As one of the first African American police officers to fly a helicopter surveillance unit for the Houston Police Department, Mike Jones got a bird’s-eye view of the city.
“I saw so many young people just hanging out on the streets and doing nothing positive with their lives or for the community,” Jones says. He says he also witnessed firsthand how a lack of positive role models adversely affected the lives of young people. It was this image that inspired Jones to start his own company, Discover Leadership Training, in 1998. The company provides weekend training and development seminars to clients that range from high school students to managers of Fortune 500 companies.
Discover Leadership Training, which has seven full-time employees and dozens of outside contractors and vendors, posted revenues of about $940,000 in 2003. Jones projects that earnings for 2004 will top $1 million. Discover Leadership Training charges companies between $900 and $1,500 per person. Current corporate clients include Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Exxon Mobil.
One satisfied client of Discover Leadership Training is Faust Distributing, a Houston beer and malt beverage distributor. Rick Forcier, executive vice president of Faust Distributing, says, “As a company, we have a commitment to invest in employees. The programs offered by Discover Leadership Training help employees gain self-confidence and focus on what’s important.”
For the 44-year-old Jones, the approach to developing leadership skills and team-building seminars as a business evolved from a program he developed and nurtured while at the Houston Police Department’s community service division in 1991. Called Soul Patrol, the unit targeted at-risk middle and high school students. He later expanded Soul Patrol to include leadership training for adults and business owners.
Jones launched Discover Leadership Training as a home-based operation, taking about $10,000 from personal savings. He partnered with Diana Nicholson, a former trainer with the Las Vegas-based development organization Rapport Leadership International (Nicholson also had more than 15 years of experience in human resources). Rapport is one of several national competitors in the inspirational and motivational speaking and seminar market. “I hit the ground running and was determined to make the business work and succeed,” Jones recalls.
There were challenges associated with starting Discover Leadership Training. Jones realized that in order to make the business community aware of his training program, he had to sell it. He says he was faced with his greatest challenge when he had to step into a salesman role.
The move to entrepreneurship paid off for Jones, who was spotlighted on television programs such as Oprah and Good Morning America. Perhaps the most unique component of Jones’ program is that individuals who have already taken the course recommend participants for Discover Leadership Training seminars. According to Jones, this marketing concept has secured more than 65% of Discover Leadership Training’s business over the years.
“Word of mouth is still the best advertising tool,” says the father of four sons. “I’ve had a number of people tell me that thanks to the services of Discover Leadership Training, they have become more focused … on the