Profile: Janice Bryant Howroyd – The First Black Woman To Build A Billion-Dollar Company


Oprah Winfrey may be the first Black woman self-made billionaire, but Janice Bryant Howroyd, CEO of Act•1 Group, is the first Black woman to own a billion-dollar company. In 2011 Act•1, the nation’s largest Black female-owned business, held the No. 3 spot on the BE Industrial/Service list of the national’s largest Black-owned companies, with $1.4 billion in revenues for 2010. Over the last 30 years Bryant Howroyd has steered her Torrence, Calif., based-company through turbulent economic climates to emerge as a leader in the $120 billion staffing industry.

In 1978, Bryant Howroyd started Act•1 Personnel Services as a single-office operation that evolved into the ACT•1 Group, an expansive global operation that today employs more than 1,300 people in 240 satellite offices in the U.S. and eight other countries, offering a range of services from employee background checks to executive travel management. This growth has earned ACT•1 the distinction of being the largest woman minority-owned employment agency in the United States.

Covering an array of industries and serving corporate giants such as Merck, Sempra Energy, and AT&T, Bryant Howroyd has mapped out an expansion strategy based on understanding the demands of a changing work environment, anticipating client needs and providing customized services that deliver maximum results. The recent economy has wrecked many companies, large and small, yet, Bryant Howroyd continues to grow her business, increasing its international presence. Act•1 is well on its way to becoming a $2 billion by year-end 2012.

Bryant Howroyd represents the enterprising spirit of African American entrepreneurs—men and women—that remains unwavering. She says now is the best time to start a business because opportunities are ripe. “Whenever you have an economic situation that is weakened a bit, whenever you find societies are having challenges, you also have the opportunity to bring solutions people may not have thought about before and you can deliver in ways they’ve never been open to receive it,” she explains.

“You have to ask the right questions and listen for the right answers,” she advises, “Be where you say you’re going to be and how you say you’re going to be there; communicate with clarity and make sure you have full circle communication. Those are the simple ABC’s of business and I think they also serve very well in life as well,” adds Bryant Howroyd who believes vagueness is what causes business failure.

You also have to think and act globally. “No matter what the size of your business, no matter what the generation or iteration of your business, you are in a global business,” she says. “We all compete globally – no matter what we manufacture, no matter what we deliver as a service or a solution, there is someone else in the world also doing that–and technology has brought us together into a single community.”