JACKSONVILLE — There’s really only one thing you need to know about Teresa Meares, who is being inducted as chair of the National Association of Women Business Owners Friday.
And it has nothing to do with her business.
Of course Meares, 46, has all the right credentials. She was the president of DGG Tactical and Uniform Supply in Jacksonville, Fla., until May 1, when she sold the tactical half of her multimillion-dollar business. Now she is the president of DGG Uniform and Work Apparel, which employs 20 full-time and six part-time staffers and outfits members of law enforcement and the military. She’s also launching her own fashion T-shirt line focused on women’s empowerment. And after the induction ceremony in Jacksonville Friday, she will chair a 41-year-old organization for female entrepreneurs that has 60 chapters and 5,000 members across the country.
But she had some pretty noteworthy successes in her past life, as a Jacksonville cop.
Like the time she chased down a man wanted for kidnapping and robbery — while pregnant.
Meares is a self-described daddy’s girl, and Daddy was a drill instructor in the Marine Corps who went on to become a cop.
Meares rode with him once when she was 13 years old.
“I was hooked,” she said. “At 17, I started as a dispatcher. At 18, I was in the academy, and at 19, I was on patrol, not even old enough to buy my own gun. My dad had to buy my first duty weapon.”
Eventually, she made her way to homicide.
“I love a challenge, and I was hard-working. And I proved myself and was really able to work my way into the unit. We had a couple of really crazy years,” she said.
In the midst of all that, Meares got married. Then, at 29, she got pregnant.
It was early in her pregnancy — Meares was maybe three or four months along — when a man in Jacksonville kidnapped a woman and her children, ran from police, robbed a post office and sent police on a manhunt.
Meares was on her way into work, and her supervisor paired her with her sergeant and sent her to interview the family — the lowest risk part of working the case.
At least that was the plan.
On their way to interview the family, Meares and her sergeant ran into the suspect. They started chasing him by car, and when the suspect crashed, he took off on foot. Meares took off after him — and caught him.
“My sergeant finally came up to me, and he was bent over. [He said], ‘I don’t know if I should be more upset that a woman outran me or that a pregnant woman outran me,’" Meares said. "And the suspect turned around and said, ‘You’re pregnant?’”
Even the suspect started lecturing her, she recalled, laughing.
“And I got a butt-chewing from my mom,” she said.
Meares knew working homicide wasn’t going to be sustainable once she became a mom — “You can’t disappear for a day or two with a newborn.” She eventually transferred into narcotics — “a drug case will always wait; a homicide case won’t.”
All told, Meares spent 19 years in law enforcement. It wasn’t an easy place to be a woman, especially when she got promoted and got her master’s in public administration and learned the old regime — “the ‘old white guys’ I call them” — didn’t take well to women with big brains.
But smart, hard-working women can do big things. That’s why one of Meares’ goals for her tenure as NAWBO chair is to help women grow their businesses. There are roughly 10 million women business owners. Eighty percent of them don’t have employees. And many of them don’t hit the $100,000 mark in revenue.
“I’m less concerned about the 10 million owners and more concerned about how many of those want to take it to the next level. How many can we make successful?” she said. “Let’s not just focus on the number; let’s focus on, what are these women doing and what is it they need to grow and be successful.”