SUBMIT

A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Janice Bryant Howroyd

Founder and CEO of The ActOne Group

By

Jan. 13 2020, Published 2:00 a.m. ET

Link to TwitterLink to FacebookLink to Email
Janice Bryant Howroyd
 “Never compromise who you are personally to become what you wish to be professionally."Quotation marks
Link to TwitterLink to FacebookLink to websiteLink to websiteLink to Instagram

Janice Bryant Howroyd is the first Black woman to own a billion-dollar company. The North Carolina native left her hometown in 1976 with $900 and two years later, with hardly any work experience under her belt, founded ActOne which started as a temp job placement agency and is now a leader in the human resources industry.

What began with just a $1,500 investment in a single office and a fax machine is now a company with over 2,000 employees across more than twenty countries. Today, ActOne Group is the largest privately held, woman-owned workforce solutions company in the world. And when you ask Janice the one thing she would have done sooner if she knew what she knows now, it’s to forgive herself for being a smart Black woman. In a time where there’s so much pride in being Black and power in standing in your identity as a Black woman, I was surprised to hear this from a woman who has broken so many barriers. 

In our conversation, Janice Howroyd goes deeper into what she meant by that statement and her advice for other entrepreneurs who may face adversity on the path to success 

Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: You started a staffing company at a time when it was hard for Black people and women to even get jobs due to discrimination — you yourself only had one temp job before going into this – and then you launched a whole agency focusing on job placement. What made you feel the time was right to start your own agency vs getting more experience first? And what gave you the courage in spite of the environment and the circumstances of that time?

Janice Bryant Howroyd: Very often in any business, we learn so much when we’re customers of a service before we become deliverers for businesses in that service circle. And it was not just a hunch, it was profound for me that I could add something to that area. 

Today when we place people in companies, some of the metrics that are used for deciding whether a person is right for a job or not are quite different than what was used back then. There are skills that are highly transferable and sought out today in non-traditional ways that even five or six years ago companies would not have been open to. Experience can be quite transferable without having that direct engagement in an industry or in a particular job sector. And so you need to be very thoughtful, very critical of yourself when you are going to go into a new avenue and not assume that everything transfers well. In some instances, you really do need that hands-on experience, in other instances, especially if we’re talking about leadership, management, handling of data, these fields can transfer from one entity to another. 

"Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally." -Janice Bryant Howroyd via Her Agenda
Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: I watched an interview you did last year with Black Enterprise and you say that one thing that you would have done sooner if you knew then what you know now is forgive yourself for being a smart Black woman. That really struck me. What do you mean by that if you could share that with our audience and our readers, because I thought it was so powerful?
Janice Bryant Howroyd:
Well, you know, let me ask you, what did it mean to you to hear me say that because it sounds as though it resonated with you in a personal way, not just in an aha moments way? 

Her Agenda: It is something I never heard before, because we live in a time now where there’s so much Black pride and people are proud to say that they are a Black business owner or a Black woman. And so I hadn’t heard someone say that they need to forgive themselves for being a smart Black woman. And so I just wanted you to share a little bit more about that and explain what it meant and how that plays a role in terms of how you think about yourself today and how you thought about yourself then? 

Janice Bryant Howroyd: Here’s the thing. There are many people who are full of Black pride and who are proud to be Black and in business, being proud to be in business, being prideful of your Blackness does not excuse one for holding oneself hostage. There are many people who are proud as Black business owners who still haven’t forgiven themselves for being Black female and smart. Every day in business, you come upon opportunity dressed as challenge and often times, we will compete in an environment where we may be the only one and our Blackness, our femaleness and our smartness all coming in one formula can be intimidating to people who have their own preconceived ideas about what that needs to look like. 

Article continues below advertisement
Blockquote open

Every day in business, you come upon opportunity dressed as challenge and often times, we will compete in an environment where we may be the only one and our Blackness, our femaleness and our smartness all coming in one formula can be intimidating to people who have their own preconceived ideas about what that needs to look like. 

