Janice Bryant Howroyd didn't grow up thinking she'd be founder and leader of a multibillion-dollar company.
But her ACT 1 Group staffing company has grown to serve more than 13,000 clients around the world and now ranks second on the Black Enterprise Magazine's list of largest black-owned businesses in America. She became the first African-American woman to direct a billion-dollar enterprise.
"I didn't even know what HR was," the CEO told nearly 700 local business leaders during an address at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Diversify luncheon Wednesday. "But I saw it in effect in my community. When I grew up in Tarboro, North Carolina 60 years ago, grown men raised their families raking yards. Those weren't after-school jobs."
Howroyd, 62, reared with 10 other siblings, credited her parents for her success.
"Mom and Dad had a vision and capacity to teach, expect, examine and, most importantly, demonstrate what they wanted to have occur," she said. "You have to be clear about what your vision is."
In 1978, Howroyd started her business, based in Torrance, Calif., with $1,500, including a $900 loan from her mother, and a single phone line.
"Our first office was the front of a rug shop," she said.
Today, Forbes ranks her No. 24 on its list of America's richest self-made women with a net worth of $610 million. That's higher than entertainer Madonna, fashion mogul Diane von Furstenberg and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer.
She said her parents ran the household like a business.
"Dad was the president. Mom was the COO," Howroyd said. "I think a lot of what I learned about life and business I learned from there."
She recalled that "Dad taught us 'Don't look around you for what your opportunities are, but look inside yourself for them.'" Howroyd said that her mother was right when she said "'If you treat them right, they'll stay with you.'"
Dressed in a multi-colored business suit and wearing stiletto heels, Howroyd offered her own "ABCs of business:"
* "A" is asking the right questions and "listen, listen, listen for the right answer," she said.
"You've got to target in on where you want to go in business," Howroyd said.
* "B" is "Be where you say you're going to be, when you say you're going to be, and how you say you're going to be," she said.
"Reliability is the key," she said. "How you are when you show up is the most important thing."
* "C" stands for circular communication, Howroyd said.
"Sending an email is not doing work in my organization," she said. "You've got to have full circle communication. Pressing send is not the end of your communication. You balance communication. You do it in a way that invites a response, not demands one."
Bill Kilbride, the Chamber's chief executive, said the business group strives to be a model for inclusion.
"It makes good sense," he said, adding that it's a matter of finding common ground in the name of business.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.