9:00pm

Thu January 5, 2012
StoryCorps

CEO Looks At A Veteran, Sees A Business Partner

In 2008, Richard Bennett had been out of the Marines for nearly three years after being injured in Iraq. That's when he caught the attention of Craig Williams, who was looking for a partner to help expand his successful construction business in Norristown, Pa.

"I had developed a pretty solid construction company, and I wanted a partner," says Williams, 44. "As an African-American businessman, I wanted a young African-American soldier coming home. It seemed like a great opportunity to provide an opportunity."

"And I was in a restaurant that I don't normally frequent, and picked up a newspaper that I don't normally read, opened it up — and staring up at me from the page was you."

The photo was part of the Philadelphia Weekly's feature article about Bennett, who had been in the first group of Marines to go to Iraq, in 2003. But he had been forced to go home in 2005, after an improvised explosive device caused him to suffer a severe injury to his back.

"I read the article," Williams says, "and the thing that struck me the most was that, here was a young man who had been injured serving our country — and the main thing he was interested in was a risky surgery that would allow him to go back and join his unit.

"So it was very clear that I had found the man that I was looking for."

That was in 2008, when Bennett was working as a security guard at the University of Pennsylvania. And then Williams reached out to him. "I was at home one afternoon, got a call on my cell," he says.

The voice on the phone said, "Calling on behalf of Mr. Williams. He saw your article in the paper, and he would like to meet you," Bennett says.

"My first questions was, 'Do you have the right guy?' "

"I was just very impressed with you," Williams says. "Tremendous courage, tremendous loyalty. Those are all critical characteristics for a partner of any kind. Those are the things you hope for."

Bennett had served as a combat engineer in Iraq, doing everything from exploding Iraqi ordnance to building bridges. He went to work for Williams as an estimator on construction jobs. And in May 2009, he started his own company, Fidelis Design and Construction, with Williams' help.

"I'm humbled that you put that amount of faith in me," says Bennett, who's now 31. "You took the ultimate leap of faith there."

"I didn't think I was taking too big of a risk, honestly," Williams answers. "This is not a charity situation."

"I'm not sure how much I've ever expressed this," Bennett says. "But you inspired a change in my life I never foresaw. I always aspired to be leading people. But you were key in helping me get there."

"I just appreciate your friendship, and the trust that you've given me," Williams says.

And with that, the two friends and business partners each said the same two words: "Thank you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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