AR: Tell us about home, where you grew up.
Redden: I am from a small town in Tennessee called Dickson, which is about 35 miles west of Nashville. It’s small today, and when I grew up it was even smaller. I believe the entire county only had 20,000 people in it. The area was very agriculturally-oriented when I was growing up, but of course, today it is seen as a Nashville suburb.
Dickson was not only a great place for me to grow up, but both my parents grew up there as well. We lived “in town” until I was in high school but then moved to my father’s family farm. Dad loved farming, but a small farm just didn’t provide the necessary income for the family. He was able to get the best of both worlds by becoming a life insurance salesman with Met Life (Metropolitan Life), which allowed him to have flexible hours so that he could afford to be a farmer!
AR: So farming was his passion?
Redden: Absolutely. He didn’t play golf or do any other leisure activities. We had a beef cattle farm — and still do have it — and it was fun. It was a neat place to grow up … where you could enjoy the outside to hunt and fish and work on the farm.
AR: Farming is pretty time-demanding; when something has to be done it cannot be put off. Was that true on your beef cattle farm?
Redden: For the most part, yes. My grandfather lived on our farm until he was in his mid-90s, but the heavy lifting was done by my father, brother and me. I remember that in the winter we would have to go to the farm and make sure the cows had food and water. Often we would have to cut holes in the frozen ponds to get water.
People today talk a lot about global warming. As a child, I remember that almost every winter we would have to cut holes in the ponds because they would have ice four to six inches thick. That was something you routinely did throughout the winter. Dad and I were talking about it recently, and he said it has been years since he has had to cut any ice. I cannot tell you what is causing it, but I can tell you that it is warmer than it used to be in Dickson, Tennessee.
AR: Farming was a central part of your family’s everyday life.
Redden: It was. Dad was involved in 4-H (an agricultural-oriented youth organization) when he was growing up and my brother, sister and I were as well. We did some 4-H projects together … things like raising a calf for showing at the county fair. I did other things in 4-H, including participating in public speaking programs at the state and national levels. In Tennessee, as you might expect, 4-H is a big organization with a lot of statewide recognition. I was fortunate to meet a lot of people throughout the state and nation.
AR: Did your family raise food for the cattle?
Redden: Just hay; everything else was purchased. But every summer we would have to cut hay. (laughter) As the tallest person, I was always on the wagon having to stack those square bales!
AR: Do you have any siblings? Or did you have to do all the work?
Redden: (laughter) I do have siblings, but there is an on-going debate as to how much work they did on the farm! I’m the oldest, and I have a brother who is three years younger and a sister who is four years younger. My brother and I would definitely say my sister never did any work, and she would just as loudly dispute that.
The farm, like I said, was more of a hobby for our family than Dad’s principal job. Dad was an outstanding insurance salesman and won numerous awards and recognitions for his work. But it was the family farm that Dad loved the most and still does.
AR: Did your mother work outside the home?
Redden: She did not. She had her hands full taking care of all of us, and she was also very involved in the community. She volunteered with numerous organizations, as well as being involved in our church. She taught all of us at a very young age the importance of helping others and being involved in the community. She worked very hard to make sure my siblings and I had access to lots of terrific opportunities growing up.
AR: What did you do when you were not working on the farm? Were you involved in sports?
Redden: I have always enjoyed sports; and I grew up playing basketball, golf, tennis and swimming — all of those things that kids do. The only varsity sport I played in high school was tennis. My wife has become a big tennis player, and she is trying to get me to start playing again. My Christmas present from her was a new tennis racket! (laughter) She knows that if she buys it, I will not let it go to waste!
Growing up in a small town was wonderful, but my parents also made sure that we were exposed to other things. I mentioned 4-H — and now that I have children I look at this differently — but when I finished the 8th grade, my parents let me go to Japan on a 4-H affiliated exchange trip for a little over a month.
The family I lived with in Hiroshima was wonderful, and it was an eye-opening experience. I was there for the 40th anniversary of the atomic bomb. I’ll remember that experience for the rest of my life because it was very interesting and sobering at the same time. It was not a hostile environment toward Americans but more of an overall sense of sadness that it had to happen.
AR: What were your favorite subjects in school?
