Richard Kurland has been an entrepreneur most of his life — and he started young. He was just 14 and an avid tennis player when he opened a racket-stringing business out of his parents' Pikesville home, calling it String Along With Me.
While in college during the early 1980s, he opened a wrestling supply store on the boardwalk in Ocean City. He closed the shop, the Wrestling Ring, to continue the business as a mail-order supplier out of a warehouse, which later led to another entrepreneurial idea. Faced with employee theft in his warehouse, he looked for better ways to screen potential hires and figured other businesses could use that help too.
In 1994, Employment Background Investigations was born, which Kurland started in an extra bedroom in his house. He checked criminal records and verified employment and education for potential hires.
"Having the experience I had in owning my own companies and hiring people, I had a decent idea of how to do it," said Kurland, 50. "I started calling companies to say, 'Hey, do you know who you are hiring?' Nobody had a good way to do it. They certainly were not doing criminal background testing, and few did drug testing."
The Owings Mills company has since grown into one of the largest background-screening firms in the country, employing 110 people and handling screening for more than 5,000 clients in more than 200 countries. Clients include financial services firms, hospitals, manufacturers, transportation companies and others. The company expects to double its workforce in the next two years and triple it in the next five to handle increased demand. It plans a move this month to larger quarters, also in Owings Mills, to accommodate the growth.
EBI's first big client was food distributor Sysco. Other early clients included JCPenney, Circuit City and Hyatt Hotels. The company saw a surge in business after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Employers also began recognizing the need to check criminal records because of an increase in negligent-hiring lawsuits stemming from violence in the workplace.
"Anyone who hires should do background screening and use that information wisely," Kurland says. "Just because somebody has a criminal record or employment doesn't wash out, doesn't mean you shouldn't hire the person."
About five years after its founding, the company added drug testing and occupational health testing such as ergonomics, corporate wellness and TB testing, and it has grown into one of the largest third-party administrators of those tests. Drug testing has become one of the company's fastest growing divisions. EBI manages clinics that offer the tests.
Advances in technology and online databases have increased the information that's out there on potential hires. But it has not necessarily made screening easier.
In a highly regulated industry, "any information you gather or pull together has to be accurate and up to date," Kurland said. "There's a ton of bad information out there."