Ford is vehicles. Campbell’s is soup. And Vargo, in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, is physical therapy.
It’s one of those companies whose name is more synonymous with its product or service than the person who started the company. California State University, Northridge alumnus Jeff Vargo ’92 (Physical Therapy) has become a brand name.
“I never expected to have more than one location,” Vargo said. “That wasn’t my intention.”
What started as a 1,200-square-foot clinic in Canyon Country has ballooned into Vargo Physical Therapy, a company with nine locations.
Vargo credits CSUN and its Department of Physical Therapy with giving him some of the tools he needed to build a brand.
“It sounds like a punch line, but CSUN opened every door in the world,” Vargo said. “You just have to take advantage of it.”
Vargo grew up in a military family in Lodi, Calif., and eventually joined the U.S. Air Force. Though CSUN played a significant part in his future, so did one seemingly small incident that happened when he joined the Air Force: He broke his hand and received physical therapy for it. That experience was the spark that led him to study and pursue physical therapy as a profession.
Vargo said he developed confidence at CSUN by putting the things he learned into practice. The program also gave him a sense of responsibility.
“It gave me the confidence as a therapist you need for [building] a company — to take charge of a clinic and be confident with your education and clinical ability,” Vargo said. “By nature, I’m easy to talk to. I learned marketing and business along the way [and combined that] with the confidence the school gave me in my clinical skills.
“At CSUN, you had to be accountable and responsible,” he said. “That was solidified here. It helped quite a bit.”
After graduating from CSUN, completing a series of internships, and then working for eight years as a physical therapist and later as vice president of business development for a private practice in Santa Clarita, Vargo decided it was time he worked for himself. He opened Vargo Physical Therapy in Canyon Country on May 1, 2001. Then, he expanded across the Santa Clarita Valley to Valencia.
There, Vargo Physical Therapy is widely known for its successful work with young athletes.
“It’s huge,” said CSUN alumnus Rich Gutierrez, head football coach of Santa Clarita’s Canyon High School and formerly its athletic director, on Vargo’s impact in that valley. “It’s not even a guy’s name anymore. When you say ‘Vargo,’ everybody knows you’re talking about physical therapy.”
Gutierrez said that whenever he has an athlete who needs treatment, he sends him to the Canyon Country Vargo location to see physical therapist and CSUN alumnus Andy del Rio. del Rio is now a partner in the company and runs the Canyon Country clinic.
“I owe everything to Jeff,” del Rio said. “It’s kind of funny. I had a phone call from Jeff [when I was treating a patient recently], and I told the patient, ‘Hold on. It’s my boss.’ Then I was getting off the phone, and usually when he says bye, he says, ‘I love you, man.’ And so I said, ‘I love you, man, [back].’ The patient said, ‘You told your boss you love him?’ He’s more like a brother to me than anything and has been more influential [in my life] than I realize.’”
Of the 24 physical therapists listed on the company’s website, 13 are CSUN alumni, including his business partner, David Feely — who was his roommate at CSUN — and his nephew James Vargo, who runs the company’s Moorpark office.
“We know what we’re getting,” Vargo said of CSUN graduates. “One of the huge areas I look at is situational adaptability. How do they adapt to something they’re uncomfortable with? Is there pushback? Or do they take some of [the challenge] and use it? And I look at communication, which is huge for me. And being able to accept constructive criticism and work from it.”
Vargo said he hires based on qualifications, but he admits there’s a bond he feels with fellow CSUN graduates, which helps. del Rio sees the bond.
“Jeff always gives back, whether people know it or not,” he said. “CSUN is one of those places he’ll always support. When students need a place to go, he encourages us to help them out. CSUN always has a special place in our hearts.”
For five years, Vargo served at CSUN on the Dean’s Circle for the College of Health and Human Development. And he has a permanent place in the physical therapy department.
If you walk through Jacaranda Hall, you’ll find the Physical Therapy Wall of Fame. Behind the glass of two display cases are 55 photos that show the annual graduates of the program. Class 35, Vargo’s class of 1992, is one of only two photos that doesn’t have names on the picture. He’s on the bottom row, last person on the right side.
The photo doesn’t really need his name. Eventually, it became pretty well known in this area.