Founder and CEO, The Roberts Companies, St. Louis, MO

The Financials: Currently overseeing a $2-million dollar luxury renovation of the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel and Conference Center in Detroit, Roberts presides over company assets valued in excess of $225 million.

Millionaire Mindset: “Every day you’re given 86,400 seconds to gain or learn something, and if a business outcome isn’t as you wish, you can always choose to see what happened not as failure, but as mere experience.”

The Power of Legacy: The entrepreneurial bug bit Michael V. Roberts when he was 13 years old. His dad paid him an allowance of $5 to mow the lawn. His neighbors, seeing his work, asked him to mow their lawns too and they paid him double what his father did. That’s when it clicked. “Mowing the lawn for my dad was a job,” Roberts explains. “But mowing the lawn for my neighbors was a business. I set my own terms. I decided then to never have a job, but to build a business.”

He started the Roberts Companies when he was 25 and fresh out of law school, buying his first property in a rundown part of St. Louis with $7,500 in loans that his father, a postal worker, helped him secure from the credit union. The collateral was his parents’ furniture, which meant that Roberts labored night and day to get that property up and running so he could pay off the loan. “I was living on a mattress on the floor; it was the only furniture I had,” he remembers. “But once I got that building rented, I was able to borrow against it to buy my next property because I had no debt on it.”

Already Roberts was thinking in terms of legacy. With his brother Steven, he went on to build a multi-million dollar empire that included hotels, shopping malls, condos, television stations, a wireless communications company and airline and theatre ownership. But as deep as Roberts’ pockets became, the recession of 2008 took a toll, forcing the company to retrench. Even so, Roberts, 66, sees silver linings. “The lack of jobs means more African Americans will have to become entrepreneurs just to survive,” he says. He’s doing his part, with his four children, all lawyers, already in the family business. “We brand everything with the Roberts name,” notes the author of Action Has No Season: Strategies and Secrets to Gaining Wealth and Authority. “Some might think it’s ego but 40 years from now it’s going to be defined as legacy. And we need legacy. We need to be able to say someone who looks like me built this.”

Michael V. Roberts’ Secrets to Success:

Be creative about financing. “If you’re a start-up entrepreneur and with a good, innovative concept but the banks aren’t cooperating, you’ll have to get your seed money elsewhere. Family and friends will usually invest in you in exchange for equity in your company. Next, look into angel investors who can offer small bucket loans of $25,000 or so; they’re usually found among your business associates, which is why it’s so important to network. Angel investors are more interested in helping you succeed than in reaping huge profits. Venture capitalists on the other hand are the deep corporate pockets who will kick in the millions but they usually want a controlling equity position in your company—I used to jokingly call them vulture capitalists. Make sure you have a transactional attorney to vet your contracts, a CPA to prepare your numbers and projections; and an operations manager to set up the company’s structure.”

Build the right team. “Once you launch your business, it’s critical to analyze the functions you need to cover and hire people with the right skill sets. In a hotel, for example, you need a controller who can also be your HR person; a general manager who knows best practices; a marketing person who can reach out to corporations and leverage Internet booking engines; a housekeeping manager who understands the value of cleanliness and consistency; maintenance engineers; and a head chef who can spin on a dime depending on the event. You also need an appropriate front office person who is well-groomed, properly trained, with a winning attitude, because this is the first impression people will have of your company.”

Respect and retain talent. “I’ve employed over 11,000 people since I started my company in 1974, and I have found that if I say to any one of my employees, ‘You are doing an outstanding job. I appreciate your service. Thank you for being part of the Roberts team,’ that just empowers and makes them feel stronger. If there are issues, obviously you have to address them, but it is so important to respect the part each employee plays in making the company a success.”


Founder of RealMoneyAnswers.com and CEO of Seek Wisdom Find Wealth, Inc., Atlanta

The Financials: Washington’s real estate and mortgage brokerage firm earned its first million when she was 25. Now a personal finance expert, she’s working on her next million, with expected revenues of $300K this year.

Millionaire Mindset: “Asking for help and receiving guidance, especially when you’re naturally a high achiever, is hard for Black women, but it’s an essential skill.”

The Power of Relationships: A self-described workaholic, Patrice C. Washington majored in entrepreneurial studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles while working as an intern on the Steve Harvey Show and helping out in her sister-in-law’s real estate office. Once a child who cut dream homes from magazines and pasted them on her wall, she earned her real estate license as a sophomore and began showing and selling houses in earnest. Asked to create a plan for her ideal business as part of her senior thesis, she decided on a mortgage brokerage firm. “My professor gave me a B minus because he said my timeline was unrealistic; I needed more experience,” she recalls. “I was like, are you serious, dude? Well, now I’m really going to do it.” Washington enlisted then-boyfriend Gerald, now her husband, to be her partner and set up office in a 700-square-foot condo she’d purchased. In three years, she cleared her first million, and the year after that her second. Then the markets crashed in 2008. Washington was several months pregnant and a bad fall forced to spend 10 weeks in the hospital, watching on TV as the banks she did business with closed their doors. With a $400,000 hospital bill on top of the crumbling subprime market, Washington was forced to fold. Still, she and Gerald rejoiced when their daughter Reagan was born, premature but healthy at 32 weeks.

A year later, the family moved east after a producer at The Steve Harvey Show, now based in Atlanta, offered her a job. When the promised position took a while to materialize, Washington began to build a new business of her own. It all started with a Proverb: “I ran across this Scripture that basically says, what good is money in the hands of a fool who has no desire to seek wisdom? It was like a light bulb went on. I knew how to make money but I’d lost it all because I didn’t seek the wisdom of people who could help me grow.” Washington’s mentors today include entertainer Steve Harvey, on whose show she does a regular segment, “Real Money Answers with Patrice C. Washington.” Her book, Real Money Answers for Real Women, has sold over 15,000 copies, and her personal finance site and boutique firm help clients gain the knowledge to lead self-directed lives. “A lot of Black women think asking for help makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing,” says Washington, 33. “But we all have to seek wisdom. No one does it alone.”

Patrice C. Washington’s Secrets to Success:

Find and cultivate mentors. “A mentor is someone who is willing to be transparent about their failures as much as their successes so that you can navigate your own path more easily. Mentors come in two forms: those you have access to and those you must admire from a distance. Maybe it’s someone in your industry who has the job you want or took an action you can learn from. Or maybe it’s an author whose books help you make change in your own life, or someone whose YouTube videos inspire you each time you press play. In each case, the relationship is cultivated when you take action on what another person imparts to you. I have dozens of people I consider my mentor whom I’ve never met, yet their lives have shaped mine. My best mentorship relationships happened organically. If you can be around the person whose wisdom you seek, even if you have to strategically plan it by volunteering to help them out, they’ll take notice and start to pour into you because they see and sense your eagerness to succeed.”

Know how to ask for help. “When you recognize your own ignorance in an area, you have to be brilliant enough to call someone who is strong where you are weak. Start by acknowledging the person’s expertise. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Too often people will just e-mail and ask for something. But if you give some form of praise or acknowledgement first, people will usually want to deliver on what they perceive is your expectation. But never take advantage. Offer to pay for their time and expertise or at least to take them to lunch while you pick their brain.”

Don’t sell yourself cheap. “I teach my clients to charge based on their financial goals and how their services fit into the marketplace. Far too often we assume that if we charge less, people are more likely to buy from us but that doesn’t help us meet our own financial or business goals. Instead, think about how you can add value to someone’s experience. When you understand and can clearly express the value you bring, you’ll be confident in charging what you are worth and getting the buy-in of clients.”

Read the rest in the August 2014 issue of EBONY magazine!