Redden: I liked school, and it was expected (by parents) that I would do well and go on to college.
I remember enjoying a number of classes. We had a history teacher, Carl Pettes, who was the favorite of everyone in the 8th grade. He specialized in Civil War history and was a master storyteller. I assumed all of his stories were true, and to be honest I don’t want to know otherwise! He was also brave enough every year to take a group of junior high students to Washington, D.C. to see the nation’s Capitol.
I always liked math, trigonometry and calculus, because everything has to be exact. There is no interpretation; it is either right or wrong. I loved it when a complicated problem worked out right.
For a rural school, we had an excellent school system. There were numerous Advanced Placement classes available; and I remember that when I went to college, even though a lot of my classmates had gone to great prep schools throughout the country, I never felt like I was behind academically. I enjoyed learning and still do.
AR: When you were living in Dickson, what did you dream about doing for a career? Insurance like your Dad?
Redden: (laughter) Let’s see, that is a good question. I didn’t want to go into insurance, and I didn’t want to be a farmer; I liked doing it on the side but not as a career. I thought about being an attorney.
In the ‘80s the movie Top Gun came out, so of course everyone wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot. I thought that would be a good gig too. But to be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.
AR: Why did you decide to go to Vanderbilt University? Was that where you parents attended school?
Redden: No, definitely not. Both of my parents went to the University of Tennessee, so I was breaking with family tradition when I decided on Vanderbilt. (laughter)
I had looked at a lot of schools, some small and others quite large. One thing I was interested in was ROTC (Reserved Officers’ Training Corps), and Vanderbilt had a Navy ROTC scholarship program. I applied and received the scholarship.
AR: Was that still the Top Gun influence?
Redden: Actually, I applied for three ROTC scholarship programs — Army, Navy and Air Force — and was approved for all three. But the Air Force scholarship said I had to major in electrical engineering, and I knew that was out. The Army scholarship paid for 60 percent, while the Navy scholarship was a full ride. I said go Navy! (laughter)
At that time, if you received a Navy ROTC scholarship it was good at any school that offered the Navy ROTC program. But I didn’t really want to leave the Southeast, and when I toured Vanderbilt I liked it. It was a small school, and I really enjoyed it.
AR: What was it like to be in a college ROTC program?
Redden: I always viewed it as having a job during college. We had ROTC classes every week just like you would have a math class, and then one afternoon a week you would do drills. Each summer you were obligated for a month of training somewhere. That was always very interesting.
AR: How so? Aboard ship?
Redden: It varied. Within the Department of the Navy there are really four different branches. There are the Marines, aviation, submarines and the surface Navy. One summer you spend a week with each branch, and it was like fraternity rush … each branch put on their best front with the goal of getting you to eventually choose their area.
It was so much fun. During Marine week, we would shoot M-16s, blow things up, and even did a beach landing, where they dropped the gate and we all stormed into the surf. I was very lucky with aviation week because I was chosen to fly in an F-14 at Top Gun … just like the movie. During submarine week, we would go down deep and do an “emergency blow” to the surface. You began to think “Hey, the Navy does all of this fun stuff.” (laughter)
In later summers you went and worked with a specific discipline for a month. At that point no one had to impress you so it was work … hard work. But I enjoyed it.
AR: Did you ever feel that the ROTC program took away your summer freedom?
Redden: I looked at ROTC as my part-time job that paid for college. Others worked in stores and things like that, and I did ROTC. So I never looked at in a negative fashion.
And, of course, I would look for ways to be creative. Between my junior and senior year of college, a number of my buddies were going to spend the summer backpacking across Europe;and I really wanted to go. But of course I had the Navy commitment for one month, and my Dad asked how I was going to pay for a ticket over there. I talked with my ROTC leader on campus and we hatched a great plan.
Five days after school was out I flew to Charleston, S.C. and got on a submarine headed for the Mediterranean Sea! I got off the sub 33 days later in Gaeta, Italy having fulfilled my Navy summer commitment. I shipped all my Navy stuff home, got out my backpack and met my buddies in Germany. We had a great time. Thanks to Uncle Sam, I had transportation to Europe.
AR: How did you like subs?
