Persevering, dedicated, caring, adaptable, good communicator, giving, problem solver, involved, honest, and motivated are all extremely desirable character traits. They exemplify many successful business owners—especially Susan Morton, President, CEO, and owner of Data Dash, Inc. Morton is beginning her twenty-first year in business, but she worked hard and sacrificed to get there and she is aggressively pursuing the future of her business.
A former triathlete and marathoner, Morton brings the same perseverance to her business that it took to train for races. She sacrificed to achieve her goals—to include selling her home to raise capital for her business when she couldn’t get a business loan. She still didn’t have enough capital, so she found three investors. (She bought them out in 2000 and is now the sole owner of Data Dash.)
Morton had other help along the way. Her late mother, Mary Ellen Maurer, a stay-at-home mom, was Morton’s unpaid assistant at the inception of Data Dash. Her mom greeted clients, ran deliveries, and anything else that Morton needed done. Morton had help from the SBA, too. She has attended SBA training seminars and workshops and is currently in the e200 Emerging Leaders course. She obtained an SBA Express Loan in 2010 to purchase equipment. Morton is also in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program which helps socially and economically disadvantaged individuals develop and grow their businesses. The 8(a) program provides training, mentoring, and assistance in obtaining government contracts.
Data Dash currently has a contract with the Department of the Interior and just received a STARS II small-business contract by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). The STARS II (Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services) contract, worth up to $10 billion, allows federal agencies the ability to contract with pre-approved small business technology providers across the nation, shortening procurement time and saving tax dollars.
Data Dash provides data entry, document scanning, and payment processing to clients across the country. Morton looks at her business as a strategic partner and takes pride in the fact that they respond to the needs of clients and adapt to the clients’ processes. While they might suggest improvements in client processes to save money, they don’t have a “one size fits all” approach. Clients appreciate this personalized service as demonstrated by Data Dash’s success.
Data Dash doesn’t outsource to other countries. They currently have 45 employees located in St. Louis and Farmington, Missouri, but that number will increase as federal agencies acquire Data Dash’s services through the new GSA STARS II contract. Morton feels that her employees are the heart of her company and she backs her belief by providing benefits including health insurance and continuing education. She recently refused to pass on increased health insurance costs to her employees.
Government agencies aren’t Data Dash’s only clients. In fact, they don’t have a typical client, because of their unique approach. The information they work with includes market research, including the warranty cards from new products; sweepstakes data; second chance lotteries; driver trip logs for trucking companies; drinking water statistical data; and rebate data. They proudly work with donor databases for charities. They won a contract to work with the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and it may be the client that is most near and dear to Data Dash and Susan Morton.
Morton was just announced as the new Chair of the St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Data Dash works extensively with the parade and employees carry a helium balloon in the parade. Morton and her employees volunteer for many Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund activities and events—past events included a golf tournament, a concert that included Gary Sinise, and other activities during Marine Week. They are involved with an “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” fundraiser in Farmington for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Data Dash sponsors a team in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the American Heart Association Heart Walk.
When asked about the future of Data Dash, Morton responded that she would like to grow to several locations without compromising service. She would like to add more opportunities for her employees with career tracks that allow for advancement. But she is also cautious—she only wants growth that allows the same standards, quality control, and customer involvement Data Dash currently provides.
When you look back at that list of desirable character traits, it’s easy to see that Susan Morton does in fact possess those traits. It’s easy to see how she inspires her employees. It’s also easy to see how she is leading Data Dash into that $10 billion future. It’s an exciting, challenging, and eventful time to be with Data Dash and that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon and Susan Morton wouldn’t have it any other way.
