Oprah Winfrey may be widely known as the first African-American female billionaire, but one woman made history in her own right as the first Black woman with a $1 billion company.
Her name is Janice Bryant Howroyd.
Howroyd, 62, founded her multi-billion-dollar staffing firm, ACT-1 Group, in 1978. Over 30 years later, the company has over 75 offices across the country.
“I never imagined this. I always imagined success though,” Howroyd said during an interview with the “Today” show.
BLACK WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES SPIKE SINCE 1997
Howroyd, who was recognized in 2008 at BET Honors with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, says the secret to her company’s success is staying true to the fundamentals despite advances in technology.
While more minority women own their own businesses now more than ever, Howroyd notes that there’s still more to go.
“Let’s be clear, the climate has changed but it’s not sunny weather. Women still have a need for change,” she said.
The wife and mother of two says she attributes her success to her parents’ optimism growing up. “I heard a lot of no’s growing up but my parents didn’t allow no’s,” said the Tarboro, North Carolina native.
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Though she grew up in a “harsh and ugly” segregated community, Howroyd says she “moved forward” rather than let her circumstances hold her back. That’s something she says she made sure to instill in her son and daughter who both work for the family business, which is the largest company owned by a minority woman in the country.
But even after over three decades as an entrepreneur, Howroyd believes she’s just getting started.
“I feel newer and fresher than I did back when I first started my company. I believe that’s because the more you learn the more you want to know,” she said.
And as for advice for entrepreneur hopefuls looking to follow in her footsteps, she says stay true to who you are.
“Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish you be professionally.”
(Photo: Larry French/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)