I stumbled upon this great story in the New York Times this morning. In 2004, Ellis Construction was ranked one of the fastest growing inner city companies in America, with $13.7 million in annual revenue and a four-year growth of 261 percent. Then, like a lot of businesses, Keven Langely’s business was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
In typical never-say-die Main Street fashion, “Mr. Langley came to believe that entrepreneurship was the solution to many of New Orlean’s—and the world’s—ills,” writes Ian Mount for the Times.
He rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
As a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, “Mr. Langley poured his energy into developing the organization’s Accelerator program,” writes Mount. “A few years later, he was elected E.O.’s global chairman and embarked on a Forrest Gump-like entrepreneurship tour, popping up in places from Egypt to Pakistan where history was happening.”
For Langley, after Katrina, revenues dropped 50 percent overnight, it took four months just to get power turned on back in the office, and nine months before they had phone lines. Undaunted, they did what they had to do to survive—they gutted houses and fixed a lot of roofs.
I’ve met a couple of people who survived the devastation Katrina left behind, and it gave them a new perspective. Langley was no different. Although rebuilding New Orleans had the potential to be a great opportunity for his company, he didn’t stop there—he threw himself into helping others with his entrepreneurial spirit.
“Some of the first people back in New Orleans after the life safety issues were taken care of were the small-business owners and entrepreneurs, to restart their businesses and the supply chains to provide quality of life,” says Langley. “Seeing the important role entrepreneurs played in the community, in the city I love, that was it.”
At the time, he felt like Katrina didn’t cause his problems; it revealed the issues in his personal life, his community, the nation, and the rest of the world. “…I made a commitment that as I rebuilt my life I was going to help other people rebuild theirs,” he said.
As a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, he helped establish the Accelerator program and took it to 26 cities and four countries. As a result, they invited him to take things global—taking him to 25 countries to engage with entrepreneurs from around the world. They now have 8,700 members in the organization and their members collectively employ more than two million people.
Maybe entrepreneurship is the answer to many of the world’s woes.