Cynthia E. Griffin- | 6/18/2008, 5 p.m.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Every now and then we have the privileged experience to discover special people and Mary Ann Mitchell was one such person. They are not the ordinary folk doing ordinary things, but people who have that which sets them apart from the ordinary and they...well, make things happen on a large scale perspective with quality and timeliness in mind concurrently "raising the bar" for whatever mission they are pursuing. We are allured by their "magic ... .and linger to share their space... .for a time. When Mary Ann Mitchell was in the room, everyone knew it as she had that kind of presence. I will forever "carry" the lessons I learned by my association and friendship with Mary Ann. She was a great leader and an inspiration to many. I miss her." - Natalie Cole.
Los Angeles County business pioneer Mary Ann Mitchell has died. She was 53.
Mitchell, who founded her company Computer Consulting Operations Specialists Inc. (CC-OPS) in 1985 was also the long-time chair of the National Black Business Council (NBBC).
Launched from her home in 1985, CC-OPS, which is a Culver City-based information technology consulting service company, has grown to a $40 million firm with 325 employees and regional offices in San Diego; Tucson; Fort Collins, CO; and Washington, D.C.
"At the time I started the business, IT consulting was not a big deal. It was just on the verge of a new revolution," said Mitchell in an earlier Our Weekly interview. "A woman talking about engineering and technology was kind of unheard of, and then to say I want to come in and tell you how to do this and do it correctly was a whole different thing."
Mitchell quickly learned that she had to pay her dues, and over the course of 15 years worked as a subcontractor until she had gained the expertise, experience, and trust to begin bidding as a prime contractor.
"I think it really is a tremendous loss to our community . . . to so many components of our community. In the business community, the cultural community, the community of have nots, she will be sorely missed," said Alberto Alvarado, district director of the Los Angeles Small Business Administration office, who has known Mitchell about 30 years. "She has always been a stalwart person . . . and a tremendous leader and motivator. We will miss that."
"We will miss her leadership and encouragement and all of her different efforts to empower people. I think second she was and will forever be a role model to so many of us, myself included. She was a role model for how you, as a member of a community that wasn't always included, could rise to be a leader, a contributor. She was (also) a role model to so many people, not only in the minority community but in the majority community."
Alvarado went on to describe Mitchell as a pioneer who opened doors for people by her example where she demonstrated that minorities and women could do something many thought they could not.
"I'm deeply saddened and hurt by the untimely death of Mary Ann," said Earl "Skip" Cooper, president of the Black Business Association of Los Angeles. Cooper has known Mitchell for at least 20 years, and said his relationship with the former BBA chair was "like sister and brother."
Her biggest contribution was her support for other African American entrepreneurs, said Cooper. "She showed others through hard work and perseverance that they could be successful. And don't take no for an answer; take no as a challenge."
"Mary Ann is definitely a self-made successful entrepreneur, and she worked very, very hard and was very aggressive in marketing the goods and services that her company provided to the public and private sectors."
And it definitely took sacrifice, noted Cooper, who remembers Mitchell working full time, going to school in the evening, and walking two extra blocks so she would not have to pay for a transfer on the bus.
Gene Hale, chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, also spoke of Mitchell's encouragement given to women-owned businesses because of the battles she fought to gain recognition.
"To me she was just a person who understood that relationships had to develop in order to gain business success; not only in business but with people. I think that is one reason people have so much respect for her, because she was not only a businesswoman but a people person as well," said Hale.
Among the services CC-OPS provides are help desk assistance, voiceover technology, call center solutions, video conferencing, computer technology integration, and computer security. CC-OPS has counted as clients government agencies such as the CIA and FBI.
Growing CC-OPS was not Mitchell's sole focus. She was passionate about helping African American firms grow, and estimates that she helped spin off nearly 100 businesses from her company over the years. But what truly captivated her attention was helping shape and mold the next generation of young entrepreneurs.
"Now there's my love," said the entrepreneur in one interview. "I saw kids at the park playing football; they would get dropped off about four in the afternoon, and they wouldn't get picked up until night. So I thought instead of the kids running around, wouldn't it be great to have some kind of tutoring program? But they were asking Miss Mitchell, 'You're in business; Miss Mitchell, can we get a job with you?'"
That interest from the 12-, 13- and 14-year olds motivated Mitchell to get together with Rosalind Pennington, NBBC president, to create a youth business training program.
From there, as chair of the national business organization, Mitchell helped expand the group's interest to a much broader spectrum of youth. As a result, NBBC has for the last two years sponsored a program called Breaking the Cycle.
This annual gathering of teens is designed to give young people the tools and information on how to break the cycles of early pregnancy, domestic violence, dropping out, juvenile delinquency, and more.
Earlier this year, Mitchell was recognized for her work in the community as well as her business acumen by the National Association of Women Business Owners, Los Angeles (NAWBO/LA), during its annual Leadership and Legacy Awards luncheon, and was inducted into the group's hall of fame.
"We did that because of her great success and what an inspiration her success was to all of us," said Jane Skeeter, president-elect of NAWBO/LA. "She went beyond her business in what she has done, and how she gave back with her success. She shared that success."
"She made time and resources available to those with less opportunities," continued Skeeter. "By her mentoring and the opportunities she offered, (Mitchell) showed she cared and was really interested in leveraging her experience to propel (others) to success. She guided them and showed them the way. She created opportunities for them," added the NAWBO official who noted that Mitchell totally supported women business owners.
"She exuded life and vitality, and had a great sense of humor. She was a gentle person but she had such strength and power without exerting it," added Skeeter.
Among the other honors she received was being appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the White House Conference on Small Business and the SBA Regional Regulatory Fairness Board.
Mitchell is survived by her four children--Adrian, Amy, Bianca, and Joey; her mother; five grandchildren; as well as sisters Shirley and Tiajuana Franklin.
In lieu of flowers and gifts, please send donations in care of Break the Cycle to: Institute of the National Black Business Council, 600 Corporate Pointe, Suite 1010, Culver City, CA 90230.