On Top of the World

David Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology, has propelled his company by focusing on internal growth

David Steward is a firm believer in the power of faith and perseverance. Yet his spirituality is not overwhelming. Rather, he weaves it gracefully in and out of conversation. "These are my swords," he explains, referring to the copy of Jesus CEO behind him while reaching for the Bible he keeps in a desk drawer. "They help me keep my enemies at bay." They also help him teach Sunday school. Every week he leads a group of local business owners in a session entitled "Business by the Book." The course applies religious scripture to business settings and promotes the principle of "doing good while doing well."

At 6 feet 5 inches, Steward casts an imposing shadow, but his demeanor is more mischievous than menacing — more Bill Cosby than Bill Russell. "If you really want to dig up some dirt on me, ask him," he says jokingly, pointing to a friend who has dropped by to pick up tickets to the 1999 NCAA men’s basketball regional semifinals.

The consummate host, it seems Steward used the tournament — held this year at St. Louis University — as an occasion to get together with as many friends and business associates as possible. "As chairman and CEO my job is to build and manage vendor and customer relationships," says this homegrown Missouri success story. Even though Steward launched his company a stone’s throw from his Clinton, Missouri, hometown, his vision is expansive. In a one-week span, he traveled from St. Louis to California and then cross-country to Florida, all the while wooing business partners. While in the Sunshine State, he caught the NCAA Final Four and tossed in a few rounds of golf for good measure. What better place to plant the seeds of success than the manicured lawns of the links? Last year, World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT) made an impressive debut on the be Industrial/Service 100 list at No. 11 with revenues of $135 million. "I was more concerned with growing the business than receiving any outside recognition," explains Steward when asked about his company’s belated entry. Achieving that growth meant investing millions of dollars in developing and deploying the various hardware, software and Internet technologies needed to make WWT’s operations more efficient and drive profits upward. "When I look at this company, I envision a billion-dollar business, and that’s how it’s run," he says.

Like the billion-dollar companies he aspires to, WWT spends millions on research and development of new technologies. "It’s been a conscious strategy to build products internally on our nickel with the intent to make them robust enough to sell to the commercial marketplace," states James Kavanaugh, company president and COO. The formula has increased revenues 250% over the past three years and provided their customers with state-of-the-art electronic business solutions.

WWT has developed strong partnerships with IT industry heavyweights such as Lucent Technologies Inc., Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Cisco Systems, FileNET and IBM to install and integrate their various technologies. And

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