If you ever feel like your problems are too big to overcome, remember Maximillian Howell.
“I was pretty much responsible for myself by the age of 10, moving from house to house, relying on my friends’ families to take me in.”
That kind of childhood could lead to pessimism, but Max sees nothing but possibilities and feels nothing but hope.
“Even in my darkest moments, my mentality has always been that it’s okay. I’ll get through this. The word ‘can’t’ has never been part of my vocabulary.”
At an early age Max knew that making his way in the world was a solo job, and he took it seriously. He finished college with degrees in manufacturing engineering and engineering management, and earned a position with Sprint. That’s when something happened to fuel his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I had a mentor at Sprint who was suddenly laid off, and it was devastating for him. I remember thinking that I couldn’t let that happen to me. I had to take charge of my own destiny.”
That’s exactly what Max set out to do. He switched his focus from telecommunications to his original passion: construction. Laying the foundation for his business, Entrepreneurs Enterprises, took every minute he had.
“For a long time I was easily putting in 15-hour days working for Sprint and moonlighting to get my business started at the same time.”
By 2008, he thought he was ready to leave Sprint and officially open his doors. But he soon realized that he’d jumped the gun.
“I took my severance package and used it to start my construction business. I was so excited and ready to make money. The problem was, I couldn’t make it fast enough. So I had to take a salaried job with a software development company to make ends meet and go back to building my business on the side.”
In 2013, Max relaunched his company with more determination than ever. He needed every bit of it.
“I took some very hard financial hits with projects. Cash flow had me up against the wall. I remember a period of about three days when I was waiting for a big check that was critical to my survival. I had maxed-out credit cards and had a half-dozen employees to pay. That check finally came through, and I put the whole situation under a microscope to learn from it. I became a better project manager and more capable business owner as a result.”
These learning experiences gave him confidence and underscored his singular ability to persevere. Hanging in there would soon pay off.
When the going gets tough, that’s when you learn the most.
“We started working with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, on a couple of residential projects in the city’s urban core. The contract the city offered didn’t draw much interest from market-rate builders because those geographical areas didn’t seem to offer much potential.”
Those first projects were hard work, but Max loved the purpose behind them. He insisted on high-quality materials and focused on energy efficiencies to send a message.
“Those structures are built to last. They became a symbol of what we can do as a company. People were dumbfounded at what they saw. It was totally unexpected in these neighborhoods. It started convincing people that revitalization is possible in areas like 22nd and Brooklyn.”
A couple of housing projects opened the door to a few more. Five years later, Entrepreneurs Enterprises is working on its 10th residential project in Kansas City’s urban core. The company’s efforts now stretch across the urban core and beyond.
“We’ve uncovered a nugget and proved that the urban core is a place to build – not avoid. We’ve helped draw interest to an area that had none. And our work there has helped us win projects in other areas.”
Max credits Lead Bank’s “For Change” initiative and its partnership with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, as critical to his success. Through “For Change,” Lead Bank provides loans and other support to small businesses committed to creating innovative solutions through government contracts.
“If it wasn’t for Lead Bank’s support through the ‘For Change’ initiative, my company wouldn’t be making the difference it is now. We were ignored by so many banks before we found Lead Bank. They believed in our vision for developing homes in the urban core and then expanding to commercial construction there. They know my company. They know our names.”
Max encourages anyone facing challenges in life or in business to learn to appreciate the education that comes with difficulty.
“When the going gets tough, that’s when you learn the most. Be positive, because hardship gives you the strength and the knowledge you need to succeed.”
Success comes in many forms for Max. He sees it in the way the local community has responded to his investment in their neighborhoods, and in the way people now see Entrepreneurs Enterprises as an icon for revitalization.
“It’s not enough to build these homes. People have to be willing to live in them and give the urban core a chance. Those people are the real heroes here – I’m just doing my part. I’m so happy that my company now has the potential to create momentum that other companies will join to improve the community we share.”
For Max, the words grow home translate to a special responsibility that local business owners share in taking care of their hometown.
“We are a collective force for moving our community forward. We are the net that supports everything meaningful, from our economy to our culture.”
Max has come a long way from humble beginnings, and he believes his hometown has come a long way, too.
“Kansas City is like no other place, and now it’s really taking off. It hasn’t yet reached its potential and has lots of room to grow. You could say it’s in its youth and the future is full of hope.”
And if there’s one thing Max Howell knows about, it’s hope.
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