Redden: I have the utmost respect for those onboard. On average they are probably the smartest people in the Navy because you cannot make a mistake onboard a nuclear powered boat 100 fathoms down. However, there were only two places where I could stand up straight (Redden is 6’4”) and one was in the reactor room and the other was the con (the bridge). By the end of that month, my back was killing me, and I knew there was no way I could be on a sub permanently.
Talking about nuclear power reminds me of a story. At Vanderbilt there were two very different types of physics, one for arts/science majors and one for engineering majors. I knew nothing about engineering, but the Navy required engineering physics. I had always made good grades, but I was completely lost in that class … I think I made a 10 on the first test!
My ROTC Captain told me that they would get me a tutor, which they did. He was from Eastern Europe, barely spoke English, but we nearly lived together for several months while he tutored me. I never could master the concepts, but we worked problems all the time. I got to where if I saw a particular type of problem I could solve it … strictly by rote.
So we have the second test … we only had two tests, the one I made a 10 on and the final … and then I get a note to go see the professor. He asked how I thought I did, and I told him I studied very hard. He said, “Well you did great. You made an A.” Even though I had badly flunked the first test, he said he was going to give me a B+ for the class since I had “mastered the material”.
I thought hallelujah. I was home free. Then a month later, I get this letter from the Department of the Navy telling me that because of my great physics aptitude I had been identified as a candidate for the Navy’s nuclear power program and I was to go to DC and interview for the program! There is no harder school anywhere than the Navy’s nuclear power school.
I go to see my ROTC advisor, laughing at this obvious mistake, but he tells me I have to go for the interview; it is an insult to the unit if I refuse to go. Keep in mind that I really don’t understand engineering physics … but off to DC I go. I am interviewed by a nuclear scientist, and he quickly discovered that I literally knew nothing about engineering physics.
He said, “Are you Midshipman Charles Redden?” Yes sir. “From Vanderbilt?” Yes sir. “You made a B+ in physics?” Yes sir. He had a long pause and then said, “You really don’t understand or like physics do you?” No sir, I hate physics. “Get out of here then.” So I spent the rest of the day touring DC! (laughter)
AR: You eventually had to choose which area of the Navy you wanted to serve.
Redden: I knew I didn’t want to do subs. I thought I wanted to fly, but there was such a backlog at that time for flight school that I knew I would end up serving minimum of 10 to 11 years. So I chose surface warfare and went to San Diego.
AR: Did you ever consider the Navy as a career?
Redden: I thought about it. I knew, however, that I could never fully decide until I was there full-time. Those summer programs were not enough to make a major decision like that.
AR: What were your first days like?
Redden: After I graduated from Vanderbilt, my first stop was to go to anti-submarine warfare school in San Diego for several months. Then I reported to my ship, the USS Harry W. Hill (DD-986). The captain told me he was glad to have me, and that I would not be in charge of anti-submarine warfare but instead in charge of all electronics on board. (laughter) He then told me that we deployed for the Persian Gulf in 16 days, handed me a huge list of items, and said all of these things needed to be fixed before we leave!
I thought, holy cow, what have I gotten myself into? I didn’t know what or where anything was on that list. I thought I was doomed, but fate intervened and within a day or two the ship’s electronics division got a new Senior Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Delacruz … a truly great American. He looked over the list and said, “Mr. Redden, I know what all of this stuff is and don’t worry, we’ll get it fixed!”
We spent the next two weeks crawling all over that ship, but when we sailed everything was fixed. I learned then that good chiefs run the Navy!
Our ship was a test project; we were the first Navy ship to have a fiber optic Local Area Network (LAN). We were the first Internet ship in the Navy and were a test platform for IBM, Novell and others. I think that experience is why I like technology so much today.
AR: When you were in the Persian Gulf it was after the first Gulf War?
Redden: That’s right. Life onboard ship in the Gulf was always tense and hard work. You learn the importance of the small stuff but also how to keep it in perspective when there are so many big things that have to be done.
We were part of the international community doing vessel boarding/search and seizure of contraband items. So we were tracking ships coming out of Iraq and would chase them down and board them. It was pretty testy, but on the other hand, we did it so much it became fairly routine.
AR: At some point you decided against a Navy career?
Redden: I realized the Navy, like other military branches, was having major funding problems. It seemed we were deployed more and more but everything was on a tighter budget. I decided that after my four years I would get out.
