Born and raised in Oklahoma, her family moved to New Orleans, where she started college at Louisiana Tech University. With a voice for radio, she got her first job as a nightly host at the college's radio station. After college-hopping, she enrolled at the University of Texas, paying her way by doing commercial voice-overs and becoming the "weather girl" and news director at the university's cable station.
Cohen never finished her college degree. Instead, she left school to take a job as an administrative assistant for a Dallas real estate mogul. When the real estate market plummeted in the mid-1980s, she packed her car and moved to Marietta.
"My first job here was the property manager at Highlands Park on South Cobb Drive," Cohen said.
In September 1989, she started InfoMart, believing there was a need for employers to screen potential employees. Equifax was the only company providing the service, charging $150 per background check.
"I had worked in real estate and I understood public records. I had worked in banks and I understood credit reports, and I had done reference checks as an administrative assistant. I understood the expense of this was not much at all," Cohen said. "I thought, 'I can do this.'"
Using garage sale furniture, she set up shop in a small office on Johnson Ferry Road in east Cobb, directly across from Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.
"The first years were a real struggle," she said. "We didn't eat out, we didn't buy clothes ... but when times were really tough, I just looked out of the window at that church steeple."
The company was a family affair that included her now ex-husband and her father. Cohen said that because of pecuniary mishandling by her father, she endured a financial and personal crisis that almost caused the company to close its doors. Her employees, most of whom are still with the company, agreed to go without paychecks until she could get back on her feet.
"Everyone worked with us, and we were able to pay everybody back," said Cohen, still emotional about the events.
According to Cohen, it all turned around in 1995. She was the first in the industry to build a nationwide criminal reporting network of 3,000 counties. Evolving from fax machines and mountains of paper 20 years ago, the company built a proprietary, Web-based system called WebASAP, which allows its nationwide network to submit background checks electronically around the clock and interface with the client's own human resource information systems.
In 2002, with business booming, Cohen built a state-of- the-art, 27,000-square-foot headquarters on Terrell Mill Road. But seven years later, the business hit another bump in the road when the recession caused a steep downturn in her clients' hiring.
"We let 40 people go in June in 2009," Cohen said. "It was the best thing I could do because we did it all at once and no one had to live in fear."
She said in lieu of their annual company retreat, which would cost around $30,000, she had a weekend company "lock-in" to analyze all expenses.
"We cut $2.5 million of expenses in a weekend," Cohen said. "Every penny in this company was accounted for."
InfoMart had a record last year with revenues of almost $25 million. Her Fortune 500 clients include FedEx Ground, Cox Enterprises, Randstad North America, Godiva Chocolate, the NFL and the PGA.
"You can succeed, even in down times, if you take care of your employees," she said. "If it were not for them, we would not be here."
Cohen says her industry is rife with acquisitions and that she receives weekly letters and calls to inquire if InfoMart is willing to sell. She remains clear, the answer is "no."
She has also made time to make an imprint on the community, serving on many not-for-profit boards and fundraising efforts. Holly Comer, executive director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, worked for Cohen at InfoMart and credits her with her own professional growth.
"She built her business from the ground up and has become a leading expert in her field while never forgetting where she came from," Comer said. "She is a part of my success and the success of many others as she truly mentors and supports those around her to be best they can be at whatever they chose to do in life."
CEO PROFILE: Tammy Renee Cohen
TITLE:President and chair, InfoMart, Inc.
EDUCATION: Attended University of Texas
FAMILY: Alyssa, age 20, who is currently attending Hawai’i Pacific University and is on the Dean’s List; Courtney Lee, age 25, married to Richard Lee, age 26, who also lives in North Shore, Hawaii, and have three beautiful children; son Harper, age 7; daughter Avalyn, age 4; and son Quinlin, age 2.
FIRST JOB: Popsicle truck.
BEST JOB: President and chair of InfoMart, Inc. (Because of the people I work with.)
LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: My lessons learned are documented in the InfoMart, Inc., Policy and Procedure Manual and highlighted in my Bible.
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Respect the past, engage the present and invent the future.