How Gene C. Waddy leveraged being laid off to build the largest African-American-owned IT staffing and solutions firm

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 6, 2024 10:27 AM EDT
Gene C. Waddy. Photo credit: The Enterprise Center

Change is a frightening thing. It can quite quite unsettling to eschew the mundane and pursue the unknown, uncertain of what lies ahead or its impact. But change often doesn’t wait for us to embrace it, setting us on a journey of no recourse. When Gene C. Waddy was laid off from a job at a large staffing firm, he realized that he wanted to be in control of his destiny. He successfully leveraged this yearning to build Diversant, the nation’s largest African-American-owned IT staffing and solutions firm.

But Waddy had never desired to be an entrepreneur or a business owner. He expected to be an employee, to work for someone else. His father was a blue-collar chemical worker who never switched jobs in the entirety of his career. Growing up in New Jersey, Waddy knew that people worked for one company for 20 or 30 years and then retired. And that is exactly what he intended to do.

After earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Waddy worked in logistics at Entex Information Services for a while. He was approaching the ten-year mark as national practice director for network services at Spherion when he was laid off from the staffing firm. He was displeased by the realization that others wielded such tremendous power over his career and life trajectory. To regain that control, Waddy decided to venture out on his own and leverage his experience in IT staffing.

“So after working ten years and learning the business of IT staffing, I decided to venture out on my own, as opposed to working for another large competitor. I no longer wanted to accept the feeling that someone else was in control of my destiny, whether it was monetarily or concerning my job satisfaction. I started my company because I needed a next move, and I wanted to do something different,” Waddy said of his inspiration for starting his IT staffing business.

Despite being a subject expert in the IT staffing space, Waddy didn’t jump to realize his aspirations and potential. He met a person who had an IT staffing business and got to understand what was involved. Waddy also talked to other entrepreneurs to understand what it truly means to work for yourself. Consequently, he was able to make more intelligent decisions and prepare his wife,  family, and friends for this new chapter of his life.

The business didn’t hit the ground running as Waddy had assumed. The company’s growth was constrained by difficulties accessing capital and the transition from employee to business owner proved to be difficult to navigate. Waddy was able to connect with an ex-coworker with whom he partnered to create Diversant. Together they leveraged existing relationships with big names such as World Bank, Phillip Morris, IBM, and HP for business growth.

Being a Black-owned company with abundant experience in the staffing business is ultimately what set Diversant apart from its competitors. At the end of its first year, Waddy received a certification from the Minority Supplier Development Council that made the business eligible for a wider range of contracts. Its revenue soared from $300,000 to $10 million within three years. Diversant continuously outperformed multiple market expectations, growing its revenue at a 17 percent compound annual growth rate.

In addition, the company pursued a series of strategic partnerships and acquisitions. It launched STAR, a program that offers US veterans a career path in IT and partnered with the Avtech Institute of Technology to design a customized syllabus for each client. Diversant acquired Alliance of Computer Professionals (ACP) in 2019 and Atrilogy Solutions Group in 2021. These acquisitions brought the company’s combined revenue to over $200 million.

By 2019, Diversant was not only the nation’s largest African-American-owned IT staffing and solutions firm but also ranked among the top 25. Waddy and his partner sold the staffing firm to ACS Solutions, a global provider of information technology solutions and services in 2021. At the time, Diversant had over 1,300 IT professionals and was supporting clients in 46 states nationwide across its 13 office locations. The acquisition has enabled the company to improve its scaling efforts and expand worldwide.

Waddy’s entrepreneurial drive didn’t end with Diversant. He further leveraged his experience in the staffing industry and contacts in the diversity community to found New Jersey-based payroll and staffing company Alpha Business Solutions. It operates in 38 states with over 900 employees countrywide and has since generated $50 million in revenue.

“I wasn’t born to be an entrepreneur. I stumbled into it and found that I really enjoyed certain aspects of being an entrepreneur, an owner. My superpower is that I excel at making relationships and using those relationships to grow the business. I was good at that before I started the business, so I used a gift that God gave me to grow a business, and here I am,” Waddy said of his atypical business trajectory.