She is the founder and CEO of a company worth over $1B, the first African American Woman to do so. She’s an entrepreneur, educator, ambassador, businesswoman, author, and mentor, and she’s 65 years old. She is Janice Bryant Howard.
There might not be a better guest for “Follow the Leader” than Janice Bryant Howroyd. For decades, she’s been synonymous with entrepreneurship and women leadership. She credits her business success to another woman in her life: her mother. She’s also not afraid of the younger “millennials” in the workforce, calling herself the most mature millennial there is. Janice talks about how to hire, why skills are less important than attitude, and how she does her best not to give back, but to “give forward.” Take a look at Davis’ interview with Howroyd on episode 6 of the podcast, “The Spirit of Entrepreneurship.”
Davis began by asking Howroyd why and how she started her business just years after the end of the Civil Rights Era as an African American woman. In her response, Howroyd clarified:
“My business started the day I was born into a family of entrepreneurs. What was great for me was us eleven kids had one mom and one dad who came from entrepreneurially-spirited people. So by the time I came to California to visit my sister, Sandy, and her husband, Tommy, I was already fundamentally ready for entrepreneurship; I just didn’t know that. I came out here on a vacation. Tommy asked me to stay because he saw the joy it brought my sister to have a sibling present, and that’s how it started.”
When asked why she started a placement firm as her first entrepreneurial venture, Howroyd explained:
“The thing that happened for me was when I was looking for work, I didn’t find the work I was looking for. I really got an experience of what that was like for others; I didn’t know how to brand myself to the companies I was interviewing in, but that was a gift in itself.”
Davis lauded Howroyd’s glowing personality, understanding why she went into the human resources industry. Her comment prompted Howroyd to talk about her professional experience in human resources:
“It’s about keeping the human in human resources, and we’re all resources to each other. Early in the building of my company, I made the decision I made sure I was doing business with companies that I would be proud to send any member of my family into. When we gather around a table in my family, we all have a common theme of family at that table, and work is the basis of that. I’m so proud of the fact that everyone [in my company] understands the applicant is at the center of our universe, the worker is at the center of our universe.”
Because Howroyd always credits her mom as her mentor, Davis asked her to explain some of the most significant lessons her mother has taught her that she’s transferred to business. Howroyd commended her mother:
“You don’t have time for all that. First of all, she taught me the value of partnering well. She gave us a dad. There are 11 children in my family: one mom, one dad. My dad loved my mom well. It’s so significant to me that this tiny little lady who, along with her husband, raised 11 children in the values they wanted us to grow up in. That has meant more to me in growing my business than anything else I’ve learned from anywhere.
The last day I saw my dad alive, he was hugging my mother and loving her, like they were teenagers, in the back of the car. It taught me the value of respect and loving well. It taught me cooperative, clear communication. It taught me that you should treat everybody as if it could be your last moment because it very well could be. As entrepreneurs, we oftentimes get so busy with our vision for what we want to achieve that sometimes we don’t appreciate the people along the ride for the entrepreneurial value they can give.
I grew up in a household when from the day I could recognize language, we were participating in weekly Thursday afternoon meetings [where] we’d cover the business of the family. Mom and dad taught us that if we went to bed angry at night, it’s your attitude and not your aptitude. And frankly, that’s very much how I hire today. I can teach people and enrich people with the skills we want them to have, but it’s the attitude they bring that so evolves the culture and the possibility of results to occur.”
Having been in a room with Howroyd twice over the past year, Davis spoke to her perception of Howroyd as dynamic and unapologetically a woman. She then proceeded to ask how important it is for her to be feminine in the boardroom while being the boss she is. Howroyd responded:
“Let’s just put it this way. You asked at the front of this interview the impact my mother had on me. I’ve never seen such power, such thoughtfulness, such intelligence, as I’ve seen in my mother. So truly my role model in life has been my mom.
And I’m most comfortable being me. Years ago, when I came to California, everybody carried the same purses with somebody else’s initials on them. Now, I got me some Louis Vuitton, so don’t think I’m hating on that, but when I came to California, I didn’t. And I didn’t look like all the beauties I saw. My sister taught me to really appreciate who I was and the beauty of what I represented for myself.
The big obscurity I’ve had is actually forgiving myself for being smart. I learned early in life that it can be painful to be smart and a woman. So oftentimes, I would gift my intelligence to someone else. It’s within the past 5 years that I’ve truly forgiven myself for being smart and moving forward.
I keep myself very present in the company of people much younger than I am because I learn so much from them. Mentorship works both ways; I’m learning just as much if not more from them as they are from me, and isn’t that the way the world should cooperate?”
Davis then went on to explain Howroyd’s larger impact on her community by giving back. Howroyd corrected her terminology and instead explained:
“I like to think of it as giving forward, not giving back. Because I’ve realized I haven’t given anything that hasn’t paid forward. I think that’s really important. I remember I was about to receive one of my first business awards, and I called my mom all excited about it. And she said to me in her very soprano, southern, soft, with loud intent, ‘Janice, just remember the award is not the reward.’ And I’ve lived with that.”
Davis’ final question was how Howroyd defines a leader, which she distinguished:
“Leadership is about understanding the goals you have collectively and ensuring they’re reached with everyone’s ability to win from it. I think that’s solid leadership, and that leadership leads to success.”