to directly assess a private talent pool. In turn, the company pays ZeroChaos a fee to develop the software and manage the Website.
After several years working for CoAdvantage, Mills led a management buyout of ZeroChaos in the fall of 2004 with $13 million in private equity funds from major investors such as AP Capital Partners, a black-owned private equity firm based in Orlando. Within five months, Mills was able to close the transaction, he says, “but it felt like 10 years of road shows and PowerPoint presentations.” At the time, revenues were close to $90 million.
ZeroChaos went on to acquire New York-based payroll and staffing company FlexCorp Systems in late 2005 for an undisclosed sum, more than doubling revenues in just one year.
Mills, who hopes to grow the company to $1 billion in three years, says competing in a $200 billion worldwide industry isn’t difficult because the industry is highly fragmented, with at least 14,000 providers. “Every time I go to a customer, I have to displace one of their existing providers,” he says. When it came time to go after IBM’s business, Mills went head to head with Manpower, the largest staffing firm in the world. That experience alone made him realize that this was serious business because “then you know you have something real that people can value.”
Building a Legacy
By all accounts, Evans Nwankwo, 48, had a successful job as an engineer working for New York-based Turner Construction Co. After 12 years at the firm, he had earned many promotions. But something kept him from truly savoring his achievements and enjoying his work environment. “When someone else is occupying the corner office, you don’t know how you’re viewed. You don’t know if that promotion you’re getting is a token promotion. So I, like most African Americans in the corporate world, went through this uncertainty about my career path.”
On Oct. 22, 1993, Nwankwo decided to face the uncertainty that lingered in his gut and start his own construction management and general contracting firm–Megen Construction, based in Cincinnati. Leaving his job was easy, but starting a company from his basement with just $1,716 in the bank proved to be a challenge. Nwankwo had the experience from his years at Turner, and his wife, Catherine, was also an engineer who worked full time for Turner. But his decision to go after government contracts landed him in a position where he could not compete with the big boys.
“The biggest thing is looking for that first contract, and we were bidding for government work,” recalls Nwankwo. “When you bid for work publicly, whoever is low gets the job. There’s also bonding requirements. My bonding only allowed me to bid on projects that were under $100,000. So, at that low level, it was very difficult to compete. A lot of the jobs that we were bidding on [in the beginning], we were not successful.”
Nwankwo eventually had to reassess his business plan, deciding that instead of chasing government contracts he’d go after private jobs,