Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston
Beth Williams was a single mother working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts when her father, Archie Williams, suddenly died of a stroke. He was the dearly beloved rock of the family, and this unexpected trauma shook the Williams family to the core.
After the initial stages of grieving, the family was confronted with what to do with the young business Archie had recently started, Roxbury Technology Corporation (RTC), based in an inner-city community in Boston. RTC was a distributor of recycled toner cartridges that were primarily sold to Staples, the Boston-based multibillion-dollar chain of large stationery stores.
When Archie died, RTC was two years old and just beginning to get some traction, and Beth felt compelled to honor her father’s legacy. Equally important, she lived in Roxbury and was passionate about her community and committed to building a strong local economy in the inner city of Boston. Although she had no previous entrepreneurial experience, she took the plunge, quitting her job and becoming the CEO of RTC.
Like so many entrepreneurs, she had no real idea what this decision was going to mean to her life. Suddenly she was trying to read balance sheets, look for refinancing, deal with partner businesses, and work with the high standards and demands of her primary customer. It was overwhelming, but she was committed to the two-part company mission of strengthening her inner-city community and helping preserve the environment.
Hers is a story of how a resourceful entrepreneur successfully leveraged the mission of her company to build partnerships with other businesses.
One of her first efforts was to ask for help from the leading venture capitalist in Boston who specializes in funding African-American businesses—Ed Dugger of UNC Partners. He helped her navigate some stormy entrepreneurial waters and introduced her to other business leaders in the community who bought into her vision.
The next challenge was to develop a strategic plan that would take RTC into the future as a strong player in the highly competitive field of recycled toner cartridges. At first RTC was solely a distributor of cartridges remanufactured by others. She knew that for RTC to be independent and to grow strong roots, it would need to have its own remanufacturing plant. Moving into remanufacturing became pivotal to RTC’s future.
After a series of complicated negotiations, Beth was able to form a partnership with one of her potential vendors. This company was an out-of-state toner cartridge remanufacturer that in exchange for future business agreed to help her set up a new toner remanufacturing plant and train her staff. She then was able to identify a location for a new plant in close proximity to a large pool of employable inner-city residents. The space was owned by the Pine Street Inn, a nonprofit enterprise that served the homeless of Boston. Beth signed a lease that was good for both parties and had an ideal location with a fair annual rent
She then needed to find financing for the expansion. RTC had relatively small debt and an invaluable business partner in Staples, but she was quickly turned down by the two largest banks in New England. Fortunately Sovereign Bank, a regional bank with a former connection to her dad and to Staples, Sovereign Bank offered her an excellent financing package. With everything in place, Beth, utilizing her variety of business partnerships, did the build-out, hired staff, and brought the new inner-city remanufacturing plant into reality.
One August morning in 2004, with great pomp and circumstance, RTC had its grand opening with all the local dignitaries, the governor of Massachusetts, the bankers, and the leaders of Staples, including founder Tom Stemberg. It was a great moment for RTC, for the inner city of Boston, and for thememory of Archie Williams. In 2005 RTC had generated $11.5 million in revenues and is projected to do $14 million in 2006. Beth’s manufacturing plant continues to increase its volume and she now employs thirty people from the local community.
From Growing Local Value, by Laury Hammel and Gun Denhart, Berrett-Koehler 2007.