Success with Integrity: World Wide Technology Founder Dave Steward Grew a $3.4 Billion Company While Emphasizing Values
If you think there is no possibility of success in these economic times, spend a few minutes talking to Dave Steward, co-owner of World Wide Technology, Inc. Steward is the Chairman of the Board and co-owner Jim Kavanaugh is the CEO. Dave founded the company in August 1990 and reached out for help from the SBA on February 2, 1992. He remembers the date quite clearly because, “You remember the dates that changed your life.” He attributes a great deal of his success to Maureen Brinkley, Patti Guttmann, and the late Dave Fox of the SBA’s St. Louis District Office. Steward says he walked into Maureen Brinkley’s office when he applied for SBA’s 8(a) program and told her he would have $15 million in sales in the first year. She challenged him to reach those goals and he has long since surpassed them.
The SBA 8(a) program taught Steward how the government did business, the unique government culture, and assisted him with getting into subcontracting with the Department of Defense, which he further leveraged into partnerships with giants such as SUN, CISCO, Dell, HP, and EMC. The people in the SBA taught him skills, and gave him encouragement, hope, and support. They assisted him in obtaining the government contracts his company needed in order to grow.
Steward also attributes a great deal of his success to his faith and his ability to look beyond current circumstances. His business philosophy is to build relationships and partnerships with a level of trust, integrity, and comfort. His personal mission is to adhere to his principles and share his faith, and he puts his money where his mouth is. When I interviewed him, he was en route to a United Way function, and he had several other charity events lined up for the day. He and his company support the United Way, Variety Club, Boy Scouts of America, St. Patrick Center, Ronald McDonald House, Girls Inc., St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Sports Commission, and the YMCA, and Steward supports his church, too. Steward has been president of the St. Louis chapters of several of the above organizations.
World Wide Technology, Inc., was the bold name that Dave Steward gave his start-up company of five people located in 4000 square feet of space. His company is a “revolutionary information technology and supply chain solution provider” and has lived up to its name. WWT now employs 1,381 people in 48 states and six countries—South Korea, Singapore, China, Germany, Brazil, and Mexico. Sales now exceed three billion dollars. WWT owns six buildings locally and leases 30 more all over the world. He attributes WWT’s growth to getting help in the right place at the right time and company strengths. The company is described by Steward as “flexible, innovative, with an entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to raise the bar in bringing technical solutions and value that go above and beyond.”
When asked about obstacles, Steward listed challenges such as learning how the government did business. He found a huge hurdle in pulling the (DC) Beltway into the Midwest—before WWT all the big 8(a) firms and most of the contractors were in Washington, DC. “People have trouble believing this can happen in St. Louis,” according to Steward. His vision was “big and bold” and he wasn’t going to let pre-conceived ideas stop him. Steward says St. Louis is a world class city whose light has been hidden under a “bushel basket” with great things to offer and a giving spirit.
Being a person of color offers challenges and opportunities according to Steward. When his father was unable to find jobs in certain fields as a person of color, he went out and created jobs hauling trash, mowing lawns, hauling coal, and running a janitorial service. Steward’s father was his first example of an entrepreneur. He says his parents felt you could overcome anything and that you should do so with forgiveness—he was told “Get over it and get over it quick.” Although some doors were closed to him, a lot of doors have been opened to him by the SBA 8(a) program that he might never have been able to walk through otherwise.
Dave Steward has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management with an emphasis in Industrial Organization from the University of Central Missouri and honorary doctorates from both Lindenwood University and Harris Stowe University. His professional experience before founding WWT was in sales and marketing—treating customers “with credibility and trust.” He carried that philosophy into WWT and feels it sets his company apart. He builds relationships and partnerships wherever he goes and that has enabled World Wide Technology to be the company it is today.
If he doesn’t sound busy enough, Steward is also co-author of Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible. He feels it’s necessary to take leaps of faith and take risks in order to achieve.
In a few more short years, World Wide Technology may roll off our tongues the way IBM, Dell, Cisco, and Sun do today. In the meantime, he and Jim Kavanaugh will provide clients with their unique services and make the world a better place along the way. And Steward’s mentors at the SBA will continue to offer support, encouragement, mentoring, advice, and other services to help other companies grow to the stature of WWT.
