He comes forward, arm outstretched, handshake firm, smile friendly but not frivolous and radiating the power to make money, win friends, influence people and, though still a high school junior, run a business like a pro.
"Hi, my name is Chris Hook," he says. "I'm the president of the company and I have been in Junior Achievement--this is my fourth semester--and I have been vice president of finance the last three semesters."
His company, La Talon, sold T-shirts and sweat shirts for fun and profit until it folded at the end of the school year. It was one of three Junior Achievement companies, involving 70 students, at Frederick Douglass Senior High School near Upper Marlboro this year. About 3,700 Washington area students, and about 220,000 students nationwide, have been involved in Junior Achievement companies this year.
Founded as a nonprofit organization in Springfield, Mass., in 1919, Junior Achievement now extends to all 50 states and 13 foreign countries. Although run independently of the schools, most Junior Achievement companies meet in school buildings after classes. Besides the main high school program, there are smaller programs in elementary and junior high schools, and business students in some colleges can earn credits by working as Junior Achievement counselors.
The Junior Achievers are the well-dressed, well-groomed vanguard of America's capitalist youth. ("You try to look like you are going to business," says La Talon's Public Relations Director Karen Libucha, a junior. "You never know who's going to drop in.") They start their own companies, trading real goods for real money to learn the ropes of survival in the rough-and-tumble world of big business.
Under the guidance of adult counselors (those at Douglass are volunteers from C & P Telepone Co.), they start a new company each semester, selling stock to whoever dares pay $1 a share. At semester's end, the company liquidates and shareholders, wages and overhead costs are paid. The companies pay Junior Achievement for insurance costs and equipment leasing. Student "employes" earn 40 cents an hour and officers get $1.50 a week. Almost 80 percent of the Junior Achievement companies in the area break even or turn a profit.
Membership is soaring. It has tripled since the 1975-76 school year, when about 1,200 area students were involved in Junior Achievement. Timothy S. Coffey, vice president of operations for the metropolitan Washington area, attributes the boom to "a more serious approach and serious attitude prevalent in everything that students do." He says teen-agers seem to have an increasing desire to "explore career options and become better prepared."
Coffey says students who enter Junior Achievement with any opinions at all about business tend to have "negative" ones. Junior Achievement seeks to change this, Coffey says. Indeed, most of the students interviewed at Douglass said the program has whetted their appetites for a business career.
Terry Brown, a senior and three-year veteran of Junior Achievement, had planned an engineering career but now says he will probably end up in business. Hook says he was "thinking about going straight into law. Now it's company law or business administration."
With at least $1,500 in sales racked up since February, the officers and employes of La Talon are ready for the competitive world of supply and demand.
"We have business experience," says senior David Rosenberg. "We have grown up, matured. We're able to deal better with the adult world. If there's a Junior Achiever up for a job, the Junior Achiever will have more of a chance."
They exude a confidence that would make Dale Carnegie proud. Many of the company's officers have taken a course with Junior Toastmasters, a public speaking organization. Says Brown: "I have no fear of going in for a job interview."
It's competitive. Each week the Achievers take written tests on economic issues. Each company files a report with Junior Achievement's area office every week. If you want to be a company officer you have to take tests on your business and interview skills.
There are awards, too: an award for Achievers who have netted more than $100 in sales, an award for 100 percent attendance. Junior Achievers can win expenses-paid trips to the national convention held each summer in Bloomington, Ind., where there are more competitions for cash and scholarship prizes.
At a recent awards ceremony at the Capital Hilton, La Talon was named "Best Company in Prince George's County." Brown was named Vice President of Production of the Year, Hook was named Vice President of Finance of the Year and Libucha was named Vice President of Public Relations of the Year. Rosenberg was named an Outstanding Achiever.
The students emerge laden with the economic facts of American business, as well as awards. "On a dollar, how much does the average American company make for a profit?" Rosenberg asks. "Six cents per dollar. How much a company spends from that dollar on material? 51 cents. For employes? 31 to 32 cents. That's something the average student wouldn't know and wouldn't care about it. Unfortunately, even future business leaders don't know that."
And the students emerge with strong opinions about the U.S. economy. The students at Douglass seemed keen on Reagan's economic policy. "Government is taking astronomical amounts to govern," Brown complained. "That's why we didn't keep up with the Japanese."
"Supply-side economics? I think it's a good idea," Hook said.
Government should be given less money, Rosenberg argued, "so they'll have less money to waste. If they cut the waste and start to get on the right track again, this will give business the money to go ahead and do better things."
Coffey says that while Junior Achievement clearly supports the concept of business, it tries to avoid any ideological slant. "We're not setting our materials to give them a totally pro-business outlook," he said. "Generally, students who get involved in Junior Achievement have a better, well-rounded view of business on the one hand, and consumers on the other."
The Junior Achievers interviewed all said they'd developed a respect for business and the ways of business people. Chris Brown, vice president of "Natural Light," Douglass' intermediate company, said, "Before I entered J.A., I thought that if you wanted a business you went out and started it. It's not that simple . . . you learn by doing. J.A.'s got me thinking about business. I've gained a lot of respect for business. There's more to it than you'd think."
Natural Light grossed almost $1,000 selling lamps with beer-can pedestals and "trouble lights" that plug into a car's cigarette lighter. As proof of his efforts, Brown sported a $100 Sales pin, a 100 Percent Attendance pin and a Junior Achievement Management pin on the lapel of his jacket. "J.A. people are the people who are one day going to be running the show," he declared.