George Crowder is a gambler. He does not bet on the ponies or play poker. Crowder's game of chance involves bigger stakes -- people.
In the cold world of statistics, Crowder is a loser. Approximately one out of every four men he takes a chance on ends up failing.
Buy for men like Andy Anderson and Johnny Campbell, Crowder is a winner. To them, he is that rare breed of man who is willing to give someone a second chance.
Crowder, who owns Bradham Auto Electric Service in Alexandria, hires men whose professional lives have been broken by injury and gives them an opportunity to be rehabilitated -- professionally and emotionally.
Example: Four years ago, Theodore (Andy) Anderson tried to move a heavy load of asphalt tiles up a flight of stairs. The results was a slipped disc, injured nerves in his back and severe pain.
At 46, Anderson's career as a building engineer was stopped. His major job each day was to get in and out of his removable upper body cast with the help of his wife, Cecelia.
The stipend he received from the insurance company fell far short of his previous salary, and Cecelia could not work because she was caring for her 82-year-old mother.
Last year, when Anderson was able to shed his cast, he began looking for work. He found it with Crowder.
Crowder hired Anderson with the knowledge that he would be hiring a man who would be in pain every day and who would require a dosage of five milligrams of a powerful tranquilizer four times a day.
Anderson now is the number two man in the service department at Crowder's $500,000-a-year business.
Example: When Johnny Campbell was 27, he was earning $14,000 a year driving a truck for a fuel oil company. During a routine delivery, he was heading up a hill with the fuel hose and slipped. "My knee just exploded," he explained.
That was four years and three operations ago. For the past three years, while Campbell was "getting the runaround by state rehabilitation agencies," he and his two children have lived on the modest salary his wife earns working for the government.
Campbell was finally referred last year to Comprehensive Rehabilitation Consultants, a private firm in Bethesda. Their conselors sent Campbell to George Crowder, a man "who does everything in his power to help handicapped people," according to Karen Van Dyk, director of rehabilitation for the Bethesda company. "I only wish there were more like him."
In referring to the people he employs, Crowder said, "I can relate to these men." That is because his father, George T. Crowder, had his career as an Alexandria police officer snuffed out by a tragic accident in 1959 that left him with a broken back and knee.
As Crowder told the incident, his father had stopped to help a stranded motorist. While he was checking under the hood for motor trouble, another car slammed into the rear of the disabled auto. George T. Crowder was crippled for life and forced to retire in 1961.
In 1967, the younger Crowder approached Lawrence Bradham and asked him for a job. Bradham said okay and handed him a broom.
When Bradham retired two years ago, Crowder and his father bought the business.
Today, every new man on the job starts with a broom in his hand, runs errands for the mechanics, moves cars and washes windows. The pay is $3 an hour.
Each of Crowder's 21 employes came to him from one of three sources: recommendation, rehabilitation referrals or the vocational program at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).
NVCC student-employes help pay for schooling with their salaries and can get academic credit for their work at Bradham's. "It helps the company too becuase (the NVCC authorities) tend to send us their best pupils," he said.
Crowder's shop foreman, 28-year-old Dave Huddle, attended NVCC after serving two years in Vietnam, where he launched fighters off the decks of the U.S.S. Oriskany.
Along with Huddle and Tim Steiner, the man Crowder calls "the head electrican and the king of the shop," Crowder trains the men on the rehabilitation program.
All of the employes train, work and vote as a group. For instance, some of Crowder's employes thought the base pay should be increased.
"Most of the auto dealers charge around $30 per hour for labor. We charge $20. If we were going to raise the pay rate, that meant we would have to increase the labor charge. Well, the men voted it down," said Crowder. He said they all know about inflation and thought the consumer needed a break.
Crowder's full-time employes all worka 55-hour week. One reason, he said, is to allow time to train new men and still get the work done.
A lot of that time goes into cleaning. The shop was immaculate on a recent visit. While on another job, one of Crowder's new employes slipped on a greasy floor and broke his back. "We don't need that," Crowder said.
Campbell said working at Bradham's is like being a member of the family: "I think he (Crowder) is the finest man I have ever worked for."
Like all of the men in the rehabilitation program, new employes must maintain their initial level of medication. "We don't allow them to increase it on the job. If a man is in pain, he goes home. We've got two-men in the hospital right now," he said.
Crowder has two goals. "We want to build up a highly trained crew and do a service for people. And of course we have to pay our way," he said.
If Crowder's company has a problem, it is keeping good men. Like the man who "has to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" mentioned in Kenny Rogers' country-western hit "The Gambler," he has to dismiss the injured applicants "who don't have the dedication to make it." The dealerships also "have been hiring away my men for salaries that we just can't pay without raising prices," he added.
After 12 years, Crowder said he "still enjoys coming to work" and still likes to gamble.