- Blockquote close

Oftentimes, smart Black women are accommodating other people’s prejudices or ignorances into their solution. And when you bend over a bit too far back and it gets burdensome in the way that you sit up at night and go ‘I shouldn’t have had to go through that to get this’ or your neck starts to ache long before the interview is over because you’re being asked questions you know you’ve earned the right to not need to respond to, you have to be thoughtful about how you educate and graduate yourself from it. 

Article continues below advertisement
"I still ask for mentoring at the level I am." -Janice Bryant Howroyd via Her Agenda

I remember early on in my life, my dad telling me in my relationship with men, ‘you’re going to teach men how to treat you.’ And I think dad’s lessons around teaching men how to treat you transfer. Those same lessons apply in teaching businesses, clients, bosses, co-workers, how to treat us. Now in my instance —and I’m laying in deep on this because even though you may think this is something that would have been common for an older millennial such as myself, there are many new millennials and next gens who’re carrying some of the same burdens. They may not call it [the same issue as being the only Black woman] but they [relate to it as] ‘I grew up in the hood and all these people grew up in suburburbia, how do I tone myself down?’ All the while, the designers of businesses and commercials and ads are looking to the hood for the new energy and that next creative thing. And so we’re selling short some of the best of us in order to work with some of the least of them. 

Article continues below advertisement

And so forgiving ourselves means getting over the fact that you had doubts or you recognize other people’s doubts about who you are as Black, smart and female and move the agenda forward because that’s your power, that’s your strength and at the end of the day, that’s who you are. 

"forgiving ourselves means getting over the fact that you had doubts or you recognize other people's doubts about who you are as Black, smart and female and move the agenda forward because that's your power, that's your strength and at the end of the day, that's who you are."
Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: Yes. And you actually answered my next question within that response as well. Because I was going to ask about how do you turn adversity into strength? Because you come at it from multiple sides coming from a place where you didn’t have connections in the field that you’re in now, you had to start from scratch to build all your relationships. You’re also a woman you’re also Black so, is multiple aspects of that, that could be seen as adversity that you turn into your strength and I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head with what you just said in the previous response.
Janice Bryant Howroyd:
Yes, you’ve got to make sure you do your homework and be prepared. Let’s be truthful about it. Many smart Black female business owners didn’t grow up with networks, who could [allow] access to capital assets, access to contracts, access to information, [and] growth opportunities. And so everything is fresh and new as in my case it was. And I think you have to really be prepared to honor that. And also find the similarities in other people you’re going to work with, not just the differences and make all of that your advantage point. How am I different? I’m Black, he’s white. I’m a female, he’s not. All of that can be an advantage. Also, the similarities can be an advantage and never forget those. I’m a geek, they are geeks. I’m interested in molecular science, they’re interested in molecular science. You package it up so that all of it works well for you. And then that frees you to be an innovative thinker. It frees you to be friendly, sometimes in competition where friendship doesn’t exist. It allows you to learn how to compete with versus competing against. It really frees you when you do that. 

"My mom and dad instilled in us through their disciplinary measures, and their value systems, how to create our own value systems and live true to that."rue to that."
Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: Yeah, definitely. Your mantra for success is “never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally.” I’m curious about when you first adopted this mantra and it’s one thing to be told this and to learn from others. But what was that moment where that really connected with you in terms of that concept and you’re like, this is going to be my mantra because I’m seeing at this moment that this is what I truly want to stand for?.
Janice Bryant Howroyd:
Candidly, the words came long after the evidence and the living of it. Growing up in a home with a mom and dad who were so invested in all 11 of their children’s success, it was just a natural thing for me to believe that I should have personal values and know who I am in them and appreciate that success for me was going to have to mean that I did not compromise that. Those were daily lessons taught to us. 

Blockquote open

Growing up in a home with a mom and dad who were so invested in all 11 of their children’s success, it was just a natural thing for me to believe that I should have personal values and know who I am in them and appreciate that success for me was going to have to mean that I did not compromise that. Those were daily lessons taught to us. 

