Brad Bryan

Brad Bryan is president and CEO of Houchin Community Blood Bank

Brad Bryan doesn't need the money. He runs Houchin Community Blood Bank because it's what he wants to do.

Five years ago, he and his geneticist wife founded a DNA diagnostics company in El Paso, Texas, called Minerva Genetics. It eventually grew big enough that, when a buyer stepped up, he said the couple received an undisclosed, "very comfortable" sum.

Instead of retiring in his early 40s, Bryan decided to keep busy. "The worst punishment you could ever give me is nothing to do," he said.

Now the former U.S. Coast Guard Reserve lieutenant commander with a Master of Business Administration, a doctorate in medical sciences and a Harvard fellowship under his belt is investing time in a new venture: growing Houchin.

Part of his reasons for expanding the organization and its reach comes down to his business sense. Growth is the "name of the game," he said.

But there's also a sense that local pride — connection with the community — is on the line.

The American Red Cross is a good organization, he said, but if it expands in Kern County, Houchin's relevance and local profile slips.

"I don't want to see a Red Cross set up here in Bakersfield because if there is, it means that we ... were not able to collect the donations that our community was willing to give," he said.

EXPANSION PLANS

Bryan's plan for growth is multifaceted. He recently ordered a new mobile blood-donation bus, expanding Houchin's fleet to four, and is considering buying a fifth.

Along with plans to extend the fleet's operating hours from five to eight hours a day, the idea is to make it easier for people to donate blood at their place of work rather than spend their lunch breaks at either of the organization's two walk-in donation centers.

He's also on a hiring spree. By the end of this year, Bryan hopes to bring on and train about 20 new staff members, bringing Houchin's total payroll into the 90s. By the end of next year, he said, there should be more than 100 employees.

Then there's the matter of boosting Houchin's local profile. He is in the process of setting up the organization's first marketing division. There's even a new tagline under consideration.

"It's to get the message out: 'Fifteen minutes, three lives saved,'" he said, noting the line refers to the fact most blood donations at Houchin go to cancer patients. "We'll see how our donors like it."

CHANGING TIMES

Bryan has taken the helm at a period of transitions for Houchin. Longtime CEO Greg Gallion retired at the end of 2018 and was replaced by former COO Galen Kline.

After Kline resigned less than six months on the job, the board of directors turned to Bryan, who had been hired in March to fill the role of director of quality management.

Things have been "just great" since Bryan took over, said Houchin's director of community relations and marketing, Tracy Hunter.

"I can't tell you how many employees are just thrilled with him," she said. "He's open to ideas from employees with long longevity with the organization."

Hunter voiced support for Bryan's focus on growth, especially considering the Red Cross's recent inroads at Edwards Air Force Base in eastern Kern.

"Do we feel like that's a threat? It could be," she said.

She also backed his push for additional mobile donation centers.

"Today's world wants you to come to them," she said. "It's a convenience."

FAMILY FIRST

Behind all Bryan's talk of growth is a family man who, with his wife, Dianne Mitchell, probably could have chosen to live anywhere in the country.

Having already lived in Boston and Houston, they wanted to avoid big-city traffic, Bryan said. But when the Bakersfield job opportunity arose, he admits his response was, "Where's Bakersfield?"

Now he says he's glad he came, if only for the family-friendly atmosphere.

It took his wife and him months to unpack after the move, he said, because neighbors kept coming over to chat.

Even now, so many neighborhood kids drop in for dinner on any given night that his wife sometimes asks their children, a 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, how many people are coming to eat.

It's not just the family friendliness that attracts him, he said. It's also the sheer goodness of the community and the way that plays into Houchin's mission.

"You have a caring community and it shows in the blood bank," he said, "because all of the donations they give out of their own free well. We're not paying for the donations. They come because they want to save lives."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.