In 1978, entrepreneur and philanthropist Janice Bryant Howroyd borrowed $900 from her mother to start up a workforce management company, based in front of a rug shop. 40 years later, Janice has been announced as one of the richest self-made women in the world, with a net-worth of $420 million, according to Forbes.
After the success of her company, ACT-1 Group, which is estimated to generate $1.1 billion in sales, Janice is sharing what it took to build her multi-billion dollar business.
Making lots from nothing
“I wanted a really classy address, but I didn’t have really classy funds, so I borrowed $900 from my mom,” she tells CNBC Make It. “That gave me about $1,500 to start my business.”
From there, she used the funds to buy the necessary equipment to get the business going. “I thought I was Judy Jetson when I got my fax machine,” she says. “My business literally started with my fax machine, my phone and my contacts.”
Relying on her parents for support, she learned many practices that are continued to be used today. The entrepreneur was one of 11 children, so grew up learning how to make the most of the available resources. It was also then, her mother and father taught her to support others for the future.
“She taught us many of the principles of making lots from nothing,” she says. “And I think those things that she did and the way she worked with us really taught me so much about not only how to build my business, but how to sustain and innovate across the platforms that I work in today.”
Finding the difference between globalisation and (g)localisation
40 years ago, the ACT-1 Group was a full-time workplace staffing company out of California, and today provides temporary and full-time placement options to more than 17,000 clients in 19 countries, including the United States, Canada, Denmark, Brazil and the United Kingdom with over 2,800 employees.
Not only does the group provide work placement for its clients, the company also provides a number of services across its technology and management solutions company AgileOne, its staffing company AppleOne and its background checks and screening company A-Check, all together consituting the ACT-1 Group.
As the demand and industry for technology and computing grew, Howroyd recognised this change and her company became one of the first staffing agencies on the Internet with the launch of appleone.com. It was with this change that the business saw a growth in yearly revenue.
In 1989, Howroyd opened her first office outside of the US, in Ontario, Canada. “Globalisation requires all of the regulatory, financial and infrastructure you need in order to expand the business across different geographies,” she says. “Glocalisation is what happens at the local point, like understanding the immediate cultural needs and how to fit that under a much larger business initiative that a company may have hired you to achieve for them.”
Making the client, the centre of attention
As well as expanding the business, another focus for the CEO is making sure the client is always the centre of attention. It seems obvious, but is crucial to the success of any business.
“When we’re working with companies to identify talent, that means that every person who’s looking for a job is the focus of our attention,” she says. “We’re acting as agents for them, if you will. That’s a bit different from what many companies in our industry have performed. It’s certainly been a dynamic piece for how I think we have been able to grow.”
Keeping the millennial spirit alive
Whilst trying to expand her business all over the world, Howroyd explains how important it is to give back, particularly to the future generation. From being on the board of trustees for the North Carolina A&T State University, to sitting on Harvard’s Women Leadership board as well as the board of USC’s Marshall School of Business, the philanthropist is inspiring students across the country.
“I’m in a position to be able to come back and not just support the school financially, but to be integral to how the school continues to meet its initiatives and to offer to those wonderful students opportunities and careers that the school offered me,” she says.
“Perhaps that’s why I keep my millennial spirit alive,” she explains. “It’s the work I do on campuses that gives me such witness to the tremendous talent that we have in this world today and the desires of students who are working not just to get degrees and go out and earn money, [but who] are working to express themselves in ways that will allow them to fulfill things they care about.”
One of the main pieces of advice she gives out, and is also the mantra to her success is making the right and legal decisions in her career.
“I’ve had many opportunities over the growth of my business to make decisions, that while they would not have been illegal, they would not have been constant with who I am and how I like to practice business,” she says. “And [those opportunities], candidly speaking, could have fueled the business a little faster financially. But, I always had to go back to how I opened my doors, and I opened my doors with a commitment to myself that I would never compromise my personal self for my professional self — so, that continues to be my mantra.”