It’s the same every ear. Without fail, a small group of brash and hungry CEOs boldly crashes the party, so to speak, by entering the exclusive domain of the BE 100s. And once again a number of companies in this year’s freshman class have demonstrated their mettle by ascending to the top echelon of black business.
But as difficult as it is to make the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 listing, it is far harder to remain in this elite group. Just a glance at last year’s newcomers feature, “The Freshman Class of ’97,” reveals how quickly things can change. Leslie Corley, former CEO of Convenience Corporation of America, spent only a short time on our list before bowing to competition and sagging revenues. So the real question is not whether you get into the party, but rather, do you have the staying power to stick around?
While it’s too early to answer that question, if their track record is any indication, the outcome should be positive. These chief executives operate their companies with their eyes wide open, not overlooking growth opportunities. Both have gone through the trial-and-error of running past enterprise. So what do the CEOs of an information technology company and one of the nation’s largest black-owned oil companies have in common? Perseverance, dedication and perhaps most importantly, vision.
RIDING THE TECHNOLOGY RAILWAY
David L. Steward has spent much of his life getting on the right track. Growing up in the sleepy hamlet of Clinton, Missouri, he heard stories of his great-grandfather’s adventures as a pullman porter. His grandfather and father were also close to the transportation business–the former in hauling, the latter a mechanic. And the next generation of Stewards–he and his siblings–began their professional careers working for railroad companies.
The experience gave him an appreciation for the value of delivery systems. Today, Steward is one of the chief conductors in the burgeoning information technology sector. As chairman and CEO of World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT), he supplies Fortune 500 companies and government agencies with computer hardware and software as well as telecommunications networks. With a whopping $135 million in gross sales in 1997, the St. Louis-based concern has pulled into a much-coveted stop: No. 11 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list. “I traded in one transportation system for another,” says Steward. “But now I am responsible for moving information.”
A graduate of Central Missouri State University, Steward, 46, launched WWT after successfully managing two other ventures. He seized his first entrepreneurial opportunity after working several years in sales and marketing for such corporations as Union Pacific and Federal Express. After discovering railroad companies were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars through inadequate billing procedures, he launched TBS, a firm that audited shipping rates, in 1984. Steward then realized that he could boost the efficiency of his clients’ operations through the development of local area networks (LANs). The idea spawned a second company, Transportation Administration Services, which he started in 1987. “It became clear that if companies were going to be competitive, they needed