Create & Cultivate 100: STEM & Finance: Janice Bryant Howroyd

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Janice Bryant Howroyd was paving the way for female empowerment before “female empowerment” was a term people used. She launched her workforce solutions company, Act 1, in 1978, well before the She-EO movement. And her trailblazing ways have paid off—she was the first African American woman whose company generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue. She’s a force in the business world, and we’re excited to share her advice for other women chasing their dreams below.

You’re the first African American woman to operate a company that generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Tell us a little about Act 1 Group and why you think it’s been such a successful venture.

In 1976, having arrived in Los Angeles on what I initially intended as a vacation, my sweet sister Sandy encouraged to me to extend my stay.  These many years later, I’m filled with gratitude that she did. By 1978, I had begun to build what today is a global enterprise servicing with brick and mortar from 32 countries!  The ActOne Group products and services are truly universal across industries. Our clients represent a broad array of enterprises across every business landscape. The top industries served include consumer products, manufacturing and distribution, transportation and logistics, utilities and renewable energy, IT and technology, construction and engineering, financial services, pharmaceuticals, material sciences, healthcare, entertainment, food and beverage and public sector agencies at the local, state and federal level.

Our corporate culture is customer-focused, consultative and entrepreneurial. Success is rooted in our philosophy and approach to innovative solution design and commitment to customer service. As an organization, we thrive by standing solidly on our “FEET”:

· Freedom to Innovate: reflects the type of employees we attract, how we lead them, and how we approach our customers in a consultative and value adding manner.

· Excellence of Delivery: we do not make shallow promises, we are reliable, and differentiate ourselves through our flexible services.

· Everything Matters: we hold ourselves accountable to the past, present and future so we always provide a result.

· Time to Understand: reflects our proactive interest in the best long-term result, whether listening to a customer or perfecting our operation.

You’ve previously said “It still matters in business more what someone else says about you than what you say about yourself.” Tell us a little about the meaning behind that mantra and how word of mouth has affected your business.

We operate in a competitive industry on a global scale. Identifying, attracting and placing individuals on temporary or permanent work assignments is core to our business, regardless of the size and scale of the labor program we are managing. We have found, through decades of experience, that peer referrals are the best and most consistent source of talent. Similarly, in presenting our company and its solutions to new clients, the best voice, on our behalf, is that of our current customers.

We achieve success through a “client for life” philosophy, which encapsulates who we are as an organization. Within our staffing business verticals, our mission is to find, to understand, and fulfill the needs of another. In doing so, we become more than a staffing placement agency, but rather a career advisor to the working class seeking an ally to gainful employment, continuing education, skill development, and personal advancement. At the corp-to-corp level, client for life is practiced daily through an “everything matters” approach to customer service. If it matters to you, it matters to us. This mantra has resulted in long-term relationships with our client partners, as well as an evolution of innovative service and technology solutions we have implemented with clients, large and small, over decades of account management. As relationships with our clients mature, these same clients have been our most effective advocates in helping us attain new business with new clients in new markets, worldwide.

In 2017, you were appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE). What’s been the most rewarding part of serving on the advisory?

Serving the FCC in an advisory capacity on Diversity and Digital Empowerment is something I take seriously and with gratitude.  Many communities today are not prepared for day-to-day digital communications, let alone disaster readiness. Infrastructures and business that offers jobs and life needs require digital access and those communities not well serviced are not attracting this forward economic empowerment.  Working with the nation’s top experts across fields of knowledge that support building out better sustainable communications is significant. Add to that the ability to impact how women, minorities and other other disenfranchised persons are supported in our nation’s build out and treatment of these persons - and you readily understand the gratitude I feel for the ability to contribute.  

“Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally.”  That’s a really big self commitment for many, especially as cultures continue to rub, blur and evolve.

What advice do you have for women with great ideas that are afraid to launch them?

Communicating with clarity, purpose, passion, and honesty will enable you to serve others in a profound way. One thing that  I always tell my audience that whatever it is you want in life, don’t wish for it, work for it. It is a guiding principle taught by my parents and I have followed it from day one. Through effective communication, hard work, and empowerment of self and others, success can and will be achieved - so long as you believe in yourself and invest the time and energy required to launch any great idea. At the end of the day, more people regret what they did not do than anything they ever did!

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

Joy in seeing those around me achieve success in life and work is one of the greatest gifts of my work. Growing up in Tarboro, NC, the most professional people I saw on a daily basis were the teachers and preachers in our community.  While I have immeasurable respect for these professions, I know that advancing the worker is a part of the solution to healthy living I can best contribute to. Our company is in the people business, making connections between individuals and companies each and every day. Each connection we make presents unlimited opportunities from which individuals, companies and communities grow.  This is powerful! We work with educational institutions as well as corporations. Our value is driven by how well we honor the worker. At AppleOne, it is intentional that we’ve ALWAYS had our founding principle be “The applicant is the center of our universe!” This includes interns as well as temporary and professional/full time workers - across 32 countries!

You founded Act 1 in 1978. How has the company grown, changed, or shifted priorities with the rise of the internet and social media?

The internet and social media have enhanced how we interact with the community at large, moving from local interaction to a more “glocal” approach to market branding and broadcast messaging. However, as a family-owned, private enterprise, we still believe and value human interaction. Although job postings and marketing initiatives are more easily communicated via the internet and social media, our recruiters, talent advisors, and client service teams still emphasize personal, one-on-one communication to drive superior results.  Early in our development of workforce technologies, I understood that a competitive advantage would be to ensure that ‘technology become our geography’, as this offered competitive opportunity for ActOne Group amongst a field of publicly funded companies.

Here’s another interesting aspect: As a public speaker and champion of education, inclusion, and empowerment, social media has allowed me to connect with a vast and diverse population. On a daily basis, I’m able share those professional and personal moments that assist so many people.  

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

While not surprising, it certainly is a highlight of my career that our children have embraced what we do and have chosen to build careers supporting the family business. The gift of seeing Katharyn and Brett adopt the values and enjoyment of advancing people’s careers incorporates so many of the desires of my heart.  Brett has chosen to work in leadership in our company and Katharyn works on our technology and branding innovation. That they are cooperative in their respective chosen areas of contribution means the world to me. That they authentically and passionately live by the values rewards me in the most magnificent manner!

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

In my family, as in many, we live by the principle that “We fall down. We get up!”  Our parents encouraged us ‘stay watchful’. They often would tell to pay attention to everything because everything matters!  Sustained by these beliefs, I’m confident of my ability to succeed. This eliminates the wasted time of worry. Worry does not ever pay.  Solutioning does!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Growing up as John and Elretha Bryant’s kids, we were fueled with many Mommyisms and Dad’s sayings.  They all rank best prize. One that I took as my personal mantra years ago is: “Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally.”   That’s a really big self commitment for many, especially as cultures continue to rub, blur and evolve.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

Everything!  Notable - In 2018, I finally established my STEM placement service, AllSTEM.  AllSTEM’s mission is To create powerful connections for STEM professionals and employers.  It goes right back to what I saw, and wanted to impact, in my childhood community. Enabling competent and valued workers to have valuable and growth oriented careers.  What a blessing!