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Janice Bryant Howroyd shares big tips on nurturing small businesses

Photo Courtesy of Janice Bryant Howroyd (right) and Roz A. Gee

Let’s face it. It can be quite challenging, even downright daunting to focus on future growth when we’re seemingly caught in the thicket of small beginnings. There’s an ancient inquiry that still echoes throughout the corridors of time: “Who has despised the day of small beginnings?” During a quaint, down-home dialogue with Janice Bryant Howroyd, founder and CEO of the ACT-1 Group, it was overwhelmingly evident that she zealously embraces and endears her formative years of being reared in rural eastern North Carolina along with 10 other siblings and two unswerving and exemplary parents. John and Elretha K. Bryant subtly weaved proven principles of success and significance into the strong fabric of family, business and life experiences.


Growing up in Tarboro, North Carolina, Howroyd was one of 11 children who shared the same mom and dad. She witnessed entrepreneurship without knowing and understanding that it was actually entrepreneurship. Her mother’s family ran a barbecue shop. They opened the formal dining room of their home to accommodate the locals to stop in for a mid-day meal. Most would go to the rear of the home for “take and carry” similar to today’s fast-food carryout. “They were running these two models very efficiently. I just didn’t recognize it as entrepreneurship, it was just what Grandma and Grandpa did.”

During a recent global expansion of the Act-1 Group, Howroyd reflected on the entrepreneurial practices and values her mother instilled and raised them with. Their family really did operate as an enterprise. While dad went out to work every day, mom stayed home and ran things. According to Howroyd, “She was the most dynamic COO [chief operating officer] that I’ve ever seen. She taught us that 13 people on any given day needed to have a cooperative spirit, as well as a formula.”

Howroyd’s mother executed with the highest levels of quality, organization and administration. They knew when it was time to carry out a task. They knew what belonged where in their home. They clearly understood roles and responsibilities. Her mom did something that Deming taught many people to do in Japan, in that she rotated roles in the family. They each learned different skill sets by rotating roles appropriately around timelines. Yes, there were checkoff lists when an assignment was completed. She came in, inspected and everything had to be legit before it was passed on for the next assignment.

“The important thing that I learned from my Mom was that she could create [a] cooperative spirit by being clear about what the guidelines and rules were. I learned these principles in how they led my family, helped me to grow my business, and work currently with my executives. I could not have had a finer start in life.”  –Janice Bryant Howroyd


Her father was extremely integral and supportive in how they operated on a day-to-day basis. Both parents introduced their children to systems. One thing that Howroyd considers a rare advantage, blessing and gift in her life: “I got to see a Mom and Dad who truly loved each other, respected each other and led the family in the spirit of cooperation. Their genuine care and respect for each other was evident until the day my Dad died.” It’s relational proof that two people can get along and get things accomplished working around a common goal for the common good of all.

Therefore, when we talk about nurturing small businesses, Howroyd believes that an important denominator is having respect for your business. Yes, ideologically, we get it but when it comes to really respecting in the most defined ways, sometimes entrepreneurs get a little busy in their grind and hustle. How you start your business will have a lasting impact. Sometimes, you’re the only employee but the day you hire that first employee, then you’re no longer the most important employee. Every employee that you have will be more important and you have to respect that. You have to frequently check in with yourself, so that not only are you hiring right with the culture you’re building, but you’re serving right into the people who are working and helping you to expand that culture.