Service Leadership

Janice Bryant Howroyd created the largest black female-owned business based on exceeding client expectations

Act-1 Group's Torrance, CA headquarters

By 2004, Janice Bryant Howroyd and her brother Carlton Bryant had not only been attendees at the annual vendor recognition dinner hosted by their client MillerCoors for three years—they had been consistent winners.

The ACT-1 Group had taken home first- or second-place honors in the minority vending category every year it had attended. ACT-1’s founder and CEO Bryant Howroyd and its Executive Vice President Bryant were even more ebullient this year since they had been invited to sit at Chairman Peter H. Coors’ table.

Surely, they would take the top honor for a minority- or female-owned Tier 2 company. When the WMBA first place winner was called, however, it wasn’t ACT-1. When the company was not selected, Bryant Howroyd and her brother were embarrassed and disappointed. How could ACT-1 not have won, the two thought as they exchanged an uneasy glance. They politely sat and followed the rest of the program as the Tier 1 winners were announced: Second place went to a global wheat producer. As the company accepted its award, Pete Coors exited the table to take his place on stage to announce the most coveted award of the night. First place went to ACT-1.

“Jan and I went from, ‘I don’t believe we didn’t win anything this year’ to ‘We won the big event! We won the top award!’ Everyone was cheering. It was a grand moment,” exclaims Bryant. “And that’s when we started to feel like, ‘We can do this!’”

That honor is just one of many confirming moments for Bryant Howroyd, who in 30 years has created a billion-dollar juggernaut using a business model around one specific area: work. Asserts Bryant Howroyd: “Work is what we know; work is what we do. Whether we’re helping to design and manage work or helping people to achieve work and careers.”

It’s a simple but apt description for a company that ranks No. 2 on the BE Industrial/Service companies list and has shown phenomenal growth during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression—revenues have grown 111% in the past five years. Managing the basics has been the key component to ACT-1’s growth and success. It has gone from a one-woman operation in the back of a retail shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that focused on employee placement to a multilevel headquarters in Torrance, California, that serves as the nerve center for an expansive global operation that currently employs more than 1,600 employees in more than 300 satellite U.S. offices and in several countries, offering a range of services from employee background checks to executive travel management. This growth has earned ACT-1 the distinction of being the largest woman minority-owned employment agency in the United States.

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