says other organizations did take her to task. “Our greatest challenge came from our local Small Business Association,” says Conner of the SBA office in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. “We would have been a $20 million company by now without the obstacles they put in the way. They steered contracts towards a distinct few firms, while discrediting my company. We [black people] end up fighting each other over the crumbs, and then it’s the other ethnic groups who end up profiting from the benefits.”
But Conner has circumvented those hurdles and is looking ahead. Besides aiming to be a prime Department of Defense contractor, Conner is also preparing to enter foreign markets under the NAFTA and GATT agreements. Currently, Conner is studying international environmental law at Widener University in Wilmington, Delaware, so that she will be ready to provide global advice herself. “Business owners should never offer a service that they have to hire someone else to do,” says Conner about her pursuit of the law degree. “They can take your clients or leave you in a bind. I don’t enter a contract where I can’t perform all the skill sets myself. You must diversify to survive. If you don’t recognize that, then your business won t grow.
JANICE BRYANT HOWROYD
Business strategy: Integrate the family into the business and expand into new markets
More than flying cross-country making multi-city stops and running the nation’s largest black-owned personnel firm, the most important things in Janice Bryant Howroyd’s life are God and her family. They are so important that she has woven them into the very foundation of the enterprise she has built.
“I was fourth in a family of 11 children, and it’s so refreshing to have so many of them inside my company,” says Howroyd, president and CEO of ACT*1 Personnel Services. On staff are seven family members, from brothers and sisters to nieces and nephews, who are responsible for everything from marketing to technology to accounting. As if that’s not enough, her son, Brett, 13, and daughter, Katharyn, 14, own 49% of the $67 million entity. Howroyd owns the other 51%.
The Torrance, California-based company provides placement of temporary and full-time workers and other human resource services to major employers such as Ford Motor Co., Silicon Graphics, Boeing and Amgen, just to name a few. The privately held firm has 57 branch offices across the country. Since its founding in 1978, the company has grown into four divisions: ACT*1 Personnel Services, ACT*1 Technical, ACT*1 Engineering and Managed Services and ACT*1 Entertainment, which provides creative, technical and management talent to the entertainment industry. ACT*1 also owns and operates two accredited learning institutions: the California National University for Advanced Studies, which provides distance learning degrees in disciplines such as accounting, economics, finance and marketing, and the Academy of Computer Technology, which provides computer training for corporate employees.
Howroyd, a native of Tarboro, North Carolina, developed her philosophy about family and business after her father died in a boating accident and she moved to Los Angeles to