(The Root) — Nakia Stith has been running Top of the Clock, a security company, mostly on her own since she was about 23.
Stith, who was tossed into the proverbial frying pan at such a young age, had little choice 12 years ago. Her father, who originally owned the company, was battling kidney disease and unable to perform the necessary duties. To Stith, it only made sense that she grabbed the reins even though she had no formal business training.
What she found waiting for her was what she describes as "every bad thing that could happen to a business." In the beginning, it wasn't easy.
"Things were in disarray … it was messed up. There was theft," she said.
One of the first things Stith had to do was to get rid of all the people causing the confusion in the company. Those people didn't take it so well.
"People would call my dad on me and report me to him. I got a lot of that, and so it was difficult," the now 35-year-old said. "First step was really looking at who was there and getting rid of most of them and starting to build a really good team of people I trust. And those people are still here with me today, so it was a yeoman's job, but the good part about it is that when you're like 23, it doesn't seem that big. I don't know that I could do that now."
Stith, whose formal education extends to an undergraduate biology degree at Morgan State University, said she didn't view her task from some Herculean lens thinking it was an "impossible" job. She just did what she had to do and what she felt was her responsibility.
In 2008, her father, who had been guiding her through the tedious process thus far, passed away. He had experienced chronic rejection with his daughter's donated kidney. But still, Stith peservered.
"I have a much young brother and sister. We're 13 and16 years apart, so they were very young at the time. I felt a heavy responsibility to make sure my family was OK," she said in a soft voice which belies her grit.
Today Top of the Clock is doing extremely well. It made a quick turnaround once Stith took charge. In 2009 it was recognized by the Philadelphia 100 as one of the fastest growing companies in that city.
On Friday evening she was one of the honorees at a reception held in collaboration with 100 Black Men, a men's civic organization aimed at mentoring and educating African-American teens of both genders, and the Women Presidents' Organization, a nonprofit supporting female presidents of multimillion dollar companies. The event honored women of color entrepreneurs whose businesses have reached annual revenues of at least $2 million (or $1 million for a service-based industry), at the City Club of Washington.
Stith was was one of 25 honorees who lead various businesses ranging from areas of security, IT, construction and real estate. The night celebrated women who have not only have excelled in business, but have also made a meaningful impact in their communities.
"It is one amazing honor to be able to receive an award, not only as a woman of color but from the male, men of color, 100 Black Men," said another honoree, Necole Parker, CEO of the Elocen Group, a program and project-management firm that handles construction. "It's an honor especially being an African-American female and in a male-dominated industry. I'm very inspired, very honored, as I continue to grow my business and grow my company. I've received other awards but this one here tonight is very inspirational to me. It means a lot."
"We're a mentoring organization, volunteer-led, but we also understand that we can't do the things that we want to do in the community without women. Our wives, our spouses, our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers," Michael Brown, national president of 100 Black Men of America, told The Root. "And what a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to honor 25 very distinguished businesswomen that have made such an impact, not only economically but also within the community, and that's really what we're all about. It's not 100 Black Men exclusive, but it's also trying to make sure that we lift up the African-American community through our work, and I think that this is just another opportunity to showcase that.
"I hope what the [award] does is it highlights how we feel their importance is in our lives and in our community. There's too few times when we get to turn around and say thank you to African-American women that allow us to do the things that we do. It's really a partnership. We stand side by side, shoulder by shoulder, in trying to figure out what we can do to help the next generation," Brown added.
"Minority women, women in general, are not always as represented in these arenas, and so for us to be able to have leadership roles and impact in our communities and being positive role models for girls like us, I think it's great," Denise Garcia Van Wyngaadt, CEO of Indigo IT and a third-generation Mexican-American, said.
As for Nakia Smith, the award is meaningful for her, too.
"For me this award is both special and unique because it's being recognized by people who work in the communities that you come from," she said. "So that's very important. and I think it's … nice to be able to be a part of that, and I think it's profound in its own way for 100 Black Men to look at business women of color in this way."
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.