From changing oil to changing lives


May 11, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Not many people may see a connection between Jiffy Lube, home of the fast oil change, and the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, home to Maryland's toughest juveniles. But W. James Hindman, Jiffy Lube's founder, thinks he can take his experiences in the business world and use them at the state reformatory.

Estranged from his family, Mr. Hindman grew up in an Iowa orphanage, turning down his father when he asked him to return home. Poor and scrappy, he easily could have ended up in serious trouble with the law, he says. But some teachers and coaches had faith in him, and Mr. Hindman found himself in college on a football scholarship.

He made his first million in hospitals and nursing homes, retiring at 35 to coach football at several state schools. A player at Western Maryland College complained that no one could make a million dollars any more, and Mr. Hindman set out to prove him wrong. Enter Jiffy Lube, and Mr. Hindman won his bet. (Pennzoil took over the company in 1990.)

Now Mr. Hindman has set out to prove himself in a new, quite different field. Youth Services International, his new business, runs facilities for juveniles in Western Maryland, Iowa and Tennessee. But none is as large -- or as troubled -- as Hickey. One private contractor, Rebound Corp. of Colorado, has already tried its hand at Hickey, and retreated.

QUESTION: So how does someone go from Jiffy Lube to juvenile delinquents?

ANSWER: You're not ever just one thing. I could have been one of these kids. Secondly, I was in hospital administration and I learned a lot about working within a business. And I coached for a number of years. So -- caring, teaching, marketing and business. You bring those things together, plus all the reading I've done, and it works.

Q: Were you really a juvenile delinquent?

A: In my case, I didn't have clothes, I didn't have any material possessions. Shoplifting is a way to get those things. But I would work, too. I would shine shoes, I was selling newspapers. I was selling papers and shining shoes at age 5.

Part of the phenomenon that goes with the black male adolescent is that there seldom is a father figure, or a chance for bonding. There are things I never learned from a father. I was told I was no good, "just like your old man." But I knew if there was a way to escape the world of poverty, misery and sorrow, it was through work.

Q: So you teach these kids to work?

A: Yes. At the Victor Cullen Center in Western Maryland, we had this terrific storm. Trees down all over the place. Now we have wood for sale. We don't want the kids to be tax-eaters. We want them to be taxpayers.

Q: But some of these young men end up in places like Hickey because of their entrepreneurial drive. You don't have to teach a young drug dealer about using his resources to make money.

A: Then we talk about victim awareness, or hurting other people. When you finally realize that you have victims, when you knowingly make the choice to have victims, you feel dirty.

Q: When you meet the young people at your centers, does it matter that most of them tend to be minorities, while you're white?

A: The kids relate to power. They relate to success and fame. They know about Jiffy Lube. Do I think they believe me? Yes, I do. People say that I'm the Pied Piper.

But we will have black men in three of the top positions at Hickey, including the director, who will live on the campus with his wife. I think that's crucial.

Q: Rebound officials have said that part of their problem at Hickey was the state's failure to make good on some promises. Are you concerned that the state could let you down?

A: Here's a book, "101 Companies that Profit from Customer Care." Jiffy Lube is in this book. We still bring customer care. We don't think our customer -- the state and the taxpayers in this case -- can do any wrong. I will never give the taxpayers the excuse: "We didn't know anything about these circumstances."

Q: So what is it going to cost, per youth? The state spends about $50,000 annually for each young man at Hickey.

A: I can't tell you. [The figure will not be released until the Board of Public Works formally approves the contract.] I'll tell you this, I made a commitment to myself and the staff. Our goal is to lower the price to taxpayers, as time goes by.

Q: Are you resigned to the fact that some youths will be beyond help?

A: I hold my breath and cross my fingers because I know that's true. There are a lot of kids out there who are damaged, or have psychiatric problems. There are kids out there who are determined to defeat themselves. You try to convince them all, find that hot button. Every kid has a hot button. It's our job as a staff to find it.

Q: Your history suggests that you move from venture to venture. What comes after Youth Services?

A: I think you should always have an exit strategy. So what I've said to my staff is that, at the end of the day, when everything is done, I'd like to create a school, where you can get a master's degree in what I'm doing here. Like a master's degree in hospital administration, which was new when I was in that field. Then I'll be the old professor, teaching a few classes, and going fishing.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.