Janice was born in tiny Tarboro, North Carolina (Tarboro had a population of just over 11,000 as of the 2000 census) as the fourth of 11 children to an Irish and Cherokee father and African American mother. Entrepreneurship was in her blood – her grandparents ran a barbeque restaurant out of their home. Though she understood the importance of education, her experience in high school made it difficult to learn. As the first black student to attend the town’s previously segregated high school, she listened to a teacher explain to the class why black people were fit for slavery. She didn’t want to go back. But she did and eventually graduated from North Carolina A&T with a bachelor’s degree in English and later received a master’s and an honorary PhD.
After college, Janice went to southern California to visit her sister. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to stay. One of her first jobs in Los Angeles was at Billboard working with her brother-in-law. It was in that position where she had an epiphany. After helping him staff his office with administrative workers, she saw the result of putting the right people with the right skills in the right jobs. So, in 1978, with just $1500 of her savings and family loans, she started ACT*1 Personnel Services. The company that started as a little office consisting of her and a phone is now the largest privately owned staffing agency in the United States.
What can we learn from Janice’s story? Here are some of the philosophies and approaches that have been quite successful for her:
– Word of Mouth: Janice built her company on what she calls the WOMB approach: “Word of Mouth, Brother!” When people like you, they will tell others about you. Don’t be afraid to ask people to spread the word.
– Find customers that go beyond “one sale”: Janice stated that she recommends doing “business with a company you’d send a relative to, and you look to work with companies you can get repeat business from.” Though Janice started her business in employment placement, she has expanded the business to numerous areas including a background and drug-screening company, a business solutions company, a document-management solutions provider, a technology company, and a corporate travel agency. By expanding her company into these areas, she can provide additional services to her existing clients and act more as an essential partner rather than a vendor to her customers.
– Make employees feel valued: Act*1’s motto is “pride in performance.” With a strong culture where this motto is prevalent, their employees and temporary workers are motivated to represent the company well and feel like they are valued contributors.
Janice Bryant Howroyd shows us what can happen when you do the right things, with the right people, in the right way. By letting integrity be a part of everything she does she has built a tremendous empire and a legacy of wealth. Listen to this short interview with Janice here.