Magazine article Black Enterprise

A Strategic Alliance: Pride Enterprises CEO Partners with Iraq War Veteran to Build a Growing Business

Magazine article Black Enterprise

A Strategic Alliance: Pride Enterprises CEO Partners with Iraq War Veteran to Build a Growing Business

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

CRAIG T. WILLIAMS WAS READING A NEWSPAPER HE DOESN'T NORMALLY READ WHILE dining in a restaurant that he normally doesn't frequent when he came across an article that would have a profound impact on two lives. Through the article, the CEO and president of Pride Enterprises Inc. (No. 95 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list with $22.5 million in revenues) learned about how a young, black Iraq War veteran was injured in combat, displaced in the economy, and working as a security guard at the University of Pennsylvania.

For Williams, reading the article proved fortuitous. While Norristown, Pennsylvania-based Pride Enterprises had fairly steady revenue gains, the building, construction management, and consulting firm generated nearly 35% of its revenues at that time from projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs. And a lot of those revenues were being shifted toward companies led by military veterans. "Almost overnight [business with the department] went down to zero," Williams recalls. "We looked at that situation and thought, 'Man, we have to figure out a way to replace that revenue stream.'"

Williams concluded that if his company was to continue to do business with the Department of Veterans Affairs, he needed to partner with a veteran and establish a new business. The veteran, Richard Bennett, seemed tailor-made for the task. After all, he studied architecture and the article stated his interest in a career in the construction industry. "I thought, my God, this is my guy. So we tracked him down through the author of the article and set up an initial meeting," says Williams, 44. "I brought him in and told him what I was thinking, and we talked about it for a while." During that period, Bennett worked for Pride Enterprises as an estimating coordinator and Williams' mentorship role began.

In less than a year, Bennett and Williams felt they could do business together and formed Fidelis Design and Construction L.L.C. in 2009. Bennett has a controlling ownership stake in Fidelis; however, Williams, who owns less than 40%, shares in the profits. "I helped him develop the branding strategy, and he came up with the name, came up with the logo, and we collaborated on the business plan," recalls Williams. A little more than two years later and Fidelis Design & Construction generates just more than $10 million a year. And Williams, whose firm is a newcomer to the BE 100s, may well help usher in one of the next generation of BE 100s CEOs.

FATHER FIGURE

Pride Enterprises, whose clients include the General Services Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Air Force, and the Department of the Interior, was founded in 1996 after Williams himself benefitted from a familial mentorship. Currently, some 90% of the company's revenues come from government contracting. A graduate of Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree in business management, Williams joined his father's construction business, Robert I. Williams & Associates Inc., in 1990. Over seven years, Williams worked his way up from laborer all the way to vice president of the company. "I guess it's fair to say that I was on the inside track," Williams says.

While working for his father, Williams would sometimes handle small projects for local restaurants or churches that weren't really core to R.I. Williams. "So because he wasn't paying that much attention, he let me tackle those projects as kind of a side venture." That side venture, which later became Pride Enterprises, began to grow when Williams realized that focusing on the government space could prove lucrative. "The development of my company became a focus, and I relied on my father, as I always did, for advice and support."

By working with his father, Williams gained insight into customer relations, corporate culture, motivation, and leadership. "So many of the qualities and abilities that a corporate leader needs, I learned directly from my father," Williams says. …

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