David Steward, America’s second-richest Black individual and founder of one of the largest African-American-owned enterprises in the United States, was born in Chicago in 1951. His story epitomizes the classic rags-to-riches tale. Raised in a family of eight siblings by a homemaker mother and a father who worked as a mechanic and took various odd jobs, Steward’s early life was marked by hardship.
Though born in Chicago, Steward grew up in Missouri, where his family maintained a small farm with cows and vegetables. He contributed to farm work, taking on tasks like emptying the chamber pot, cleaning the barn, feeding the animals, and skimming the butter. Growing up in poverty, he also faced racial discrimination.
Steward’s rise to amass a fortune estimated at $8.58 billion and build a successful technology business is remarkable, considering his humble beginnings. The work ethic and resilience he observed in his father, who worked as a mechanic, janitor, and trash collector to support the family and refused welfare, laid the foundation for his success. Steward recalled in a Horatio Alger Association documentary how his father’s dedication as a “necessity entrepreneur” deeply influenced him.
The Making of the Tech Business Mogul
David studied business at the University of Central Missouri, motivated by his ambition to own a business. He earned his degree in 1973. After college, David dedicated a decade to sales roles at three Fortune 500 companies. His career began as a production manager at Wagner Electric (1974–1975), followed by a four-year tenure as a sales representative at Missouri Pacific Railroad Company. From 1979 to 1984, he excelled as a senior accountant at a major corporation, receiving the Salesman of the Year award and induction into the company’s Hall of Fame in 1981.
His aspiration for greater achievements was sparked after receiving an empty ice bucket, engraved with his initials, as a Hall of Fame induction reward. Despite his career success and accolades, David realized he was still living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The Entrepreneurial Leap: Building His Business Empire
In 1984, with a $2,000 loan from his father, David founded his own company. He established Transportation Business Specialists, an auditing firm specializing in reviewing freight bills for the rail industry. Three years later, he launched a second venture, Transport Administrative Services, another auditing firm, this time focusing on undercharges.
In 1990, David founded World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based company that specializes in cloud computing, security services, and digital consulting. World Wide Technology became the second Black-Owned business to reach the billion-dollar revenue mark. The company employs about 9,000 people and generates annual revenues of $17 billion. David holds a majority stake in the business.
In 1994, World Wide Technology formed a partnership with Cisco Systems, a move that helped the company overcome significant debt. This partnership led to a contract with the federal government, leveraging the company’s status as a minority contractor. In 1999, World Wide Technology spun off its telecom division to create Telcobuy. Sales for both companies continued to grow, and in 2002, each surpassed $1 billion in revenue. David then established World Wide Technology Holding Company as the parent organization for both entities. By 2018, World Wide Technology’s revenue exceeded $11 billion, serving clients such as Citi, Verizon, and the federal government. The company supplies technology to 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
Steward is also a co-owner of the St. Louis Blues, a professional ice hockey team in St. Louis, Missouri. He is an author as well, having written two books: “Doing Business by the Good Book: Fifty-Two Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible” and “Leadership by the Good Book: Timeless Principles for Making an Impact.” Additionally, he is noted for his philanthropy, donating $1.3 billion to the University of Missouri to establish the David and Thelma Steward Institute for Jazz Studies.
Accolades and Recognition
Steward has received numerous recognitions and awards, including being named among the “100 Leaders for the Millennium” by the St. Louis Business Journal in 2000 and listed as one of the “100+ Most Influential Black Americans” by Ebony magazine. He was ranked the 14th Best American Entrepreneur by Success Magazine in 1998 and named Business Person of the Year for Missouri by the Small Business Administration.
His company was awarded “Company of the Year” by Black Enterprise in 1999. In 2000, Steward was recognized as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Black Enterprise and won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1998. He is a five-time winner of the Fast 50 Awards and received the Granville T. Woods Award for Outstanding CEO in 1997.
The Small Business Administration honored him as the Minority Small Business Person of the Year in 1997 and 1998. In 2000, he received the Phoenix Award from the St. Louis Minority Business Council and was inducted into the Small Business Association Hall of Fame in 2001. The American Marketing Association named him the 1996 Distinguished Executive.
His company was featured in Black Enterprise’s Top 100 Industrial/Service Companies, ranking 11th in 1998, 6th in 1999, and 1st in 2000 and 2001. He was also listed in the Top 100 List of St. Louis Leaders in 2002 and named the Top Minority Entrepreneur by the Small Business Administration in 1998.
In addition to these accolades, Steward was named the Black Engineer of the Year at the BEYA STEM Conference in 2012, received the Horatio Alger Award from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans in 2014, and received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America.