Steward, David L. 19(?)(?)–
David L. Steward 19(?)(?)–
David Steward, founder and chief executive officer of World Wide Technology, a leader in the area of information technology, changed the face of Internet business for a variety of commercial, federal, and telecommunications organizations. He took his company from its humble beginnings to more than $800 million in sales in a few short years. But he has not allowed that success to change him personally. According to St. Louis Small Business Monthly, Steward has said that “his faith in God, his family and his employees” are responsible for his company’s phenomenal growth.
While growing up, Steward was affected by racism. In his high school graduating class, he was the only male African American. But his mother was a strong woman who encouraged him, and made him believe that the world was open to him. Steward told the New York Times that he and his friends took it upon themselves to integrate the city’s public pool: “A group of us decided one day we were going to go swimming. Nothing happened. No resistance. We just went and jumped in.”
Born in Clinton, Missouri, Steward and his seven siblings had railroading in their blood. His grandfather was a pullman porter, his grandfather was a hauler, and his father was a mechanic. It is no surprise, then, that Steward began his career in the industry after his graduation from Central Missouri State University. Steward’s early management jobs were with the Missouri Pacific Railroad, Wagner Electric, and Federal Express. He earned an award for salesman of the year while at Federal Express, but soon decided that he wanted to strike out on his own path.
In 1984 Steward purchased a consulting firm, Transportation Business Services (TBS), which did rate auditing. Three years later, he also began Transportation Auditing Services (TAS). He told Black Enterprise, “It became clear that if companies were going to be competitive, they needed someone to show them the integrated technical solutions to their problems.” This observation would eventually lead him to create World Wide Technology. As Steward said in Black Enterprise, he “traded in one transportation system for another. But now I am responsible for moving information.”
In 1987 Steward was hired by Union Pacific Railroad to handle the massive number of shipping bills that
Born in Clinton, Missouri; married Thelma (a registered nurse); two children. Education: Graduated from Central Missouri State University.
Career: Wagner Electric Co., manager; Missouri Pacific Railroad, manager; Federal Express Corp., senior account executive; Transportation Business Services, CEO, 1984-93; Transportation Administration Services, CEO, 1984-93; World Wide Technology, founder and CEO, 1990–.
Memberships: Civic Progress, first head of a minority firm to hold membership; boards of Webster University, United Way of Greater St. Louis, Missouri Technology Corporation, St. Louis Science Center, BJC Health System, St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association, Union Memorial Outreach Center, Greater St. Louis Area Council Boy Scouts of America.
Awards: Five time winner, Fast 50 Awards;s Granville T. Woods Award for Outstanding CEO, 1997; Minority Small Business Person of the Year, Small Business Administration, 1997, 1998; Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 1998; 14th Best American Entrepreneur, Success Magazine, 1998; Top Minority Entrepreneur, Small Business Administration, 1998; Top 100 Industrial/Service Companies, Black Enterprise, 11th in 1998, 6th in 1999, 1st in 2000 and 2001; Company of the Year, Black Enterprise, 1999; Phoenix Award, St. Louis Minority Business Council, 2000; Entrepreneur of the Year, Black Enterprise, 2000; 100 Leaders for the Millenium, St. Louis Business Journal, 2000; Small Business Association Hall of Fame, 2001; Top 100 List of St. Louis Leaders, 2002.
Address: Office —World Wide Technology Inc., 127 Weldon Parkway, Maryland Heights, MO, 630433108.
were generated during a three-year period. Steward came to the conclusion that the only efficient way to process the information was through a local area network (LAN), and he concluded that such information technology was a real need in the business world. In 1990 Steward founded World Wide Technology, with three other people and a small office. By the year 2000, the business had grown to more than 500 employees and $812 million in annual sales.
In the company’s early years, Steward divided his time between World Wide Technology, TAS, and TBS. By 1993 it became obvious that Steward’s attention was too divided, and World Wide Technology was in serious debt. He vowed to turn the company around, closing the other two businesses and restructuring both World Wide Technology’s management and some of its core business practices. The company retired its debt in 1995.
In some ways the basic premise behind World Wide Technology was very simple. By having all inventory and information connected and managed electronically via the Internet in real time, business could be conducted more cheaply, more quickly, and more effectively, with fewer workers. The technology would allow client companies and organizations to handle information through the company’s Internet and computer hardware and software network.
World Wide Technology has operated in three different industries. World Wide Technology is the commercial side, Telcobuy.com manages the telecommunications industry, and Fedbuy.com deals with the government sector. Major clients have included such companies as Eastman Kodak, Ford, Bell Atlantic, Boeing, Southwestern Bell, Mercantile Bank, GTE, and Genelco, as well as the U.S. government. In addition, World Wide Technology has partnered with IBM, Oracle, Lucent Technologies, and other technology companies.
