The IT industry’s dynamic duo

Universal Solutions' Marva Allen and Shirley Moulton are breaking down barriers

Batman and Robin may rule in Gotham City but in Southfield, Michigan, Marva Allen and Shirley Moulton are the dynamic duo of the IT industry. Allen and Moulton, who also happen to be sisters, are the co-founders of Universal Solutions Inc. (USI), a leading full-service IT firm that provides business solutions in document management and imaging plus intranet and network management. USI also provides technical manpower skills and application support in programming (e.g., C++, Oracle, and SQL), network administration (e.g., Windows NT, Novell, Linux, and TCP/IP), Web and e-commerce, and project management.

In an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated, Allen and Moulton are paving the way for other women. USI donated $50,000 to the Detroit area pre-college engineering program (DAPCEP) designed to encourage women and minority students to study the fields of engineering, science, mathematics, and computer technology.

As a little girl growing up in Jamaica, Moulton always dreamed of running her own business. She fondly jokes about how she played “keeping store” with her sisters, always trying to sell them things. Following in the footsteps of her father, an accountant, Moulton decided to pursue a career in finance. At the age of 18 she left her native land to attend Lincoln University in Philadelphia in 1971, majoring in business administration. In 1975, she attended Temple University, where she received an M.B.A. in finance.

Moulton, 48, began her career in 1977 at Atlantic Richfield Co. as an internal auditor. Two years later, she joined the corporate finance staff of Sun Oil Co., serving as the first African American female senior auditor in the company’s history.

It wasn’t until 1982 that Moulton actually decided to start a business. Armed with $25,000 from personal savings, she said good-bye to corporate America in 1983 to launch Universal Solutions Inc., a computer hardware, software, and systems integration firm. The sole purpose of the company was to help clients use technology more effectively and efficiently to run their businesses.

Moulton’s decision to start USI came after she took a leave of absence from Sun Oil and headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be with her sisters after their father’s death. Soon she was collaborating in her business with Allen and other members of her family.

Allen, also Jamaican-born and U.S.-educated, was a nurse in England before moving to the United States. She received a B.S. from the University of Michigan and an M.B.A. from the University of Detroit. Allen, 46, became national spokesperson for the 140-store computer chain Software City, where Universal Solutions began its life (originally as a franchise of Software City).

Two weeks after opening its doors, Usi participated in a computer trade show in Detroit and landed its first million-dollar contract with General Motors Corp. Other major clients were soon to follow, including Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kellogg’s, EDS, and Kmart.

By 1998, USI reported revenues of $12.3 million. In 1999, USI provided acquisition and support solutions to the MGM Grand Detroit Casino. Orders from MGM Grand totaled more than $1 million. Shortly after, USI signed a one-year,

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