Founder and chairman, World Wide Technology
Born: 1951, in Chicago, Illinois.
Education: Central Missouri State University, BS, 1973.
Family: Son of Harold Steward (mechanic) and Dorothy (maiden name unknown; homemaker); married Thelma (maiden name unknown; nurse); children: two.
Career: Wagner Electric, 1974–1975, production manager; Missouri Pacific Railroad, 1975–1979, sales representative; Federal Express, 1979–1984, senior account executive; Transportation Business Specialists, 1984–1993, owner; Transport Administrative Services, 1987–1990, owner; World Wide Technology, 1990–, founder, chairman; Telcobuy.com, 1997–, founder, chairman; First Banks, 2000–, director; Centene Corporation, 2003–, director.
Awards: Business Person of the Year for Missouri, Small Business Administration, 1998; regional Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year, 1998; named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans, Ebony .
Publications: With Robert L. Shook, Doing Business by the Good Book, 2004.
Address: World Wide Technology, 60 Weldon Parkway, St. Louis, Missouri 63043; http://www.wwt.com.
■ David L. Steward founded and served as chairman of World Wide Technology, a private company majority-owned by Steward, with reported revenues in excess of $1 billion. World Wide Technology specialized in procuring, building, and deploying information technology infrastructure for customers. In 2000 and 2001 Black Enterprise recognized World Wide Technology as the largest business in the United States with majority African-American ownership.
Steward credited his work ethic to his father, a mechanic and small farmer who also worked a variety of odd jobs to support his large family. Steward himself had farming chores before school each day, and mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and sold Christmas cards door-to-door to make extra money.
Born in Chicago but raised in Clinton, Missouri, Steward faced poverty and discrimination as an African-American during his childhood. "I vividly remember segregation—separate schools, sitting in the balcony at the movie theater, being barred from the public swimming pool." Steward was among a small group of African-American high-school students who integrated the public swimming pool in Clinton in 1967. "These experiences had a profound effect on the man I am today. I am not one to back down when it comes to taking a stand for what I believe." Steward found a purpose for the hardship he encountered in his early years—it strengthened his character and taught him perseverance. "The adversities I encountered during my youth served as my training ground for hard times I eventually faced as a struggling entrepreneur" ( Doing Business by the Good Book , 2004).
After graduating from college, Steward worked as a substitute teacher and for the Boy Scouts of America while searching for a permanent position. He was a manufacturing supervisor at Wagner Electric, but was laid off. In 1976 Steward accepted a marketing and sales position with the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.
Later Steward worked for Federal Express as a senior account executive. He was recognized as salesman of the year and inducted into the company's hall of fame in 1981. He was presented with a trophy—an ice bucket with his engraved initials. When he looked inside the bucket, he noticed that it was empty. Steward saw this as a defining moment in his career, and he asked himself if that was what he wanted out of life. At the time Steward had two small children, a mortgage, and "all the trappings of success that keep you locked into a job" ( Doing Business by the Good Book , 2004), but he was ready to venture out as an entrepreneur.
Steward had done marketing work for the owner of a consulting firm that audited and reviewed freight-bill charges. Steward bought the firm in 1984 and renamed it Transportation Business Specialists. In 1987 he founded a sister company, Transport Administrative Services. Steward first audited overcharges for railroad customers, seeking refunds for customers who were charged too much. Then he found a new approach, auditing undercharges for the railroad companies. In 1987 Transport Administrative Services was hired by Union Pacific Railroad to audit three years' worth of freight bills for undercharges, which meant managing $15 billion of rate information for a single client. Steward's company built a local area network to handle the data.
Steward founded World Wide Technology in 1990 because of this successful experience in integrating technology to solve business problems. The first years were difficult. Steward never missed an employee payroll, but many times could not pay himself. The company's debt reached $3.5 million, and in 1993 a collection company repossessed his car from the company parking lot. Steward persevered because of his belief "that what we were doing for our employees and customers was meaningful. I had faith that our company was capable of providing exceptional value" ( Doing Business by the Good Book , 2004).
As a small minority-owned firm, World Wide Technology was approached by the St. Louis office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) about serving government customers. The SBA provided introductions and support that helped World Wide Technology land its first federal contracts. Steward remained grateful to the SBA for opening doors for his business. A turning point for the company came in 1995 with a contract to supply computer workstations for U.S. troops in Bosnia. Since no commercial software existed for the purpose, World Wide Technologies developed an Internet program to help the military track the equipment. The program proved successful, and the company began developing other Internetbased applications for its customers.
In 1999 World Wide Technology spun off its telecommunications division to form Telcobuy.com. Sales for the two companies continued to grow, although revenues slipped in 2002 as World Wide Technology felt the impact of the technology recession. In 2003 combined reported revenues passed $1 billion, and Steward formed World Wide Technology Holding Company as the parent company for the two firms.
St. Louis Commerce magazine found Steward's defining qualities to be "an enduring curiosity about technology, a talent for motivating others, a genuine interest in people and their well-being, a willingness to take risks, and the vision to build a company infrastructure that can sustain tremendous growth" (July 1, 1998). Steward based his business practices on his Christian faith. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article described Steward as "a religious man who sprinkles his conversation with Bible verses but never comes across as preachy" (June 14, 2000).
Maximizing profit was never Steward's sole motivation; his objective was to serve others, and financial success was a byproduct. He found great satisfaction in providing his employees with opportunities to succeed and prosper. "I can't wait to come to work each morning so I can make a difference in the lives of others…. I feel sorry for people who just go through the motions at work" ( Doing Business by the Good Book , 2004). Steward emphasized customer service at World Wide Technology. Each paycheck bore the imprint, "A satisfied customer made this check possible."
In 1999 Steward and his wife were asked by their pastor to conduct a weekly Sunday school class for businesspeople. In 2004 Steward published Doing Business by the Good Book , with Bible passages and personal interpretations drawn from the class. Steward served on the boards of numerous community and nonprofit organizations and in leadership roles with the United Way in St. Louis.
See also entry on Federal Express Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
Cranon, Angela M., "The Possible Dream: David Steward Has Come a Long Way from Milking Cows and Selling Christmas Cards Door-to-Door," Minority Business Entrepreneur , April 30, 2000, pp. 9–20.
Muhammad, Tariq K., "David Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology, Has Propelled His Company by Focusing on Internal Growth," Black Enterprise , June 1999, pp. 118–128.
Nicklaus, David, "Homegrown Values Cultivate Success for Firm—Tech Company Ranks No. 1 among Black-Owned Businesses," St. Louis Post-Dispatch , June 14, 2000.
"1998 Entrepreneur of the Year," St. Louis Commerce , July 1, 1998, p. 16.
Steward, David L., and Robert L. Shook, Doing Business by the Good Book , New York: Hyperion, 2004.