BE Next: The New Generation of Risk-Takers and Dealmakers

BENext2010Though well-versed in the stories and strife of those innovators, entrepreneurs, and professionals before them, today’s young business leaders have new and different challenges to overcome and therefore flout the stale standard protocol and present a fresh set of strategies for forging their own way. These young entrepreneurs have already positioned themselves way above the curve. For them it’s never business as usual. Their unbridled passion is intent on creating opportunities that satisfy more than just a career choice; they want to touch and influence lives in unique ways. These four fearless BE Nexters managed to find success in the midst of economic uncertainty, and set respective courses to change the game. But let them tell it, there’s no time for congratulations or applause—it’s only the beginning.

Nakia Stith was just 22 years old when she went to work at Top of the Clock in 2002, “just to lend a hand,” while her father battled kidney disease.  But the more involved she became, the more she realized that the company had fallen into dire straits with her father away from the helm. “He was in the hospital sometimes for months at a time,” she recalls. “And you know, when the cat’s away, things start to happen.” It was more serious than she ever could have imagined. She encountered mountains of debt, employee theft, and a poorly functioning infrastructure, among other major concerns facing the struggling company. Bottom line: Top of the Clock (www.topoftheclock.com) needed a massive overhaul or it faced failure.

The work ahead was dizzying. “I asked, ‘How do you fix it?’” Like Alice in Wonderland, she heard: ‘“Begin at the beginning.”’ “Every day, every moment was something different. Those first couple of years were a blur,” Stith marvels. “There was no time for me to have any feelings of doubt or pressure. I treated it like an experiment.” Over the next several months, the Morgan State University graduate would undergo an arduous task of remaking the family business—almost from scratch. Stith quickly began terminating underperforming employees, rebuilding infrastructure, and rebranding the company. Stith’s new management team comprised her mother; an aunt handling human resources matters that had gone awry;  and a friend from high school, Sekia Bright, who took over the daunting position of financial services manager. “We owed more than $1 million in back taxes just because of negligence,” says Stith. Their efforts were tested in March 2004 when Stith donated a kidney to her father. Out of work for roughly eight weeks of recovery, the company ran smoothly in her absence. “That’s when I knew we were onto something. The infrastructure and the team were now solid.”

Stith’s father passed away in June 2008, but she is grateful that he was able to see her efforts for the company he built. “My dad and I shared the same vision and passion: We needed to provide for our family and provide a service to the community.

“I feel like my dad had been preparing me for this my whole life,” she continues. “Even if I didn’t understand it then, I certainly understand and appreciate it now.” In 2009 her company brought in revenues of $4.6 million and grew from six clients in 2003 to now more than 20. “He would be so excited and so proud of what we’ve been able to do around here.”

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