Through the success of World Wide Technology, Steward has been able to prove that a diverse work force is a positive thing. After all, as he said in St. Louis Today, “the Internet has no color.” Diversity is just one part of that.” In The New York Times, Steward made the point that in industry, “if you can’t change you’ll get run over.”
No matter how much the company grew and evolved, Steward never wavered in his commitment to customer service. For Steward, it was and is the most important part of World Wide Technology. A product that is developed successfully for in-house use is also made available to client companies. President and chief operating officer James Kavenaugh told Black Enterprise, “It’s been a conscious strategy to build products internally on our nickel with the intent to make them robust enough to sell to the commercial marketplace.” And the superior technology and services have fostered clients’ loyalty to World Wide Technology. Steward did not want his own employees to forget the importance of customer service, either. On the bottom of every paycheck is the sentence, “This check was made possible by a satisfied customer.”
Nor has Steward wavered in his commitment to his employees. The company has remained privately owned, encouraging employees to take initiative and risks. Steward told the St. Louis Small Business Monthly, “My biggest obligation is to serve the people of this organization, and to serve them well. I serve them with the best benefit packages, whether it’s health care, dental or a 401(k) plan. I support them with the tools they need to be the very best they can possibly be. And to provide them with, not a job, but a career, and to be able to grow and have no limits. If I do that, it fosters the environment that permeates out to our suppliers and to our customers.”
Steward has been forthcoming about his strong, service-oriented, religious convictions. As a Christian, Steward keeps his Bible and a copy of Jesus CEO close at hand. He has taught a Christian class for business owners, titled “Business by the Book.” World Wide Technology has also invested in community service organizations, primarily those that serve families and children, such as United Way, Ronald McDonald House, the Minority Scholarship Foundation, and the American Red Cross.
Steward told Black Enterprise, “When I look at this company, I envision a billion-dollar business, and that’s how it’s run.” Indeed, the success of World Wide Technology has shown no sign of diminishing. Steward’s commitment to his business, love for his employees, and dedication to service has made sure of that.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 14th Edition, Gale, 2001.
Black Enterprise, June 1998, p. 146; June 1999, p. 118.
Jet, May 28, 2001, Vol. 99, p. 52.
New York Times, October 31, 2001.
St. Louis Business Journal, November 8, 1999, p. 55.
St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative, http://www.stlbizdiversity.com
St. Louis Commerce Magazine, http://www.stlcommercemagazine.com
St. Louis Science Center, http://www.slsc.org
St. LouisSmall Business Monthly, http://www.sbm.sbmin.com
St. Louis Today, http://www.stltoday.com
United Way Greater St. Louis, http://www.stl.unitedway.org
World Wide Technology, http://www.sbm.sbmin.com
—Helene Barker Kiser
Steward, David L. 1951–
David L. Steward
Founder and chairman, World Wide Technology
Education: Central Missouri State University, BS, 1973.
Family: Son of Harold Steward (mechanic) and Dorothy (maiden name unknown; homemaker); married Thelma (maiden name unknown; nurse); children: two.
Career: Wagner Electric, 1974–1975, production manager; Missouri Pacific Railroad, 1975–1979, sales representative; Federal Express, 1979–1984, senior account executive; Transportation Business Specialists, 1984–1993, owner; Transport Administrative Services, 1987–1990, owner; World Wide Technology, 1990–, founder, chairman; Telcobuy.com, 1997–, founder, chairman; First Banks, 2000–, director; Centene Corporation, 2003–, director.
Awards: Business Person of the Year for Missouri, Small Business Administration, 1998; regional Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year, 1998; named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans, Ebony.
Publications: With Robert L. Shook, Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004.
Address: World Wide Technology, 60 Weldon Parkway, St. Louis, Missouri 63043; http://www.wwt.com.
■ David L. Steward founded and served as chairman of World Wide Technology, a private company majority-owned by Steward, with reported revenues in excess of $1 billion. World Wide Technology specialized in procuring, building, and deploying information technology infrastructure for customers. In 2000 and 2001 Black Enterprise recognized World Wide Technology as the largest business in the United States with majority African-American ownership.
Steward credited his work ethic to his father, a mechanic and small farmer who also worked a variety of odd jobs to support his large family. Steward himself had farming chores before school each day, and mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and sold Christmas cards door-to-door to make extra money.
Born in Chicago but raised in Clinton, Missouri, Steward faced poverty and discrimination as an African-American during his childhood. "I vividly remember segregation—separate schools, sitting in the balcony at the movie theater, being barred from the public swimming pool." Steward was among a small group of African-American high-school students who integrated the public swimming pool in Clinton in 1967. "These experiences had a profound effect on the man I am today. I am not one to back down when it comes to taking a stand for what I believe." Steward found a purpose for the hardship he encountered in his early years—it strengthened his character and taught him perseverance. "The adversities I encountered during my youth served as my training ground for hard times I eventually faced as a struggling entrepreneur" (Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004).
