Craig T. Williams was reading a newspaper he doesn’t normally read while dining in a restaurant that he normally doesn’t frequent when he came across an article that would have a profound impact on two lives. Through the article, the CEO and president of Pride Enterprises Inc. (No. 95 on the BE Industrial/Service Companies list with $22.5 million in revenues) learned about how a young, black Iraq War veteran was injured in combat, displaced in the economy, and working as a security guard at the University of Pennsylvania.
For Williams, reading the article proved fortuitous. While Norristown, Pennsylvania-based Pride Enterprises had fairly steady revenue gains, the building, construction management, and consulting firm generated nearly 35% of its revenues at that time from projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs. And a lot of those revenues were being shifted toward companies led by military veterans. “Almost overnight [business with the department] went down to zero,” Williams recalls. “We looked at that situation and thought, ‘Man, we have to figure out a way to replace that revenue stream.’”
Williams concluded that if his company was to continue to do business with the Department of Veterans Affairs, he needed to partner with a veteran and establish a new business. The veteran, Richard Bennett, seemed tailor-made for the task. After all, he studied architecture and the article stated his interest in a career in the construction industry. “I thought, my God, this is my guy. So we tracked him down through the author of the article and set up an initial meeting,” says Williams, 44. “I brought him in and told him what I was thinking, and we talked about it for a while.” During that period, Bennett worked for Pride Enterprises as an estimating coordinator and Williams’ mentorship role began.
In less than a year, Bennett and Williams felt they could do business together and formed Fidelis Design and Construction L.L.C. in 2009. Bennett has a controlling ownership stake in Fidelis; however, Williams, who owns less than 40%, shares in the profits. “I helped him develop the branding strategy, and he came up with the name, came up with the logo, and we collaborated on the business plan,” recalls Williams. A little more than two years later and Fidelis Design & Construction generates just more than $10 million a year. And Williams, whose firm is a newcomer to the be 100s, may well help usher in one of the next generation of be 100s CEOs.
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