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#74: Nationwide Financial Services Int'l.

How Haiti became the impetus for this entrepreneur to finally launch his own business

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Company:Nationwide Financial Services Int'l., a Chicago mortgage, insurance, investment and tax services firm

Founder: Jacob Francois

Began: September 2001

2002 Sales: $4.7 million

Why did you start this business?

Jacob Francois: I felt tremendously unaccomplished working for a Fortune 500/Chicago 100 financial institution. The responsibility and compensation were dismal, and the atmosphere for advancement was extremely limited. I was qualified to hold an officer position but remained in an hourly position with like duties and compensation.

When did you know you'd made it?

Francois: The government of Haiti invited me to participate in a summit on Haiti's upcoming bicentennial independence celebration. My former employer wouldn't honor a request for time off for me to attend. I went anyway. When my plane took off, it was a metaphor for what was to come for me. While I was away, my employer pink slipped me . . . I never felt so free and I've never regretted going!

When did you think you'd blown it?

Francois: I found that I needed more capital than I had to effectively start my business. Without employment, I didn't have access to the traditional sources of capital I needed. I didn't despair though. I liquidated my 401(k) and maxed out my credit cards to get life off on this business the way it needed. I've since paid off all that debt, and my business runs in the black.

What's been your biggest challenge?

Francois: Recruiting. It's very difficult to get driven people like me to work for anyone other than themselves.

What's your business advice for others?

Francois: Be ready to work harder than you ever had before. Follow your business plan and keep tweaking it.

Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?

Francois: Nationwide Financial Services International Inc. will be a publicly-traded company. Its founder will finally be enjoying the best life has to offer.

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