How David Steward turned a $2k loan into a $14.5 billion empire and created over 9,000 jobs

BY Ben Ebuka Oji September 14, 2023 10:32 AM EDT
David Steward. Photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images

The journey of David Frederick Steward, the second wealthiest African-American, can be traced back to a modest beginning, making his extraordinary ascent to the status of an elite business leader a source of hope and inspiration for many.

Born in Chicago on July 2, 1951, David Steward, much like many African-Americans during that era, grew up in a financially disadvantaged family and confronted numerous social challenges, including discrimination, and segregation.

“I vividly remember segregation – separate schools, sitting in the balcony at the movie theater, being barred from the public swimming pool,” recalls Steward, reflecting on a pivotal moment in 1967 when he was among a small group of African-American high-school students who integrated the public swimming pool in Clinton.

Intuitively, David Steward transformed the obstacles he encountered during his formative years into a driving force that enabled him to transcend the confines of racial limitations and unearth his talents, capabilities, and life’s purpose.

“These experiences profoundly shaped the person I am today. I’ve never been one to shy away from standing up for what I believe in. The adversities I faced during my youth served as my training ground for the challenges I would later encounter as a struggling entrepreneur.”

“My experiences with forced integration taught me, from a young age, how to effectively collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These interpersonal skills have been invaluable throughout my career.”

David Steward’s journey to billionaire status started years ago on his family’s modest local farm, where he began honing entrepreneurial and business skills under the guidance of his father, Harold Lloyd Steward, a farmer and mechanic, and his mother, Dorothy Elizabeth Massingale, a homemaker.

Tending to cows, vegetables, and various animals and crops were his daily responsibilities.

“My chores included tasks like emptying chamber pots, tending to the potbelly stove, and spreading its ashes on the driveway for traction. I also cleaned the barn, fed the cows and pigs, milked the cow, and skimmed the cream for butter churn. Our chores seemed never-ending,” Steward recalls. “However, it was simply the way we grew up, an integral part of our lives.”

David Steward often fondly refers to his father as “the first entrepreneur I ever knew.” He credits both his parents as “the best teachers in the world” who paved a solid foundation for his future success.

“My father was the first entrepreneur I ever knew. He embraced entrepreneurship out of necessity. While we may have qualified for welfare, my father’s pride led him to do whatever it took to support his wife and children. He was a master mechanic who should have been able to secure a well-paying position at the nearby power company, but they weren’t hiring people of color. Both my parents were caring and dedicated to the next generation. Having two parents who understood their roles and responsibilities and watching them collaborate to provide for their family made them the best teachers in the world.”

Despite being the sole African American in his high school class, David Steward remained dedicated and resilient in his pursuit of academic excellence. In 1973, he proudly graduated with a degree in business administration from Central Missouri State University.

His academic foundation, coupled with the entrepreneurial skills he acquired from the family business and several years of experience in the corporate world, including roles as a Production Manager (1974 – 1975) at Wagner Electric, Sales Representative at Missouri Pacific Railroad Company (1975 – 1979), and Senior Account Executive at Federal Express (1979 – 1984), provided him with the necessary expertise to embark on a different path.

“I was truly honored when I was named Salesman of the Year and inducted into the Federal Express Sales Hall of Fame,” Steward recalls. “On the day of the ceremony, I received a silver ice bucket with my initials engraved on it. Although I enjoyed my job and liked the company, when I looked inside that bucket, I saw emptiness and confinement. That moment made me realize that there was something lacking in working for someone else, prompting me to seriously consider venturing into business ownership.”

In 1984, armed with a $2,000 loan from his father, David Steward delved into the challenging realm of entrepreneurship, launching his first venture – Transportation Business Specialist. This enterprise focused on auditing and reviewing freight bills and overcharges within the rail industry. In 1987, he founded Transport Administrative Services, specializing in auditing undercharges for railroad companies.

The success of his initial two ventures emboldened him to establish his third and most prosperous endeavor in 1990. As expected of a forward-thinking and astute entrepreneur with a keen eye for opportunity, David Steward recognized the burgeoning potential within the emerging tech industry and made his foray into it. Thus, World Wide Technology, Inc. (WWT) was born. WWT swiftly ascended to become the primary supplier of computer hardware, software, and tech services to the U.S. Federal government, emerging as one of CISCO’s top partners on the continent.

World Wide Technology, initially comprising just a handful of employees in 1990, has evolved into the largest African-American-owned company in the United States. It operates across 20 global facilities, boasting a workforce of over 9,000 employees. Headquartered in Maryland Heights, Missouri, World Wide Technology stands as a global systems integrator serving the technological needs of large public and private organizations worldwide, achieving an annual sales figure of over $14.5 billion.

As of September 11, 2023, Forbes ranks David Steward as the 313th billionaire in the world, with a net worth of $7.6 billion. He attributes his triumphs in the business world to the free-enterprise environment and the culture of opportunity that defines America.

“The vast scope of opportunities available here, coupled with a culture that nurtures individual potential, makes success attainable for anyone,” he asserts. “We possess a competitive advantage on the global stage, and it is paramount that we preserve it. My story is just one of millions in America, and I consider myself blessed to reside in this remarkable country.”