2001 we were fully integrated,” says Miller.
The company’s confined space equipment and services, for workers required to enter a small, enclosed space, are particularly important to the companies they serve. Equipment includes gas monitors, ventilation systems and air supply bottles. They can provide training for their customers’ employees as well as provide temporary employees who are on hand to provide rescuing if needed.
The year 2004 brought some significant changes. Gregory Cofoid, another IU grad, was brought on board as a principal, while Mohoi left Code Red Safety and founded GM Safety, Calumet City, Ill., a member of the Chicago Minority Business Development Council.
Miller gives Cofoid, a CPA with experience with startups and high-growth businesses, much of the credit for Code Red’s rapid growth. Its first location beyond the Hammond headquarters was St. Louis in early 2004, then Houston opened later that year. Those expansions necessitated a name change for the company, which was first called Great Lakes Safety. The rest of the company’s growth has occurred along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana, serving the oil and gas business both on the drilling and refining sides. Although most of its staffing and rescue services are concentrated in areas near their office locations, they will provide those services anywhere in the 48 contiguous states, and have even provided staffing outside the U.S.
Code Red currently has about 200 regular employees, the W-2 kind, but also has an additional 300 who get paychecks through its safety staffing services where companies might request a safety supervisor for a couple days or a couple years. It has a proprietary database of nearly 10,000 experienced safety personnel, nearly all supervisors, from which to draw and meet customer demand.
“We try to hire vets,” says Miller. “We made a big push a year ago with special classes for vets only. We’re looking at doing that again.” In the future, the company plans to add locations where there is a significant industrial concentration. “My job as chairman of the board,” says Miller, “is to, No. 1, grow the company and, No. 2, empower employees to help them grow and serve our customers.” It is this second area in which he gets most passionate. “We talk about asking for forgiveness not permission and getting it right for the customer.”