GERMANTOWN, Tenn. – May 29, 2014 – Most people who become a parent in their teens do not graduate high school, and even fewer finish a bachelor’s degree.
But on May 17, Chris Eldridge walked across the stage to receive his Master of Business Administration degree from Union University.
“I’ve looked up the stats, and I feel incredibly blessed to be a teenage parent with a graduate degree,” the 35-year-old Eldridge said. “I give God the glory for a lot of that stuff. I’m not that smart.”
Eldridge has worked at FedEx since 2009 and is an adviser for sales development. He started his career with FedEx as a pricing analyst in New Berlin, Wisconsin, before moving to Memphis three years ago.
He is often referred to as “Charlie” among his peers. Eldridge was in a study group with three female students that was dubbed “Charlie’s Angels,” and his nickname stuck.
Eldridge and his wife, Bekah, had their first son when they were teenagers. Now, they are parents to two boys, ages 11 and 17. When they were first starting out in Illinois in 1996, things were tough.
“There’s a storyline between my wife and I that she scrounged up $1.07 for a Big Mac, and I scrounged up 50 cents for an oatmeal cream pie, and that’s what we had to eat for 48 hours,” he said. “And we hid it from each other.”
“We can laugh about it now,” he added. “Things change. Things get better.”
His past tough experiences proved useful when working on consulting projects for the Mid-South Food Bank as part of his MBA program. One of the group projects was a strategic marketing plan for the organization, and the other was a plan to help the food bank better engage with religious organizations.
“It’s a neat organization.” Eldridge said. “The project was personal. It was something benevolent, and it was a chance to really do something good.”
Eldridge and his family did not have an organization like the Mid-South Food Bank helping them when they went through tough times in Bloomington, Illinois. If there was a similar organization around at the time, they were not aware of it.
Kevin Westbrook, professor of marketing, calls Eldridge’s story very motivating and a fulfillment of the American dream.
“Chris is probably one of the most creative people I have met in a long time,” said Westbrook, who taught Eldridge in several classes during his time at Union. “He has a tremendous work ethic and is very professional.
“He has raised himself up by the bootstraps and worked hard and proved if you are in a tough predicament, you don’t have to stay there,” Westbrook added. “He has been there and done that, and now he is giving back to those people who are where he used to be.”
As part of his group’s work with the Mid-South Food Bank, the students created a video for the organization to use when meeting with churches. The video encourages churches to partner with the organization and shows how far a donation of a dollar a day can go in helping get food on the table for those in need.
“The university provides a safe environment to try things you can’t try professionally,” Eldridge said. “There’s a ton of information in those classes that could make our companies better – our non-profits better.”
Eldridge received his GED certificate instead of a high school diploma and did not read a full book front to back until he was 21 years old. It was a business book, and he was reading to learn about running his wife’s family business, which was his job prior to starting with FedEx.
He had once heard entrepreneur Jim Rohn say people should read about Adolph Hitler to know how low you can go and Jesus Christ to know how high you can go. So after not attending church for most of his life, one day he found himself reading the Bible.
“And I really just fell in love with Jesus’ wisdom,” he said. “And before long salvation came, and then everything changed.”
He credits his success to his drive, his willingness to get through the obstacles that came along the way and his understanding of the value of education.
“We have a vast amount of opportunity around us, and we have to be willing to go take advantage of it,” he said.
Eldridge was thinking about getting a master’s degree and had his choices narrowed down to Union University Germantown and two other schools. Eldridge said Union’s program directors were more accessible and answered questions quickly.
“I could get someone on the phone,” Eldridge said. “If it weren’t for that, I would have likely debated for two more months about starting the MBA then.”
He started his MBA in March of 2012 when he worked at FedEx’s headquarters just down the street from Union’s Germantown campus.
“I had a boss at the time that said you have the skills and talent, but at some point along the way, you will apply for a job where someone else will have a master’s degree, and you won’t,” Eldridge said. “There is a lot of education inflation going on, and most employers are looking for more – a bachelor’s isn’t really enough anymore.”
His faith and the people around him helped make getting this degree possible.
“I didn’t get my MBA without my wife,” Eldridge said. “I work 60 hours a week and also had class – my wife holds down everything.”
Eldridge is not sure exactly what his future holds, but he knows he wants to make the most out of what he has been given.
“I want to do something remarkable and do something with what Union has given me,” Eldridge said.
Now that he is done with his MBA, Eldridge is looking forward to having more free time to spend with his family.
Looking back, his advice for those who may be in a tough situation or difficult place in life is simple.
“Hold your head up and work hard,” he said. “Life’s not over.”
By Julie Turner