- Blockquote close
Article continues below advertisement

Oftentimes, our punishment was to write affirmations versus getting spanked or being put on probation. Although all three work, in our own homes and were in full effect. But that element of writing affirmations, I learned later in life, other kids weren’t being challenged that way by their parents around behavior, and how to think differently about it. If I didn’t clean something and it was my week for cleaning dishes, certainly, I knew that part of my correction was going to have to be sitting down writing 100 times, ‘I will always clean, neat and thoroughly.’ Mom and dad were very invested in who we were as people. And it was just a part of my DNA by the time I hit my career stage that I was living with that ideology, putting it to words was simply a response to explaining what I thought was important in life and in business. 

"no matter who you call God, call God every day, then shut up and listen"
Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: That’s beautiful and I love that you were able to take so many lessons from your family and from the people around you and even if they were not entrepreneurs, just be able to take lessons on that on your journey as an entrepreneur and apply it and live it and embrace it fully. 

Janice Bryant Howroyd: It is important to me that I give honor to my mother and father. My mother and father raised 11 kids, one mom, one dad, oftentimes people who meet me on a surface level, know that I have many siblings and assume there are many parents engaged in that dynamic. There was one mom and one dad who loved 11 kids to success and I can never have an interview that asks or speaks to my morals, my ideologies or even my preparedness for business that does not honor [my parents.]

Her Agenda: I’m curious as an entrepreneur and someone who has often been the first or the only, there are not too many examples that you’ve had in terms of what should come next as you get to a higher and higher level of business. Over the years, how have you evaluated, what’s the right next step for you as a business owner?
Janice Bryant Howroyd:
Because I’m a part of such a solid family network in which siblings are professionals themselves, well-educated and some work within my own organization, I’ve had an incredible value in being able to utilize them as a sounding board, and also as people who will ride along the stride with me in reaching that success. Today, I’m quite comfortable to acknowledge that as a smart, Black woman, I’m able to continue building on the things that I set forth in 1978. I’m also equally proud to say there are siblings who have been along that path with me along the way. And today, some of those sibling’s children work in my company. 

Many people have the belief that family can’t work together and that the idea of a Black family working together is as alien as a person from Mars. Let me tell you that in my family, that has never been an issue and we have several generations of family in the business.  

But your question about knowing what the next step is, keeping my organization full of innovative thinkers who are coming from different experiences all aligned around one common goal, that is highly helpful when as a leader, you stop to listen to them in making the decision about what’s next. 

Blockquote open

Many people have the belief that family can’t work together and that the idea of a Black family working together is as alien as a person from Mars. Let me tell you that in my family, that has never been an issue and we have several generations of family in the business.  

- Blockquote close
Article continues below advertisement

Her Agenda: Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close our conversation?
Janice Bryant Howroyd:
Yes. If, I were asked by you, what would be the key thing I would say anyone in any business at any stage in their lives it would be no matter who you call God, call God every day, then shut up and listen. Yeah, many of us go in prayer and we invest more time talking to God, but how many prayers often sit in silence and listen?

[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Advertisement
rhoneshabyngheadshotphotocreditjeromeshaw
By: Rhonesha Byng

Rhonesha Byng is the founder and CEO of Her Agenda— a digital media platform bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women. The site provides access to content and community that gives millennial women access to information and inspiration to help them get started or to move to the next level of their career. Rhonesha is an Emmy award-winning journalist and entrepreneur whose philosophy in life is established by her acronym of N.E.S.H.A. No one Ever Slows Her Agenda. This motto served as the inspiration for Her Agenda. Rhonesha was named to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and ESSENCE magazine named her among 50 Founders To Watch. Rhonesha is also the co-founder of the newly formed nonprofit org The Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute (BOMESI).

Latest Power Agenda News and Updates

    Link to InstagramLink to FacebookLink to TwitterLinkedIn IconContact us by Email
    HerAgenda
    Black OwnedFemale Founder