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Janice Bryant Howroyd's Remarkable Success Story

Building The ActOne Group Into a $1 Billion Company

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Janice Bryant Howroyd

Janice Bryant Howroyd (JBH) is the first African-American woman to start a billion-dollar business when she reached that milestone in 2018.

She went from growing up poor in the South to becoming one of the richest self-made women in America.

Not only has she built a great business, but she’s made an incredible impact along the way, consistently lifting up others and giving back.

Her story showcases the value of resilience, how going above and beyond for customers pays off, and the power of compound growth.

Let’s get to it.

Early Days

Janice was born in Tarboro, North Carolina in 1952 as the 4th of 11 children.

Her dad was a foreman in a dye factory while her mom ran the home like a COO.

Janice would describe the place she grew up as a small town and a beautiful community, but, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, it was also a segregated one.

As a teen, she was one of the first African American students to participate in the desegregation of her town's high school.

It was a difficult experience, to say the least:

And we had a teacher who stood up on the desk that day, the first day I went into his history class, and explained so eloquently, if you can even see the paradox of that, how blacks are so suited to slavery.

I remember chewing so hard saying, “God please don't let me cry. If you just let me get out of here without crying, I'll never come back.” That's how intimidated, how fearful, and how foreign I felt in a U.S. History Class.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Of course, she wouldn’t want to go back, who would?

She’d describe the first year at that school as the hardest year of her life, often feeling very alone, and experiencing a number of hostile incidents.

But she learned a big lesson from her dad through the experience:

I told my dad I didn't want to go back and dad gave me three options. He said, you can come back here and compete against other black kids who are going to need scholarships to go to school, he could go up and he could floor the teacher and seek retaliation, or I could go back and I could understand.

And this is something that if you say to many black people, they will finish this sentence for you - It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

And her parents didn’t let her make excuses, even when she lacked the resources other kids had:

I simply had decided to shirk off in a physical science class. I went home and met with my report card, back then they were written grades in ink on yellow paper and I showed it to my dad, and it wasn’t a failing grade, but it wasn’t an A and I was a straight A student, and it disappointed my dad so gravely and he chastised me, and flippantly I just said, “Well dad, you know, I don’t even have all the pages in the book,” and he said, “You know that’s never a reason to fail, you’re smart enough to read the pages you do have and figure out what’s missing.”

And then after that, my mom, who more than my dad devasted me with the tears in her eyes, she said, “Janice, here’s what I want you to do, when you figure out what’s missing, you write it down and tape it in so the student that who comes after you won’t have to figure out what’s missing.” I kinda think that’s how I’ve chosen to live my life since then.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

I love this. What great parents and what a great mentality to have in life - no excuses and helping others along the way.

JBH’s mom was also very committed to making sure her kids had access to information and she bought encyclopedias for them, even when the family didn’t have much money.

This upbringing had a huge impact on JBH:

When you grow up in that type of household as I did, I came into the broader world with an understanding that I could learn and that I could create ways for myself to gain information that was not handily offered me.

I think that’s the spirit that she put into us as well. Not just the discipline and not just the focus, but the spirit of wanting to learn.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

JBH didn’t just survive because of this, she thrived, eventually earning a full scholarship to attend North Caroline A&T University where she’d earn an English degree.

When she graduated, she worked at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. for a year and a half.

On one visit home, she had an experience that stuck with her and led to her moving to LA and eventually starting what would become the ActOne Group:

I remember one morning, my mom and dad, when we were kids, early morning was always their time. Dad left for work really early in the mornings and their date time was early morning and they dated in the kitchen and the little bay window where she has the table there to this day.

And I got up to walk through the hall and I saw them kissing and hugging just like teenagers. And I thought, you know, I'm an adult by then, that was the last time my mom saw my dad alive.

I, many times since then, have thought if you have to say goodbye, what a wonderful way for her to know that the last time he saw her alive, he held her and loved her so richly and she him.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Sadly, her dad passed away while shrimp boat fishing, being taken by a storm.

JBH had booked a ticket to California to visit her sister, Sandy, but told her mom she’d stay with her to help her out:

I remember my mom took to her bed for a couple of weeks and I had booked a ticket to come to California to visit my sister, Sandy. I remember I told my mom, “I'll stay here with you mom and help you.”

My mom had been married since she was a teenager. She never had any other boyfriend and I knew there would be some heavy adjustment for her and she said, “No, I'm gonna have to learn to live on my own. I better do it now,” and then she said the last thing dad would want is for me to stop you living your dream because we certainly have lived ours.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

Damn, such a powerful view of life.

Parents like that are simply the best.

So JBH went to California, planning to visit her sister for a couple of weeks.

Little did she know, the experience would change her life.

Moving to LA

In 1976, when she was 24 years old, JBH moved to Los Angeles.

It was a culture shock for her:

I was hot and popping. Although let me tell you when I got to LA I didn't think so. On the east coast, I thought I was all of that.

When I got to LA and I saw all these women who worked without pantyhose on, they carry purses with somebody else's name on it, Louis Vuitton, and I was calling it Louis Vuitton, and they were all the black people.

All the black women I saw were like fabulous, gorgeous women and I felt like this little nappy-headed colored girl coming out of North Carolina amongst all these fabulous people. No, I didn't feel all hot and popping then.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

But she was hooked on the city:

It was palm trees, gorgeous, gorgeous palm trees and you know you go up and drive all the way up and look out over the city and it was just so beautiful. So beautiful. LA was wide open. It truly was a fairytale kind of existence for me and I wanted in on it.

Janice Bryant Howroyd

She got a secretary job working for Tommy Noonan, her brother-in-law who worked at Billboard magazine.

He had worked at Motown for years and helped move them to LA. Fun fact, he also invented the famous Billboard Hot 100 chart while working for them.

More importantly for our story, he was the one that pushed JBH to start her own company.

After seeing the quality of work JBH was doing working for him, he repeatedly told her how one day she’d be running her own company. He also introduced JBH to a number of influential people in the industry.

Two years after moving to LA “for a couple of weeks,” JBH was still living there and made the decision to start what would later become a multi-billion dollar empire.

Starting The ACT-1 Group

In 1978, with $1,500, which included a loan from her mom and some savings of her own, JBH started The ACT-1 Group, which would later become the ActOne Group.

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