African American Tech Billionaire Credits The Bible With Helping Him Succeed In Business
One of the richest black tech founders you may never have heard of, David Steward credits his faith with helping him overcome the institutional racism of his youth.
Steward — net worth, $3.9 billion — is chairman and co-founder of World Wide Technology, Inc., one of the largest African-American-owned businesses in America. Started in 1990 by Steward and Jim Kavanaugh, World Wide Technology is based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Dealing in technology, hardware and equipment, World Wide Technology did $9.3 billion in sales in 2016, Forbes reported. The company provides information technology and supply chain solutions as a value-added reseller of products and services. These include procurement and logistics services, product warehousing and distribution, equipment staging and configuration, and shipping.
The company’s status as a minority contractor has helped the business grow, according to Bloomberg. Its customers include Panera Bread Co., the U.S. military, Papa John’s International Inc, Dell Inc., Intel Corp and a dozen-or-so others.
World Wide Technology has ranked No. 1 on Black Enterprise Magazine’s list of the largest majority black-owned businesses in the country for seven years. Forbes ranks it No. 30 among America’s largest private companies and No. 50 of America’s Best Midsize Employers.
Born in 1951, Steward grew up during segregation. Racism was a training ground for the hard times he later endured as a struggling entrepreneur, he has said.
Jazz promoters and enthusiasts, Steward and his wife Thelma received the Ed Bradley Award for Leadership in Jazz at a Jazz at Lincoln Center gala in April. At the event, Steward did something unconventional: he asked that the pastor of the Methodist church he attends in St. Louis begin the event with a prayer, Bloomberg reported:
Benedictions not being the norm at these affairs, the Reverend Terri Swan recalled that “it took a bit of encouragement.” She offered a brief blessing, and it all went swimmingly.
World Wide Technology Inc., has grown from seven employees to a multinational with revenue of $9.4 billion in 2016. It wasn’t easy. Within three years of starting the business, WWT was in debt. Steward managed to grab his briefcase from the trunk as his Lincoln was being repossessed from the parking lot, according to his 2004 book, “Doing Business by the Good Book: Fifty-Two Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible.” He co-authored the semi-autobiographical book with Robert Shook.
CEO Kavanaugh put $15,000 from his savings into the company to get a product to a customer on time. It cost Steward 15 percent of the business. Cavanaugh’s share is now valued at $641 million, according to the Bloomberg index.
Things turned around for World Wide Technology with a partnership with Cisco Systems Inc. in 1994 that gave WWT a way to meet growing demand for security solutions. Revenue is up more than 180 percent since 2010, according to the corporate website.
Steward credits hard work and Biblical principles with his success. “When God is on your side, miracles happen,” he wrote in his book.
The institutional racism “had a profound effect on the man I am today,” Steward wrote. “The adversities I encountered during my youth served as my training ground for hard times I eventually faced as a struggling entrepreneur.”
Steward paid his entrepreneurial spirit forward to his children. Daughter Kimberly produced of the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea,” becoming the second female African-American producer to receive a Best Picture Academy Award nomination after Oprah Winfrey.
Daughter Kimberly is a Hollywood executive. She produced the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea,” becoming the second female African-American producer to receive a Best Picture Academy Award nomination after Oprah Winfrey.
The younger Steward and a partner decided to try filmmaking and moved to Hollywood in 2014 to launch K Period Media. That year, Kimberly read the script for “Manchester by the Sea,” written by Kenneth Lonergan and at the encouragement of Matt Damon. Lonergan had a “poisonous” reputation among Hollywood executives following a lawsuit, Barrons reported. Damon has said publicly “that the novice Steward was the only financier in Hollywood prepared to bankroll the controversial Lonergan and their dark film.”
Starring Casey Affleck, the film was nominated for six Oscars and won two. Kimberly is now working on six film projects.
Steward’s son David runs the digital-comic book publisher Lion Forge Comics.
The Steward Family Foundation gave about $5.9 million to 121 organizations in 2015, most of them local, according to tax statements for that year, the latest available, Bloomberg reported.
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