Janice Bryant Howroyd has gone from one of 11 children growing up in segregated North Carolina to the first African-American female to own a billion-dollar business, turning $900 in her pocket when she left her hometown in 1976 into a vast fortune.
The founder of Act1 Group, a multi-billion-dollar staffing firm that does business in 75 cities across the world, Howroyd has lived by four principles to success. She shared those and more with TODAY special correspondent Jenna Bush Hager on Wednesday.
Her four core tenets are:
1. Make sure you're prepared.
2. Understand what the goal is.
3. Understand that all of those around, particularly family, are part of that success.
4. Always find a moment of gratitude and be grateful along the journey.
Howroyd launched the business in 1978 with the goal of helping others find employment, and the ideals she began with still resonate nearly 40 years later. Act1 is now the largest woman minority-owned employment agency in the country.
"I never imagined this,'' she told Hager. "I always imagined success though. You see the evolution in technology, you see the transparency that the world offers, but the fundamental things that we built the business from have stayed the same, and I really think that's more the secret to the success."
While there are now more than nine million businesses owned by women, the climate was much different when Howroyd launched hers in the 1970s.
"Let's be clear, the climate has changed, but it's not sunny weather,'' she said. "Women still have a lot of need for change in how the world works."
The positivity of her parents while she was growing up also played a crucial role in her success.
"I have a very pleasant, very happy memory of my childhood, but that's more because of who my parents were,'' she said. "Our parents were so nurturing, and the community was so nurturing that we worked more toward the potential and the possibility, than we did the threat, or the denial of opportunities."
Howroyd's parents taught her to rise above the difficult climate of segregation in North Carolina that the family endured. She now looks to instill that optimism and empowerment in her own two children.
"I'd love to sit here and sound pretty about it, and I'm not pulling out the violin strings for folks to cry about how I grew up,'' she said. "The reality of it though, is that it was harsh, it was ugly, and it should never have been that way. My mother used to always tell us, 'In order to be outstanding, sometimes you're just gonna have to stand out,' so I grew from that root of really working forward, not being held back."
Despite all her success, she has an ongoing thirst to improve.
"I feel in some ways, newer and fresher than I did back when I first started my company,'' Howroyd said. "I believe that's because the more you learn, the more you want to know."
Howroyd also shared her mottoes for her personal life and work goals with Hager.
"Never compromise who you are personally to become who you wish to be professionally,'' she said.
As for work, "Discipline' ain't a dirty word."