In the grim economic news of trade deficits and recession, stories of American businesses that successfully sell innovative energy-saving and cost-saving products and services to the rest of the world are often overlooked. One such company is Environmental Dynamics, Inc., known as EDI, of Columbia, Missouri, whose company goal is to save energy with environmentally friendly processes. Founded in 1975, more than 50% of EDI’s products and services are exported to more than 90 countries around the world. A leader in energy conservation for others, they also run a “green” plant themselves, recycling all dropped PVC in the plant and producing no toxic waste.
EDI has achieved success and has become an employer of 120 people through innovative designs, conservation of natural resources, flexibility, and adaptability. The company thinks of themselves as “solution providers”, uniquely able to evaluate the customers’ problems and recommending the right solution. They sell customized engineered aeration and biological water and wastewater treatment solutions, specializing in treating the waste stream while reducing the amount of energy that wastewater treatment uses over the life of the plant. This insures that after a few years, the customer has more than recouped the initial purchase cost. We seldom think about it, but wastewater treatment in the U.S. accounts for more than four percent of overall energy consumption with the percentage being higher in other countries. The potential 50% energy savings is a huge benefit.
The company is so successful because they lead in research of aeration solutions. They capture the synergy of being close to the University of Missouri in Columbia and the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, by training and later employing student interns and sharing some of the universities’ equipment and resources for testing and research and development
EDI specializes in equipment that produces smaller bubbles for aeration resulting in a greater surface area and less energy consumption. They use engineering technology to tailor systems to the environment; for example, traditional PVC pipe would melt in the Saudi Arabian desert so other materials are used to withstand the heat. Various system designs can be further customized to the clients’ needs. The company specializes in lagoon systems and conventional concrete wastewater treatment facilities.
EDI became a leader in wastewater technology by overcoming many challenges. Initially, EDI had entrenched competitors. Some contracts required a history of their technical expertise and product performance with some contracts required their systems be in place for more than five years to show the effectiveness. They confronted trade barriers, customs and duties, and currency trading issues. Shipping became a challenge because their systems are light and bulky. When competing in other countries, they must prove their technological capabilities beyond those of local alternatives and ultimately prove cost and energy savings. They can do this by providing a wider range of solutions for various applications. The requirement for bonding of contracts was another detriment restricting growth, a factor that is being overcome through the help of the SBA offices.
In the last few years, EDI has expanded to new offices in the United Kingdom, Beijing China, and Mumbai India. Thinking forward, they locked up the domain name “wastewater.com” early and EDI uses this powerful domain name as a portal to global marketing and communication.
The company is successful in part because of the owners’ background diversity. The company was founded by Chuck Tharp and a cousin whom he bought out after a couple of years. Now it is owned by Chuck and his wife Margaret, Randall Chann, David Capron, Glen Wylie, and Fred McCabe. Their backgrounds are in civil and environmental engineering, business administration, biological science, and accounting.
Success comes with help along the way—EDI secured a guaranteed SBA 7(a) loan of $225,000 in February of 1980, when they employed only five people. In July 1993, they received an SBA 504 loan of $382,000, enabling them to finance a move to their present facility which houses 120 employees. They have also received help from SBA’s Export Assistance Office and attended SBA workshops over the years.
EDI received the Presidential E award in 2002 and the 2007 Presidential “E Star” award, which recognizes companies which contribute significantly in the effort to increase United States exports. This is especially noteworthy in a time when you can’t turn on the evening news without hearing about the trade deficit and the loss of US manufacturing capability in the global economy.
A good corporate neighbor, EDI has partnered with the United Way, participated in the Buddy Pack program with the Central Missouri Food Bank, and they just signed up to adopt the highway outside their office.
Today, EDI is the second largest producer of wastewater aeration systems in the world—and they are nipping at the heels of the current leader. These “wastewater doctors” exemplify the best of American innovation, ingenuity, and perseverance. Companies like EDI will lead the nation in reversing the trade imbalance and bringing U.S. technology to the rest of the world.