Texas CEO has local roots

Chris Reading fondly remembers growing up in Eldorado.

“I remember when the world was simple. We lived on a dead-end street surrounded by woods. It was a fun time to play baseball or basketball. I just had to make sure I was home in time for dinner. It was a great place to grow up. I have a lot of good memories,” Reading said.

Today, Reading, 49, lives in Houston, Texas, and is president and CEO of U.S. Physical Therapy, the nation’s third largest provider of physical therapy services, with more than 430 locations in 43 states.

Reading recently paid a visit to his hometown to help announce a strategic partnership with ProCare Physical Therapy.

Reading, who attended St. Rose of Lima Elementary School before graduating from Bishop Guilfoyle High School in 1981, knew he wanted to go into the health care field, but did not want to be a physician.

Reading became friends with BG guidance counselor Dan Bender and the men began to work out together at a Nautilus club owned by Thom Geishauser behind the former Altoona Mercy Hospital.

“I liked the fitness and wellness aspect, exercising and nutrition. I asked Dan to help me figure out a job that would incorporate the things I liked,” Reading said. “I was looking at athletic training but thought it would be hard to raise a family on that salary. Dan suggested physical therapy. I did some volunteer work at Mercy Hospital and fell in love with it.”

After starting his college career at Penn State Altoona, Reading transferred to the Medical College of Virginia and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.

He came back home and Bender helped him land his first job at Keystone Rehab Systems at Nason Hospital, Roaring Spring.

He left there after one year and went to work at West End Orthopedic Clinic, a large orthopedic surgery group in Richmond, Va. In 1990, the company was sold to HealthSouth Corp.

From 1990 to 2003, Reading served in various executive and management positions with HealthSouth, including his last position as senior vice president of operations where he was responsible for more than 200 facilities in 10 states.

While he was with HealthSouth, he helped to put together a joint venture with the University of Virginia to build a large rehabilitation hospital.

As part of its sports medicine council, he met athletes such as Bo Jackson, Kristi Yamaguchi and Matt Bahr. He also did consulting work for the Washington Redskins and Richmond Renegades of the East Coast Hockey League.

When he left HealthSouth, he took over as chief operating officer at U.S. Physical Therapy (USPh) and was excited about the opportunities that the company offered.

“What was exciting about USPh was that it was a growth company. It had a great opportunity to continue to grow. I liked the partnership model. They had an interest in the community. I felt very blessed. It worked out very well,” Reading said.

In November 2004, Reading was promoted to president and CEO and joined the board of directors.

Reading said USPh was a solid company, but he made some changes to make it better.

“We went back to our roots and formed relationships. Several of us have acquisition backgrounds. We looked for acquisitions. We find people in the marketplace and let them do what they do best. We do this one at a time, and that has accelerated our growth,” Reading said.

The company had six record years in a row in terms of earnings, growth and volume during the recession. Earnings tripled during that period, he said.

Reading is proud of the company’s growth.

“I am most proud of how we have rebuilt the company to a family atmosphere where we support our people and have a pleasant and fun work environment. They are well cared for; it is like a big family,” Reading said. “We have a great reputation for doing the right thing. We try to treat people right. What we are known for in the market has allowed us to attract people like Jim Foreman [president of ProCare] and his team.”

Reading doesn’t take credit for the growth.

“I have a great team. Our company is not about me. We are surrounded by tremendous people who love what they do. It is an honor to be part of that. I am the same guy I was when I lived here,” Reading said. “I was not afraid to surround myself with people brighter and smarter than me. That has allowed me to assemble an outstanding team.”

Daniel Arnold, who was chairman of the board at USPh when Reading arrived, called him one of the nicest people he has ever met.

“He works his fanny off, and has done a fantastic job for U.S. Physical Therapy. He is one of the most respected people in the country in this business,” Arnold said. “He is a excellent manager and respected by all of the people in this company. He is a prince of a person. Our company has grown tremendously by acquisitions. He meets the people, and they fall in love with him.”

Reading said his role models growing up included Bender and his parents, Ron and the late Carol Reading.

“My parents were the people I looked to for things I attributed to be important – faith, integrity, work ethic and how you treat people,” Reading said. “Dan was a great role model and became a great friend. He was someone I spent a lot of time with in the gym. I learned from him how to be comfortable with people and to have a good time.”

He said Bishop Guilfoyle played a role in his success.

Some of Reading’s teachers remember him well.

“I knew his family. He was a respectful student and very well-respected young man. He was a very academically-oriented student,” said Joan Donnelly, Reading’s typing teacher who is BG principal today. “He was like you would want one of your students to be. That faith is still central in his life. That is what I would expect from him.”

John Franco, who taught health and world cultures at BG, said he got to know Reading during workouts at the Nautilus gym.

“He was an outstanding kid. He was a kid you knew was going to go places. He was ahead of his time, looking to learn and get the latest nutrition and fitness information. He was a great resource for us. You could tell he was heading on that path [to success],” Franco said.

Monsignor Robert Mazur was vice principal at BG when Reading graduated. He said Reading was well liked by the faculty and his peers.

“I would say he was genuinely concerned about others. He was probably more aware of what was happening than the average teenager,” Mazur said. “He was gracious and always had a smile.”

Michael Fiore, who graduated from BG a year ahead of Reading, said he grew up with him but had lost touch.

“I had no idea what he was doing until I got a call from one of the ProCare partners that he was going to be in town. He was just a good kid – smart. We are glad to have him back in the area and will see him a little more,” said Fiore, executive vice president of Leonard S. Fiore Inc.

Foreman said he was impressed by Reading when they first met about a year ago. He called him “a straight shooter” and said he was thoughtful and considerate.

“I just remember thinking what a good solid guy,” Foreman said.

When not on the job, Reading keeps busy with his wife, Sherri, and five children, who range in age from 6 to 21.

He said he likes to work out with his family and spend time being a dad.

“In the summer we go to the [Chesapeake] Bay and Jet Ski, fish, catch crabs and play games. That is how we stay connected,” he said.

Reading and his wife adopted their youngest child, Gracie, from China in 2007 when she was a year old. He said they plan to continue to devote time to groups involved in orphan care and adoption.

They are big supporters of the Nashville, Tenn.-based charity Show Hope, which advances the adoption of orphans around the world by creating grants for families with a heart, but not always sufficient funds, to make it through what can for some be an expensive process.

They also have become involved with Community Coalition Haiti, which funds schools, medical facilities, orphan care and feeding programs there.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.