One of 11 children, Janice Bryant Howroyd grew up in poverty in a segregated Southern town. After coming to Los Angeles in 1976, Howroyd landed a job at Billboard magazine, where she developed a knack for personnel placement. A couple years later, she launched her own employment agency in Beverly Hills, specializing in placing workers in the entertainment industry.
Today, her company generates revenues of $80 million and employs 275 people in more than 50 offices nationwide. On any given day, the agency has 50,000 temporary workers at jobs around the country.
Bryant Howroyd attributes her success to a strong sense of spirituality that guides both her personal and professional decisions. Her success has gained plenty of recognition from the local business community. Just this month, she was named Businesswoman of the Year by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Last year she was elected president of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, a position she currently holds.
Perhaps one of the most unusual aspects of Bryant Howroyd is that one of her primary competitors is her husband's company, Apple One Employment Services.
Question: When it comes to minority businesses, it seems like the Latino and Asian business communities get more attention than African-American businesses. As president of the African American Chamber, what's your take on that?
Answer: Jesse Jackson, addressing the question of why Americans are not as aware of the energy and growth of African-American businesses, said, "the story hasn't been told." I believe the reason that the message is not communicated is that African Americans in business are somewhat of an oxymoron to a lot of people.
Q: Is there still a glass ceiling in corporate America?
A: Not only do I believe there is a glass ceiling for African Americans, I believe that it is a bulletproof, tinted-glass ceiling. The good news, though, is that there are many of us studying business and learning how to break that glass.
Q: Inner-city business development is clearly one of your goals as the African-American Chamber president. Is that being handled correctly?
A: It takes more than just bringing money in and setting up goals. In my organization we manage toward standards and we aspire toward goals. When you have decision-makers (deciding) where to put (their) money, and there has been no involvement on the part of the people who are to receive this money, you're setting up a master mentality that (excludes the recipients from the process).
Q: So besides money, what else should corporations provide to foster inner-city development?
A: Our mission should be to celebrate the people in corporate America who are moved to make successes of whatever funding or programs their organizations offer.
One of the things that I believe is a grossly underrated opportunity for corporate America, at any level, is to allow those individuals within their organization who really wish to adopt some type of civic responsibility, to do so on the company's time. I believe that is a really fine way for us to encourage the growth of our inner cities, and to allow the individual to be a part of that process.
Q: Now about your own business, your temp agency. Do you and your husband, Bernard Howroyd, really compete, or do your companies merely operate on parallel tracks?
Answer: My husband is by nature a competitive person and always on the move. So even without me adding anything to the equation, there would be a tremendous sense of competition on his part. Only in the last four years have I really recognized how strong the competition is between us.
What we try to do is to manage our professional competition so that our children can learn something from it. They attend many of our events and they hear a lot about how we do business and they sense a lot of what is alike in the industry and what is different about our companies as cultures.
Q: Do you and your husband compete for the same clients?
A: Very viciously. In the best of spirits, I must say. I try to give him a real good run.
Q: Why not join forces?
A: As I look toward estate planning, yes, I have thought about that. As I look at where we are growing geographically as a company, I have thought about that. When I revisit who I want to be as a person and the culture that I want to create and continue at the ACT 1 Group, I shy away. I believe that we have got a lot of good to do as the ACT 1 Group, with Jan Howroyd at its head, that will keep me busy for at least another 10 years.
Q: What made you start a temp agency in the first place?
A: Historically, I had not really been interested in or even familiar with this kind of business. I started out as a full-time employment service, in response to relationships that I had developed within the entertainment industry, specifically the music industry.
I had a brother-in-law at Billboard magazine who I worked for in an administrative capacity when I first came out here. I was always having to find people for jobs, whether temporary or full time, and I found that I had a knack for finding people who were really ready to take on the work in front of them.
If my brother-in-law said he needed someone with a specific skill, I looked for a person with a specific skill. They thought that was valuable, and so I decided, well, I've been here (at Billboard) for a while, maybe this is the time to step out and take that leap of faith.
Q: How has your business changed since you started out?
A: What was unique then was that we were not operating in a fully technological environment. The telephone and relationships were basically what it took to be a good full-time recruitment person. These continue to be that today, as well, but they need to be supported more dynamically by technology.
Q: Hollywood has a reputation of exploiting, sometimes even abusing, its lower-level employees. Is that something you have come across?
A: I don't think that is a tag that Hollywood should own. I have witnessed people in that industry who may not be as appreciative or sensitive to the needs of lower-level employees, but I think that condition prevails throughout all industries.
Hollywood may have been able to get away with it longer (than other industries) because they're an industry that has not been as tightly managed, historically. But there are people everywhere who are not as appreciative of the talent that is offered by those who are lower-wage workers.
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