Date of birth: May 22, 1968, in Dinwiddie County
Education: B.S. in computer science from Old Dominion University, 1990
Career: Co-founder and CEO of Astyra Corp., a Richmond-based staffing and consulting firm. Founded the original company, Automation Concepts, with college roommate, Sam Young, 20 years ago.
Where do you live: Midlothian
When did you move here: I moved to Richmond in February 1991 from Dinwiddie. I had moved back in with my grandmother after graduating from ODU but soon found a job in downtown Richmond.
Best business decision: Neither Sam (the president) nor I had taken a single business class before starting our company. The best decision was acknowledging we needed to take continuing education, leadership and executive management courses. We have taken classes at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. We have participated in Leadership Metro Richmond. And this year, I will be participating in Lead Virginia.
Worst business decision: Thinking we needed to bring in someone as a minority partner to help us get to the next level. In reality, all we needed to do was look in the mirror and challenge each other to do it ourselves.
Mistake you learned the most from: We learned that no one will have the same passion, determination and values as we did for the business we created. You can hire consultants to give guidance or to help solve a challenge. But you, the owner, must will your vision into existence. No one can do that for you.
Biggest challenge/opportunity in the next two to five years: Our firm has grown almost exponentially over the past five years. The challenge over the next five will be to continue to grow and to live up to the expectations of the business community.
First job: Working in grandfather's tobacco fields. When I was 5 years old, he would sit me up on a tractor and I would drive it down the rows. One of my cousins would yell, and I'd let my foot off the clutch. The tractor would bump down the row at probably 2 miles per hour. I definitely would not have let my son do that at 5. But I attribute my work ethic to those hard days on a tobacco farm from age 5 to 15.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently: Take some business classes before actually starting a business.
What movie, book or moment has inspired you the most: "Star Trek," hands down. To boldly go where no man has gone before. The notion that when making a decision you could be right or even wrong, just not indecisive … continues to intrigue me today.
Favorite/least favorite subject in school: Favorite — any computer science class at Old Dominion with professor Dennis Ray. He had a way of explaining computer science theories and concepts that fascinated and captivated me. Least — physics. It caused me to change my major from computer engineering to computer science.
John Reid Blackwell