For E. Shawn Ashley, success in business isn’t just about making money or providing for his family. It’s also about creating an opportunity for people who are often overlooked for jobs, especially those from his old neighborhood.
With help from the Capital Access Fund, his Jacksonville-based company EDC3 is growing fast and will be in a position to hire more employees for its logistics, production, and supplies operations in the coming years.
“We want to be the largest minority-owned business in Duval County and give many more people a shot at success that we’re blessed to have every day,” he says.
His determination comes from decades of working for companies big and small and seeing first-hand the challenges facing minorities in getting access to good jobs and resources to create thriving businesses.
At age 59, the easy-going father of three is quickly building a business set on social entrepreneurial values: dignity, accountability, equity, and empowerment. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shawn grew up in Jacksonville’s northwest side, a predominately African-American part of the city where the economy wasn’t strong and many struggled to find work, much less create businesses. So, a lot of families, including Shawn’s, had their own businesses to pave their way to prosperity. His family had a small construction company and he worked there during his early years, painting, and even laying, whatever it took.
As he labored in the Florida heat, with his other family members, he attended a junior college in pursuit of new skills and a career. He also worked occasional temporary jobs to make extra cash. One day, Shawn got a call to work at AT&T as a temporary stock transfer clerk answering calls from all over the country. He did good work and got invited to come back. Before long, his temporary work assignment turned into a full-time job with benefits.
“We got a meal allowance and we had a cafeteria,” he recalls, laughing. “I wasn’t used to any of that level corporate professionalism and staff development.”
Over time, he rose up the ranks and assumed management of the divisions in the company’s training department, call center, and eventually new business development operations. Those jobs had him supervising hundreds of employees and with a budget of tens of millions of dollars.
Shawn was making good money and he enjoyed the work. But it wasn’t enough, he said. He remembered where he came from. Those memories stuck with him. He wanted to help the community.
So, he turned his attention to the business of charter schools in the hope of giving students better educational options to reach their full potential. He learned real estate and the operations of the educational system. He helped open a dozen charter schools across Duval County.
“We wanted our schools to be much better than the ones our students came from,” Shawn says.
After years of hard work and changing lives, the economics of charter schools proved to be difficult, and Shawn decided it was time to go all in for his own business. He would build a company around his unique talents, experiences, and connections in national and international suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers.
His company EDC3 (which stands for the first names of his family members) found a niche in providing construction building materials, appliances, furniture and fixtures, as well as offering logistics for timely delivery to meet construction, maintenance, and replacement schedules for companies of various size. Presently, his company is launching several related initiatives including private label products, in the commercial food and janitorial industries and value-added services based on customers’ requests. His clients include school districts, federal prison system, and the military.
As the business took off, Shawn drilled down on his core social entrepreneurial principles. That included hiring more workers who are minorities or have special needs and joining other minority-owned businesses in the Jacksonville area in establishing a pool of financial resources to help other minority-owned businesses who are just starting out or having trouble growing.
“I love creating opportunity because sharing always comes back,” he says.
To him, that’s the formula for ultimate success in the business world.