BUILT CORPORATE CAREER
After graduating from college, Steward worked as a substitute teacher and for the Boy Scouts of America while searching for a permanent position. He was a manufacturing supervisor at Wagner Electric, but was laid off. In 1976 Steward accepted a marketing and sales position with the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.
Later Steward worked for Federal Express as a senior account executive. He was recognized as salesman of the year and inducted into the company's hall of fame in 1981. He was presented with a trophy—an ice bucket with his engraved initials. When he looked inside the bucket, he noticed that it was empty. Steward saw this as a defining moment in his career, and he asked himself if that was what he wanted out of life. At the time Steward had two small children, a mortgage, and "all the trappings of success that keep you locked into a job" (Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004), but he was ready to venture out as an entrepreneur.
STARTED FIRST BUSINESS
Steward had done marketing work for the owner of a consulting firm that audited and reviewed freight-bill charges. Steward bought the firm in 1984 and renamed it Transportation Business Specialists. In 1987 he founded a sister company, Transport Administrative Services. Steward first audited overcharges for railroad customers, seeking refunds for customers who were charged too much. Then he found a new approach, auditing undercharges for the railroad companies. In 1987 Transport Administrative Services was hired by Union Pacific Railroad to audit three years' worth of freight bills for undercharges, which meant managing $15 billion of rate information for a single client. Steward's company built a local area network to handle the data.
FOUNDED WORLD WIDE TECHNOLOGY
Steward founded World Wide Technology in 1990 because of this successful experience in integrating technology to solve business problems. The first years were difficult. Steward never missed an employee payroll, but many times could not pay himself. The company's debt reached $3.5 million, and in 1993 a collection company repossessed his car from the company parking lot. Steward persevered because of his belief "that what we were doing for our employees and customers was meaningful. I had faith that our company was capable of providing exceptional value" (Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004).
As a small minority-owned firm, World Wide Technology was approached by the St. Louis office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) about serving government customers. The SBA provided introductions and support that helped World Wide Technology land its first federal contracts. Steward remained grateful to the SBA for opening doors for his business. A turning point for the company came in 1995 with a contract to supply computer workstations for U.S. troops in Bosnia. Since no commercial software existed for the purpose, World Wide Technologies developed an Internet program to help the military track the equipment. The program proved successful, and the company began developing other Internetbased applications for its customers.
In 1999 World Wide Technology spun off its telecommunications division to form Telcobuy.com. Sales for the two companies continued to grow, although revenues slipped in 2002 as World Wide Technology felt the impact of the technology recession. In 2003 combined reported revenues passed $1 billion, and Steward formed World Wide Technology Holding Company as the parent company for the two firms.
FAITH INFLUENCED BUSINESS PRACTICES
St. Louis Commerce magazine found Steward's defining qualities to be "an enduring curiosity about technology, a talent for motivating others, a genuine interest in people and their well-being, a willingness to take risks, and the vision to build a company infrastructure that can sustain tremendous growth" (July 1, 1998). Steward based his business practices on his Christian faith. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article described Steward as "a religious man who sprinkles his conversation with Bible verses but never comes across as preachy" (June 14, 2000).
Maximizing profit was never Steward's sole motivation; his objective was to serve others, and financial success was a byproduct. He found great satisfaction in providing his employees with opportunities to succeed and prosper. "I can't wait to come to work each morning so I can make a difference in the lives of others…. I feel sorry for people who just go through the motions at work" (Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004). Steward emphasized customer service at World Wide Technology. Each paycheck bore the imprint, "A satisfied customer made this check possible."
ADDED ROLE OF AUTHOR
In 1999 Steward and his wife were asked by their pastor to conduct a weekly Sunday school class for businesspeople. In 2004 Steward published Doing Business by the Good Book, with Bible passages and personal interpretations drawn from the class. Steward served on the boards of numerous community and nonprofit organizations and in leadership roles with the United Way in St. Louis.
See also entry on Federal Express Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Cranon, Angela M., "The Possible Dream: David Steward Has Come a Long Way from Milking Cows and Selling Christmas Cards Door-to-Door," Minority Business Entrepreneur, April 30, 2000, pp. 9–20.
Muhammad, Tariq K., "David Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology, Has Propelled His Company by Focusing on Internal Growth," Black Enterprise, June 1999, pp. 118–128.
Nicklaus, David, "Homegrown Values Cultivate Success for Firm—Tech Company Ranks No. 1 among Black-Owned Businesses," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 2000.
"1998 Entrepreneur of the Year," St. Louis Commerce, July 1, 1998, p. 16.
Steward, David L., and Robert L. Shook, Doing Business by the Good Book, New York: Hyperion, 2004.