Brenda L. Hill-Riggins was waiting in line for food stamps in 1992 when she got the news that her Miami plumbing firm had won its first big contract. Unfortunately, her staff wasn't big enough to supply the 10 people the client needed. No problem. Hill-Riggins pulled two people out of the welfare line and hired them on the spot.
An auspicious way to start an empire? Maybe not. But Hill-Riggins cleared $2 million in 2001 and expects a series of high-profile contracts to pan out this year to the tune of $9 million. "I have the vision to grow this company, and I'm the type of person who wants to win," says the 43-year-old president and co-founder (with husband Marcus A. Riggins) of M.A.R.S Plumbing Contractors Inc., which has moved past leaky-toilet calls into installing plumbing systems for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Raymond James Stadium and the Miami Heat's AmericanAirlines arena.
A divorced mother who didn't finish high school, Hill-Riggins proves it doesn't take an MBA or an entrepreneur in the family to build an empire. What does it take? If you said "money, money, money," you'd be wrong. If you said "guts, vision and a plan," you'd be closer.
While there isn't an exact formula for empire-building (though wouldn't it be nice if there were?), we've mapped out some guidelines for you to follow, as well as posted some warning signs about the kind of bumps you might encounter on the road to success.