Seated around a circular table at corporate headquarters, the key directors of D.C. Enterprises listen attentively as their president outlines his idea for the coming fiscal year. He insists his brainstorm, Uniques will be an instant success.
Uniques will be ash trays, glued together and usable as bookends, kitchen utensils and trinket holders, he explains, loosening his tie.
As the company's young executives chime in with their worries, ideas, warnings and retorts, the meeting sounds like a strategy session at one of the Fortune 500.
But these business people are teen-agers, and the procedures for running a business -- securing bank loans, selling stock and balancing books -- are new to them.
These younsters, who comprise D.C. Entrprises, and 5,000 area young people like them are getting their first crack at the capitalist marketplace as participants in Junior Achievement (JA), a learn-by-doing educational organization that gives high school students hands-on experience in owning, operating and managing miniature corporations.
The program has become so popular that last year recruiting efforts turned up three times more applicants than the program could handle -- and that was in less than half the area's schools -- leaving a waiting list of more than 10,000.
The 30 members of D.C. Enterprises want a product that will sell. If Uniques will be a profit-making success, they're willing to try it.After all, profit's the name of the game, they're told.
In most District high schools, students earn academic credit for participating in the program.
"Being in JA, 1 got some confidence," said Brian Williams, a June Coolidge High graduate. "I had responsibility, which for a quiet person like me was really exciting. Even if I don't go into business. I'll know how the business community operates, how those people out there running our country think."
Not unlike their adult counterparts, some of the youngsters complained about the paperwork. Too many headaches, they said. "I don't think I'd enjoy being in business," said 17-year-old Jeffrey Bandy, who's been in JA two years. "The long hours would really get to me." The hours would really get to me." The young executives typically spend between 10 and 20 hours a week on JA-related business in addition to full academic loads.
Last year's Junior Achievers, organized into 154 companies by Chris Crawford, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington chapter, produced a score of unusual products and offered services designing computer software, auditing D.C. companies' books and producing a TV show.
For a company, the key to success come from the effective combination of a toilet plunger, a bicycle handle and a sealed-beam headlight. The product: a 1500-watt movable light powered from the cigarette lighter in a car. In 15 weeks, the company that manufactured the light grossed $3,000 from sales of the item, which can be used at night when changing a tire, checking under a car hood or reading house numbers on a darkly lit street.
Another company manufactured a kilowatt lamp that warns its users of their energy consumption by recording the number of hours the lamp is on. It became a popular item and generated more than $4,000.
JA companies pay taxes to local governments on gross sales at the same rate as regular businesses and corporations.
During its semester-long tenure as a JA company, a third group worked with officials from WRC, the NBC television affiliate in the District, to produce "Stuff," a news-documentary program geared to the District's teen-age population. After successfully selling advertising for the show, the group produced several program segments and turned over the profits to local charities.
Students in JA get working capital to start their companies by selling stock to local citizens. Some of last year's JA companies returned hefty dividends to shareholders, through a few went bankrupt and relied on JA Inc. to bail them out. The majority earned moderate returns on their investments and paid modest salaries to their employes.
Volunteer advisers from prominent area businesses work directly with the young entrepreneurs, teaching them the formula for success -- ingenuity and hard work -- according to Haywood Perry, a JA adviser with Pepco who, like other advisers, spent more than two hours a week, 30 weeks last year, with his company's Junior Achievers.
"Basically, the way I see it is I'm the coach and I'm trying to help my team cross the goal line. If they listen to the company president, who I call the quarterback, they'll march down to the 10-yard line, and in there for the touchdown," Perry said. A veteran of JA, Perry will receive his bachelor's degree in business management from Howard University next year.
Most volunteers come from corporations that provide money to JA as well. Last year, $187,532 was generated to run the program locally at a cost of about $42 per student, according to Crawford, whose seven-person staff is based in Falls Church. JA Inc. needs $3,000 to get a student-run company off the ground.
If the program is to expand, more money is needed to provide learning materials, Crawford said. The D.C. JA chapter nearly doubled last year, from 91 companies in 1978-79 to 174 companies this past school year.
Crawford would especially like to see more money to expand the program in parts of Southeast Washington, where goals have fallen short, while the better-off Maryland and Virginia suburbs are overflowing with active participants.
Through JA's high school program is by far it largest, new programs recently have been developed for junior high youngsters. Project Business debuted last fall in 54 metropolitan Washington junior high schools and will be expanded this September. A top-level company executive and junior high teacher team-teach basics of business, the economic system and consumerism. Students learn how to balance a checkbook, manage a trust fund and purchase stock during the four-week project. c
The new project gives them an even longer running start toward a successful business.