Failing Forward

Every recession has its casualties. But if the story of Newark, New Jersey-based BCT Partners ( is any indication, the collapse of a company can also spark something greater.

“I would describe it as a reinvention,” says Randal D. Pinkett, chairman and CEO of the management, policy, and technology consulting firm. Before Pinkett, 38, won Donald Trump’s The Apprentice in 2005, he and his business partners overcame the demise of their educational training company, MBS Educational Services and Training, in the midst of the 2001 recession. But that’s just the beginning of their story.

At the start of 2001, MBS was coming off of its best year since its 1993 launch with $373,000 in revenues. “We began noticing that the economy was going down,” recalls Lawrence M. Hibbert, 37, co-founder, president, and chief technology officer of the company. Then the attacks on Sept. 11 took place and companies stopped flying their employees to the training conferences MBS organized. “[Before] we had about six or seven major accounts,” says Pinkett, who remembers them losing all but one. We were pretty much back to zero.”

When the books closed on 2001, revenues had dropped to $150,000, so they decided to focus their energy on bringing in new business. “We loved training——we had been doing it for almost 10 years and we were good at it,” says Hibbert. “But we did not become so emotionally attached to that work that we were unwilling to discard it if opportunities were not available.”

To determine a new area of focus, they looked to their roots. Pinkett, Hibbert, and fellow founding partners Dallas A. Grundy and Jeffrey A. Robinson all met while studying engineering at Rutgers University. Plus Pinkett had recently finished his doctoral work in media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It seemed only natural that they focus on technology consulting and implementation. Along with the new direction came the new name.

Once again they looked inward securing their first technology consulting project with their church. They referenced that work to go after other projects and targeted nonprofit organizations that Pinkett had built relationships with while at MIT. The plan was successful. After making $282,000 in 2002, the now 16-employee firm made $1.8 million last year and projects $2.5 million in 2009 . The company is still challenged by the task of diversifying from government and nonprofit clients such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and The Rockefeller Foundation to top 500 clients. However, their triumph in 2001 gives them confidence. Pinkett says, “It was a test of our faith and a challenge to our collective resolve.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.