such as commercial buildings, where the owner isn’t obligated to choose the lowest bid.
Health insurance firm Humana gave Megen its first contract and was so impressed that it offered Megen the opportunity to renovate its entire building, a $1.3 million contract. For the next five years, word of mouth scored the entrepreneur more small-scale private jobs. Nwankwo’s wife quit her job to work at Megen full time as vice president of preconstruction, and he hired five more seasoned professionals to join his team.
Once the company landed a $7.1 million project turning an old brewing company into an entertainment complex around 1998, Nwankwo was able to secure a larger bond to go after even bigger private projects. Now with more than 270 projects completed and 58 employees, Megen (No. 88 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $38 million in sales) has even built homes for singer John Mellencamp and NBA Coach Isiah Thomas. Nwankwo hopes Megen will continue with modest growth, with revenues increasing 15% each year.
In the process, Megen has earned a reputation for integrity, efficiency, and success in Cincinnati. “There are certain things I found that worked for us. Being able to pride yourself as a firm–not a minority firm, but a free-standing firm–is important,” Nwankwo says. For that reason, Megen has partnered with major companies such as Messer Construction, Turner Construction, Dugan & Meyers, and Parsons Brinckerhoff. “For the first five years, we shied away from getting any minority programs and assistance so that we could prove we could stand on our own,” he says
. “That made us a very strong [candidate] for bigger companies that are going after bigger jobs and require a certain level of diversity.”
Relationships are everything to Avery F. Byrd Sr., the 44-year-old chairman and CEO of Toussaint Capital Partners L.L.C., an investment banking boutique in New York City. Byrd has had no problems building solid business relationships during his more than 20 years in the investment banking industry, where he bounced from one bulge bracket firm to the next, including Chemical Bank, Merrill Lynch, and Dean Witter, which would later merge with Morgan Stanley. The savvy financier also had thriving building maintenance and real estate enterprises, which gave him an additional opportunity to develop relationships with several CEOs and politically powerful entities.
Ideally, Byrd wanted to leverage those same relationships into lucrative sales during his career, but there was just one problem: “I couldn’t use those relationships in my investment bank career because typically, at a Dean Witter or a Merrill Lynch, someone already had those legacy relationships in long standing. A lot of the senior-level relationships were already had by senior-level people of the firm,” explains Byrd. “So, either I was going to wait 20 years to make [senior vice president] or I was going to have to find another avenue.”
Byrd began taking a hard look at starting his own boutique, as a minority business enterprise, because there he could leverage his entrepreneurial relationships without stepping on the toes of