WASHINGTON — Cora Williams is a female business owner defying the odds by competing in a male-dominated industry.
She is the co-founder and CEO of Ideal Electrical Supply Corporation which has headquarters in Northeast DC’s Fort Lincoln neighborhood.
"The first thing they say is ‘how did you get into this?’" Williams said.
Her business sells anything from light fixtures, to light bulbs, wire, cable and fuses.
Williams is an African-American woman running a full-service wholesale distributor of electrical, industrial and telecommunications infrastructure products.
“I don’t know any other African-American, women-owned companies in this industry,” Williams said. “It’s very uncommon.”
Williams is the first in her family of entrepreneurs to graduate from college.
She worked in the federal government for years and eventually decided to withdraw her savings and retirement and go into business.
Williams first began selling home-security systems in the 1980s which transformed into Ideal Electric Supply Company was founded in 1991.
As a female entrepreneur back then, it was hard to gain capital.
Williams, however, still became successful despite banks refusing to lend her money.
“It either says I was hallucinating,” she laughed. “Or I think I have to be good at what I do.”
According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Business Report by American Express:
- The number of women-owned businesses increased has increased to over 12.3 million just last year. That’s 40% of all firms.
- Over the past decade or so, there were higher unemployment rates and large gender and racial pay gaps for minority women. This is what lead women of color to leave their jobs and start their own businesses.
- The number of women-owned businesses grew 58% over the past decade, however within that, firms owned by minority women grew nearly triple those rates at a whopping 163% - Latinas and African Americans grew even faster at 172% and 164%.
- Between 2007 and 2018 the growth rate for women-owned businesses skyrocketed in five surprising industries: utilities by 151%; other services by 126%; construction by 94%; accommodations and food services by 85%; and administrative, support and waste management services by 70%.
- One in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more are women-owned.
- More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women.
- Women-owned firms employ nearly 9 million people.
Williams' company has satellite offices in Philadelphia and Chicago.
All the orders are processed out of the headquarters which is in the District.
Williams is married to co-founder, Ken Rogers.
“He’s my partner in business and in life,” Williams said they met the year she quit her government job. “He knows when I met him, I was not interested in getting involved with a man because I didn’t think I have enough time to devote to a man.”
She said, “I have lots of friends who say they wouldn’t be able to work with their husbands. We do it very well.”
Rogers explained he and his wife have noticed changes when it comes to minority-owned businesses in the DMV since they first opened their doors.
“There were a lot of minority-owned businesses when we started ours. They sort of fell along the wayside over the years. Some succeeded,” Rogers recalled.
The company hosts an annual charity golf event where it gives out $5,000 to five high school graduating seniors.
Williams has been running that business for more than 25 years and has given away over $350,000 in scholarships