Inspire

The moment that pushed this multimillionaire to succeed

You don't become the first African-American woman to own a billion-dollar company overnight. The journey of ACT-1 Group founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd began during the battles over civil rights.

When Howroyd enrolled in an integrated school in the Deep South, she said, her teacher spoke about how blacks were well suited for slavery. Howroyd, 63, recounts forcefully biting the inside of her jaw in reaction so as to not shed a tear, for crying could seem like accepting defeat.

The memory of this moment inspired Howroyd to persevere and never accept failure when building her own firm.

"When I founded my business, I did not have the technology that I employ today to help immediate success as well as strategic success," she told CNBC at the iCONIC conference in November. "All I had was a brain, a phone and a phonebook."

But Howroyd was determined to succeed anyway. She was able to build what is the largest certified woman-minority-owned staffing agency in the U.S.

For entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses today, Howroyd said it's a worthwhile investment to harness the power of technology that she wasn't able to employ.

"The advantage of technology has given so much to the business world," she said. "I think it does require a very careful, and in some terms, actually artful attention to utilizing technology in a smart way, but there is every opportunity for new business owners to found businesses."

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