“You have to wrestle with doing the right thing—and we had to dig deep to figure out how to survive without laying anyone off.”

What Zeferino Banda Jr. started in 2003 as a one-man safety-consulting business has defied his own expectations. Now boasting 50 employees, Banda Group International, LLC is a safety advisor for companies responsible for high-risk procedures all over the world. And it’s all based on one central idea: With enough planning, care, and foresight, accidents are entirely avoidable.

We were forced to be more efficient—to the point where we were only 10 percent down coming out of 2009. Our processes have evolved as a result, and throughout 2010 and 2011, we’ve been growing," says Zeferino Banda Jr., president of Banda Group International.

I got into this business as an accident (no pun intended). When I got out of the Air Force, I stuck with aviation mechanics. I was working for the Department of Energy, and there was an incident with an aircraft that fell off its jacks. So, I responded to their advertisement for a ground-safety employee. Over the years, I got my master’s degree in health and safety, worked for a large semiconductor manufacturer, and finally decided I wanted to open my own consulting firm.

Injuries are avoidable. If people look at the way they conduct themselves at work and even at home—if you think before you act—you can prevent anything. If you can work 10 minutes safely, you can work for a day. It’s about reducing risk. There’s no such thing as zero risk, but you can do a lot to mitigate it.

The recession is still on everyone’s minds. It was hard, and it’s a sobering charge to be responsible for the livelihood of others. You have to wrestle with doing the right thing—and we had to dig deep to figure out how to survive without laying anyone off. We were forced to be more efficient—to the point where we were only 10 percent down coming out of 2009. Our processes have evolved as a result, and throughout 2010 and 2011, we’ve been growing.

I was born in South Texas, as one of six kids, but we eventually moved to California and later New Mexico. It’s a blue-collar, athletics-oriented family: We’d be outside playing ball in the street. The American Southwest runs in our veins. My first [international] project as Banda Group’s president was an 18-month stint in Ireland. Over the years, I’ve been to Germany, Israel—all over. Traveling gets you outside where you live and gives you perspective on the lives of others. We love this country, and I’ve tried to instill in my children that our way isn’t the only way. I’m reminded of a trip we took through some of the poorest parts of Cairo, Egypt, to visit the pyramids. It was eye opening for me and very good for the kids to see how fortunate we are.

We’re sitting at 50 employees right now, but our goal is to expand to 150, and we’ve got a good strategy for that. We have good relationships with our customers, and we’re trying to grow our revenue. We’re certified for federal government contracts, so we’re expanding in that area, too. But, we’re also looking outside the [United States]. Right now, we’re looking at jobs in Peru, Australia, and possibly South Africa.

The kind of people I’m looking for are experienced and degreed in health and safety. They need to be knowledgeable, and they need to be able to provide sound judgment for the kind of fast-track jobs we take. They need to not only have a command over the ins and outs of the regulations, but they need to know how to apply them, too.

The difficulty with regulations is that they vary from place to place. They’re not cut and dried. What they put on paper could have varying interpretations. Clients come to us because they need people who can wade through that maze based on years of experience.

Being counted as one of the top 500 Hispanic businesses is a great honor for us. We’re proud to employ minorities. Qualifications obviously come first: Being bilingual, for instance, can be very handy internationally. I also want to underline our commitment to veterans as well. I served in the Air Force, and veterans are very important to us.