Though he was born in Chicago, IL- the fifth of eight children – he was raised in the small town of Clinton, Missouri, his mother’s hometown. She had moved to Illinois in the 1940’s, however, because her family wanted her to finish her education – at that time black students weren’t accepted into the segregated high school in Clinton. In Chicago, she married, began a family and eventually decided to return home.
His father was industrious – working as an auto mechanic, running a janitorial service and taking occasional jobs hauling trash and such. In spite of his tireless efforts, the family of ten struggled financially. They ate what they produced – raising livestock for milk, eggs and food – also growing their own vegetables. All of the kids had their duties – hard, often unpleasant, mundane – yet honest – work.
Being a black family in segregated times made things even tougher – adding more challenges and obstacles. The higher paying mechanic positions at the factory were only available to whites. Many businesses were ‘whites only’ – others restricted blacks to designated sections. Unlike his mother, the boy was allowed to attend classes in the recently integrated schools – he was in the first class including African-Americans. It wasn’t easy – what he and the other students of color endured is hard to imagine, much less describe.
However, through it all he learned valuable lessons. His mother taught him to avoid building resentments and becoming bitter. Together, his parents taught all of the children to be self-reliant and perhaps most importantly to treat people well. People in need – hungry, homeless, hopeless – would find get a hot meal at his house. He learned invaluable people skills as the result of navigating through the challenges of forced integration.
Having graduated high school, he went off to college at Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri). He was tall and had played on the high school basketball team – but at the next level he was a walk-on, an unknown commodity who had to prove his worth to even make the team. He did that in a big way, ultimately earning a full scholarship for the rest of his education. He earned a business administration degree – the first person in his family to have graduated college. It was 1973.
He had always known he wanted to be a business owner – his entrepreneurial spirit no doubt learned, at least in part, from his father. He moved to St. Louis – living with his sister – to begin his professional life. He eventually landed as a salesman at an electrical company but a year later it went out of business. He began working for the Missouri Pacific Railroad – becoming the first black the company had ever hired to sell their services. From there he moved to Federal Express, made their Sales Hall of Fame and received a silver bucket engraved with his initials. It was a significant point in his life.
Looking at the empty bucket made him question his role as an employee. It was the catalyst which sparked his move to starting his own business. With money borrowed from his father, he started businesses which audited freight bills for railroads. In 1990 he started another business, a technology company focused on distributing both hardware and software. With seven employees he put his focus on becoming a supplier to the federal government. It was a rough road initially, but he had experience handling tough situations.
Another significant event occurred in his business two years later. He sought assistance from the Small Business Administration offices in St. Louis. The result was more than just a much needed loan – he obtained insights and support from experienced business advisers committed to his success. And his company has become exceedingly successful.
Today that company ranks 59th on Forbes list of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. with revenue topping an estimated $7 billion. Headquartered in St. Louis, there are over a dozen locations throughout the U.S. as well as Mexico, London, China and Brazil. With over 2,700 employees it ranked 28th on the Fortune list of best companies to work for. These are very impressive results but don’t define a fearless brand. World Wide Technologies (WWT) has realized tremendous success because it was built by a fearless brand, David L. Steward.
Fearless Brands are the driving force behind successful companies.
World Wide Technologies attributes their ongoing success to strict adherence to core values, a clear vision and mission, and a customer-focused team of professionals. Dave Steward built his company based on the values, discipline, drive and people skills which define him – those attributes which he began to adopt from a very early age.
His belief in treating people right is what creates very high ratings for both employee and customer satisfaction. His parents showed him the power of hard work, dedication and integrity and Steward has instilled those characteristics into the company’s DNA.
Steward is very open about having built his Christian beliefs into his company strategy – so much so that he has authored a book about that exact topic – Doing Business by the Good Book: Fifty-Two Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible.
Not surprisingly, Steward is also well known for his philanthropic efforts and support of culture – in particular jazz. Named in honor of his parents, he was integral in opening the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz in St. Louis’ Grand Center.
Most won’t build a company like WWT nor be the force behind a $10 million venue – but everyone can learn how to build a fearless brand from Dave Steward’s example.
Treat people right – That’s a very simple concept. A successful business is dependent on productive, motivated employees. For a business to be sustainable, its customers have to receive great value. It’s not just nice to treat people right – it’s critical to business success.
Look for solutions – From a very early age, Steward was forced to develop the ability to find solutions – it’s how he was able to navigate through forced integration. He brought those lessons with him into the business world and the results speak for themselves.
Don’t build resentments or become bitter – It’s a relative certainty that anyone in business will eventually deal with difficult situations – many of which will be created by manipulative and totally self-focused people. Dorothy Steward’s philosophy has served her son well – and will serve you equally well.
Everyone has had challenges in life – some more significant than others. Fearless brands – such as David Steward – handle both the hurdles and opportunities with integrity, empathy and fairness. It’s that philosophy that will allow you to be a fearless brand and achieve your dream results.