Technology entrepreneur David Steward has built his tech services company, World Wide Technology, into one of the most successful privately held firms in the U.S. Steward, 71, is the self-made Black billionaire you’ve never heard about.
He founded WWT in 1990, and today the systems integrator provides supply-chain technology to 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to Fortune. WWT offers digital transformation and IT modernization to businesses.
He started life with modest means. Born in Chicago, he is the son of a homemaker and a mechanic. In 1953, the family moved to Clinton, Missouri. In Clinton, Steward came face-to-face with discrimination; he attended segregated schools. “I literally lived on the other side of the railroad tracks,” David once said, “but I learned that division doesn’t work.”
Despite the hardship and challenges growing up, Steward said his parents taught him it was important to be kind to people. David said homeless people often came to his childhood home to eat. “No one was ever turned away,” he said, according to Christian Broadcasting Network. “I saw faith in action.”
His family had a small farm with cows, vegetables, and crops; and he had chores to do around the farm.
“My jobs included emptying the chamber pots, shaking down the ash in the potbelly stove and then spreading it on the driveway for traction, cleaning the barn, feeding the cows and pigs, milking the cow, and skimming the cream for the butter churn,” as documented by Horatio Alger Association.
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“Our chores seemed endless,” Steward added. “But it was just the way we grew up, and it was all just a part of our lives.”
It was also at home that he learned about entrepreneurship.
“My father was the first entrepreneur I ever knew,” Steward described, according to the Horatio Alger Association. “He was an entrepreneur out of necessity…he did what he had to do to support his wife and children. He was a master mechanic and should have been able to make good money working at the nearby power company, but they weren’t hiring people of color…. Having two parents who understood their roles and their responsibilities, and then watching them work together to provide for their family, making them the best teachers in the world.”
Steward went on to college and received his Bachelor of Science in business from Central Missouri State University in 1973.
After graduating, he worked at Wagner Electric as a production manager (1974–1975), a sales representative at Missouri Pacific Railroad Company (1975–1979), and a senior account executive at Federal Express (1979–1984), where he was recognized as a salesman of the year and inducted into the company’s hall of fame in 1981.
It was an experience at FedEx that prompted Steward to venture out on his own. Because of his outstanding work, he was presented with an ice bucket that had his initials engraved inside. Steward recalled looking inside the bucket and realizing it was empty.
“This was a defining moment,” he said. “I asked myself, Is this what I want out of life?”
In 1984, he borrowed $2,000 from his dad to start his own company. He launched Transportation Business Specialists, an auditing firm that reviewed freight bills for the rail industry. Three years later, he started a second company, Transport Administrative Services; another auditing firm focused on undercharges, AfroTech reported.
David Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology (Photo: WWT website, https://www.wwt.com/profile/dave-steward/bio)