Making It: A former Fannie Mae executive finds security in being his own boss

Emmanuel Bailey of Wilson Technologies
Emmanuel Bailey of Wilson Technologies (Keith Barraclough)
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By Anita Huslin
Sunday, December 7, 2008

Emmanuel Bailey knew that nothing stays the same forever. During his tenure as a Fannie Mae executive, proof of that fact sat on his desk every day. All the phones at the mortgage finance institution displayed the company's stock price in real time, and Emmanuel was there when it hit almost $100 a share. He was also there when investigations were launched into whether the company's financial results had been manipulated, and he watched as the stock price fell.

At the time, Emmanuel was the vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer, and he decided that things were not going to get better soon.

"I'd been there a very long time," says Emmanuel. "That idea of spending your adult career at a company and retiring, I think that's not the new work model in this country anymore. "

So last year, Emmanuel, who is 46, made the leap, leaving Fannie Mae 15 years after starting there as manager of mortgage operations. Emmanuel knew he had what it took to make it on his own, having once been an owner and partner in a jazz club and in a restaurant. He started looking for a troubled company to save, and he made plans to start his own firm.

He found Wilson Technologies by accident, when he was looking at another company to buy. A small facilities management firm that provides an assortment of services, Wilson had a few corporate cleaning contracts but was losing money. It couldn't cover its expenses and was ready to go under. But Emmanuel liked the owner, who was smart and hardworking, so he bought into the business, writing a check for $138,000 for a piece of equipment and getting a $250,000 line of credit for the business. Last year, the company made a $238,000 profit, and this year Emmanuel expects that profits will increase to more than $800,000. He didn't draw a salary last year, but this year he will earn $170,000, with the possibility of bonuses based on how well the business does.

In mid-2007, Emmanuel started Capitol Structures, a company that helps minority businesses win and fulfill construction contracts for the federal government. He had contract expertise from his time sitting on a procurement advisory board at Fannie Mae.

He put up $100,000 to start the company and signed a $450,000 line of credit with a bank. That was in August. The company lined up a contract for its first client in September, a $17,000 job to redo some drywall for the General Services Administration. Not a lot. By the end of January a $1 million deal came in. Then came a dry spell, but by midyear things had started to turn around, and Emmanuel expects Capitol Structures, which takes 2 to 10 percent of the contract amount, to show a profit for 2009.

"I left with my life savings at Fannie Mae and everything I'd earned, and immediately put it at risk," says Emmanuel. "But a lot of people don't realize they are entrepreneurs themselves because nothing is guaranteed, even in corporate jobs. You are Joe Smith Inc., having to prove the value of your service because you are much more expendable today than you were before. And if you overestimate the length of that contract, as many people are finding out, you are going to be in trouble."

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