AR: What did you do?
Redden: I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. There is actually a pretty big business recruiting junior military officers coming out of the service. I went through the recruiting process and one of the companies was AmSouth Bank here in Birmingham. The bank’s philosophy was to hire a certain number of ex-military officers every year and have them go through the bank’s management training program.
I thought working for the bank was great because when you work for a bank you learn so much about so many different businesses. It was a great learning experience into how private businesses work. I think everyone could benefit from learning more about the financial side of business.
The job was great but the best thing was I met my wife while working at the bank! Taking that job was the best decision I ever made. (laughter)
AR: How long did you stay?
Redden: I stayed for about three years. I moved from Birmingham to Nashville with the bank and because my wife had gone to Vanderbilt — we were not there at the same time — it was fun for us both to come back to Nashville.
My wife had family in Birmingham, so when the opportunity to come here was made available we took it.
AR: Where did you first work?
Redden: At the time I came here, AutoCheck Vehicle History was trying to grow and needed someone in business development. That is where I got started in 2000.
This was right after AutoCheck’s transition from Polk to Experian. The entire Vehicle History Report (VHR) concept was really taking its place in the industry. At the same time, we began reaching out to the various manufacturers’ certified programs.
AIA (Auction Insurance Agency) had developed the AuctionACCESS project through AutoTec, and to be honest, in those early days it was not going as well as we had hoped. I jumped at the opportunity to move to AuctionACCESS and focused most of my early efforts there on business development.
AR: Tell us about some of those early AuctionACCESS challenges.
Redden: The entire AuctionACCESS project was larger in scope and complexity than we had anticipated. However, everyone here strongly believes in honoring their commitments no matter what it takes. Manheim had agreed to be our first customer and then when they bought ADT, we spent almost a year working with them to convert their new auctions to the Manheim system and AuctionACCESS all in one weekend. It was a huge job.
We also reached out to independent auctions like Henry Stanley at Carolina Auto Auction who was our first independent auction customer. Like anything new, you always identify areas that need additional work. But we got everything going and have kept it going. Dealers began to realize they could use AuctionACCESS at more and more auctions so we began to gain even more acceptance from dealers.
We are constantly upgrading the system. We did over 500 enhancements to AuctionACCESS last year, some small but others quite large. We want to always be making it even better.
One major focus for us is to be pro-active, not reactionary, with our customers. Nothing good happens if a dealer is surprised to find out he cannot buy a car. There are plenty of reasons why a dealer may not be able to buy, but we want to make sure they find out prior to the moment they try to place a bid. For example, if a dealer’s license is expiring on a certain day we want to alert him to that fact well in advance so there is never a problem. We see tremendous opportunity in mobile technology to help us achieve this.
AR: Online is a major element of your business, is it not?
Redden: Online buying by dealers continues to grow and has definitely helped us. I like to think that the auction companies have built these incredible machines to buy and sell cars, and we are a small part of the grease that keeps them running smoothly.
Dealers don’t know and probably don’t care what happens on the back end, our end. All they know is that they are sitting in Mississippi and want to buy a car at a California auction and the button giving them the ability to bid is green. The dealer buys the car and a couple of minutes later receives an email asking how he wants to handle transportation. To him it is seamless. We like it that way, but let me assure you a lot has to happen in the background for that to work.
AR: You don’t work all the time. What do you do when you’re not working?
Redden: I spend most of my non-working time with my family.
AR: Certainly the case when you have young children.
Redden: Definitely. We enjoy it. We have four children, the oldest of which is nine.
My children enjoy sports, and I enjoy coaching and watching them play. It is fun. We also like to go to the lake as a family … things like that.
As if we needed more excitement, we also have a new puppy. (laughter) If I get a little extra time, I like to play golf and hunt. I especially like wing shooting. I love being outside; maybe a bit of throwback to when I was growing up.
AR: Finally, is it still fun go come to work?
Redden: Absolutely! I am so fortunate to be a part of so many great people here working as a team. The automobile industry is huge, but in the remarketing arena there really are a relatively small number of people. The good friends I have made in this industry are absolutely fantastic and that is what makes it a lot of fun.
Chuck Redden is president and chief executive officer of AutoTec.