Going Against the Grain

Newcomers to the B.E.100s prove it's not where you start but where you end up that matters

in 2000. It was also the largest deal struck with an African American contractor in the state’s history.

The firm celebrated another landmark April 3 when it unveiled the Como Park Bridge, a job Thor won in an open-market bid. And over the years, Copeland says he’s learned to do inclusive work — public sector and private — and not to rely only on minority inclusion work. Another rule he lives by is to create opportunities in the black community. “I believe strongly in subcontracting, mentoring, and hiring people of color. If I don’t mentor and bring other minority firms along, I’m nothing more than a flash in the pan.”

Sky’s the Limit
These days it’s not unusual to find professional and former athletes heading up their own businesses. And some might say these athletes have it easy, that they’re capitalizing on their celebrity, or that they’re mere brawn backed by other people’s brains. If you think that of John Stallworth, you’re wrong. As president and CEO of the Huntsville, Alabama-based Madison Research Corp. (No. 56 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $60.6 million in sales), the former Pittsburgh Steeler (and NFL Hall of Famer) heads up a firm responsible for providing high-level engineering and information technology services to government and commercial clients such as NASA and the Department of Defense.

Make no mistake — it didn’t come easy for Stallworth. “One of the biggest challenges was trying to eliminate the perception that a lot of folks have about athletes,” says Stallworth who is as proud of his M.B.A. from Alabama A&M University as he is of his four Super Bowl rings. “You have to prove to people that you’re intelligent enough to start a business, to take care of all the intricacies of financing it, and [to fulfill] all the contractual requirements. I wanted to prove that I could do it and that this didn’t just happen because I played football.”

In addition to dispelling stereotypes, Stallworth, 50, also had to contend with some lean years when he first started the company in 1986. “Early on, we had to make some sacrifices to keep people on. There were times when a lot of our contracts were short-term; if the government didn’t pass a budget, we would have to wait.” Stallworth says ’88 and ’89 were so tough “we wondered if we were ever going to get through that period.”

With 2001 revenues totaling more than $60 million and a staff of 650, Madison Research has come a long way from it’s humble, home-based beginnings when Stallworth, his wife, Flo, and a third partner who was an engineer, pooled their talents and resources — about $5,000 — to bid on their first contract worth roughly $20,000. With that contract in hand, the three of them were then able to secure a line of credit with a local bank, which in turn enabled them to open an office. Sixteen years later, the company has offices in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Maryland, and a client roster that reads like a who’s

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