Thelma and David Steward are nothing, if not humble. When they were asked to be interviewed as LN’s Most Dynamic People, David’s first question was, “Are you sure you’ve got the right people?”
But really it should be no surprise that they’re included in this list. When David Steward founded World Wide Technology, Inc. (WWT) in 1990, it consisted of five people and 4,000 square feet of office space on Weldon Parkway. “There was nothing worldwide about it at the time,” he jokes. “It was a pretty doggone bold statement to call this company World Wide Technology, when really, we were more like Weldon Parkway Technology.” In contrast to those modest beginnings, the company is now one of the federal government’s largest suppliers of advanced technology solutions, having surpassed $4 billion in revenue in 2011. And while the headquarters are still on Weldon Parkway, WWT now has 30 offices globally, totaling 1.5 million-plus square feet, with 1,600 employees filling their halls.
While this success might sound daunting, David and Thelma Steward, both former Sunday school teachers, are strong believers that “faith without corresponding works is dead.” For David, scriptural values are very much a part of the workplace. His 2004 book, Doing Business by the Good Book: Fifty-two Lessons on Success, Straight from the Bible, puts forth the importance of integrity, trust, teamwork, and diversity of thought and experience. “Our customers know we’re putting their interest before our own, and there’s a huge return on that because our customers sell us better than we sell ourselves,” he says.
The couple also has taken their success as an opportunity to help causes they believe in, with a focus on children, families and the arts. Thelma says her involvement in nonprofits began when she was very young. As a teenager, she recalls canvassing the neighborhood to raise money for multiple sclerosis. “At that time, they would send you an envelope and you would get money, put it in the envelope and send it back. That’s how the charities were back then,” she says. “I always got such great joy out of knowing I was making a difference.”
It’s a passion Thelma says came initially from her mother. “I always saw my mom giving, giving, giving. I learned that lesson early on, and it permeated through my adult life, as well.” She became a registered nurse, and giving has been part of her life ever since. In fact, she and David are highly involved in Variety the Children’s Charity St. Louis, which will honor Thelma as its Woman of the Year. The celebration on April 28 at the Peabody Opera House has Diana Ross providing the entertainment.
Characteristically, Thelma is humble about the honor. “The scriptures say, What you’ve done for the least of them, you’ve done for me. We feel like we are emulating Christ in some manner and doing what we’re supposed to do here on this earth.”
David, who is president of the board of directors for Variety and also past board chair for United Way of Greater St. Louis, echoes the sentiment: “Working with Variety and seeing the courage those kids and their parents have, and the work and effort they put into improving the quality of life—we do just a very small part of what those parents do every day. That positive attitude that these kids have, and their hope for their future—wow! It makes you very humble, and it’s just the least we could do to try to make their lives better.”
Their children, David II and Kimberly, are equally involved in the community. “They got that spirit from their mama,” David beams. “They’ll give you the shirt off their back.” He says that many family evenings have been spent around the dinner table, talking about how to make the greatest impact. “We’re excited about what our children will do after we’re long gone and about keeping a legacy of giving going.”