Meet Janice Bryant Howroyd: The First Black Woman to Operate a Billion Dollar Company

True self-made legacies rarely exist; almost every face behind a billion dollar company came from some sort of wealth. Janice Bryant Howroyd breaks that mold.

With nothing but $900, a fax machine, and a dream, Howroyd made a company that surpassed successes greater than even her wildest dreams could have imagined.

Let’s take a look at the legacy of this incredible woman and what she created from virtually nothing.

Growing Up with Janice Bryant Howroyd

On September 1, 1952, Janice Bryant was born in Tarboro, North Carolina. Even in a family of 11 children, she was part of an organized team. Their parents assigned each older sibling as a mentor to a younger sibling.

Howroyd explained that “my sister Sandy was my appointed guardian angel, so it was up to her to see that I’d gotten my homework done, my hair was done, and my thoughts and process were in line with what the family wanted. We were very organized.” It would be easy to feel lost in the shuffle of such a large family, but her parents worked hard to make sure everyone grew up with respect and discipline.

She studied English and humanities at North Carolina A&T. When she decided to move out of her home state to Los Angeles in 1976, she faced immense culture shock. Her brother-in-law Tom offered her a temporary job at Billboard.

He saw firsthand her entrepreneurial spirit and skill when interacting with clients. Even in moments when she felt uncomfortable, “I would revert to what I do well, which is strategize. I love to look at a problem, break it apart, find the better potential, knowing when to eliminate what doesn’t need to be there.”

Being a black woman in business in the 70s wasn’t easy. She faced racism and sexism, but pushed through the insensitivity and chose when to bite her tongue and when to make a stand. “In order to be outstanding, sometimes, you’re just going to have to stand out,” she explained.

In 1978, she took a leap of faith and a $900 loan from her mom to start Act 1. Then, the rest of her life began.

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Janice Bryant Howroyd: Transforming $900 Into $1 Billion

Some people start businesses that become successes with a safety net. While some might consider Jeff Bezos a self-made man, his parents actually bailed out Amazon with an almost $250,000 loan when it started to go south in the 90s. Not everyone has parents with pockets that deep to bail them out if they go under.

Howroyd took the $900 investment from her mom and paired it with the $600 she had saved to start a workforce management company in the front of a rug shop in Beverly Hills.

Fast forward 40 years, and Forbes estimates she’s worth $420 million.

She wanted “a really classy address, but I didn’t have really classy funds,” so she made do with her rental space, her fax machine, her phone, and her contacts. She said, “I thought I was Judy Jetson when I got my fax machine.”

Howroyd learned early on from her parents that you make it work with what you have. She didn’t have much capital, but she had hustle and know-how, and she turned those skills into an industry powerhouse.

She started by making full-time job placements on behalf of companies in search of workers. Then she made the shift to temporary placements. She believed that her satisfied customers made her best advertisements.

As such a small business, you need a spark that separates you from the big corporations. When she made hires for companies, she prepped her prospective hires with training tailored specifically to the company looking to hire. Her recommendations were better prepared than most because thanks to her, they knew what the company wanted.

She explained, “It always works best when you can tailor a hire to fit into a company’s philosophy. They walk in better prepared and it’s more likely to be a very good fit for your client.”

ACT-1 Group generated an estimated $1.1 billion in sales a year.

She expanded her company to other brands, including Agile 1, A-Check Global, and AppleOne. Beyond worker placement, they offer technology and management solutions, staffing, and background checks and screening to give clients a complete experience. They’re a one-stop shop for all things hiring. With AppleOne, she recognized early on the importance of technology in every industry. She was one of the first staffing agencies on the internet.

Combined, they have contracts with 17,000 clients across 19 countries, including the United States, Denmark, Canada, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. They employ over 2,800 people.

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Janice Bryant Howroyd Net Worth

Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder and chief executive officer of ACT-1, built a billion dollar empire from a $900 loan.

Today, she’s personally estimated to be worth $435 million.

However, she’s never stopped helping people. She explains how important a role giving back plays in her philosophy. She acts on the board of trustees at North Carolina A&T State University, sits on Harvard’s Women Leadership board, and is on the board of USC’s Marshall School of Business. As a black woman in business, she wants to inspire students across the country.

She explains, “I’m in a position to be able to come back and not just support the school financially, but to be integral to how the school continues to meet its initiatives and to offer to those wonderful students opportunities and careers that the school offered me.”

As the first African American woman to operate a corporation generating over $1 billion in revenue a year according to Black Enterprise Magazine, she’s certainly someone business owners everywhere should look up to.

No matter how big her company gets, she always circles back to the core mantra of the company. She says, “If you visit any of our offices, you’ll see that we live by the mantra that ‘the applicant is the center of our universe.’ It’s always been our belief that if you get that applicant in the right job, then they will be the best representation of who we are as a company.”

Feeling inspired? We are! Check out Janice Bryant Howroyd’s latest book release on Amazon – Acting Up.

Published in Featured Articles, Featured Women
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Author, Artist, Photographer.

Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.

She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.

She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.