As the president and owner of ZeroChaos–one the largest African-American owned companies in the country, Harold Mills, clearly, knows how to strategize and play the corporate game. Based in Orlando, Florida, this workforce management and staffing company has more than 26,000 contracted employees worldwide. In 2009, ZeroChaos ranked #6 on the Black Enterprise (BE) magazine top 100 Industrial/Service companies with annual revenues of about $664 million. If Mills has his way, ZeroChaos will hit the $1 billion mark by the end of the year.
In a recent interview with The Network Journal, Mills shared the story of his meteoric rise to the top of American business. Additionally, he offers advice to other potential small business owners.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Mills joined ZeroChaos in 2001as an executive vice president. The senior management team was impressed by Mills’ tenacity, experience and recently minted MBA from Harvard University. In just one year after his appointment, ZeroChaos saw sales jump from $700,000 to $48 million.
The increase in sales came, in large part, from major contracts with Kodak, HP Services and others. The trend continued and in 2004 revenues topped $89 million. Mills was bitten by the entrepreneur bug and approached some former business school colleagues about pooling funds to buy ZeroChaos from its parent company. Most of the “angel investors” came through with the cash. By the end of 2004, ZeroChaos was on its way and Mills, along with 16 other investors, several of whom are minorities, became part- owner of a minority-owned company. “I didn’t want to own 100 percent of a small pie, when owning 70 or 80 percent of a large pie would be worth much more,” he said.
The niche strategy and savvy marketing worked. Earlier this year, ZeroChaos reported that revenue grew by 12 percent and by the end of the year—despite an economy that continues to be mired in high unemployment and an overall unstable economy. “The challenging economy sharpened our focus at ZeroChaos as we aggressively pursued measures for clients in our business core,” Mills said. “We are proud of our financial achievements in 2009.” Mills invested $20 million dollars a few years ago to take ZeroChaos to a global market. The company now has a ubiquitous presence that includes Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Norway, in addition to having staff in all 50 states.
NO ADVANTAGE WHEN LABELED DISADVANTAGED
On the issue of minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBE’s), Mills said there is a common misconception by many entrepreneurs that becoming a minority-owned business gives them an advantage when it comes to landing a contract. “The concept of being labeled a ‘disadvantaged business’ mostly applies to government agencies,” he said. “In the private sector, the label will not give you any special advantage when it comes to securing business.” He adds, “The days of going into an office with an SBA 8(a) certificate marketing your company as an M/WBE and getting a multimillion dollar contract are long gone.”
For example, Mills notes that potential vendors must have a proven track record and other favorable attributes other than M/WBE status if they are to land a contract with ZeroChaos. “In 2008, my company spent more than $100 million with certified M/WBE’s for various supplies and services,” he said. “I’m committed to supporting and sharing some of my success with other small and minority-owned businesses.”
Lastly, Mills offers this cogent tidbit of advice to entrepreneurs battling the current tumultuous economic times: “You can sit back and be a victim and complain about how tough times are,” he said. “Or you can go out there and do something about it. Now is the time to grow your company and make it happen.”