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Dick Colon-Businessman

Some might say "breaking your back" is a sign that you're a hard worker.

But for Richard J. "Dick" Colon, president of Mace Electric Co. of Baltimore, a back injury from a 1976 motocross accident meant a new commitment to hard work and becoming a success in business.

Now, he oversees one of the largest industrial and commercial electrical contractors in the Baltimore-Washington area. With $6.4 million in 2003 revenues, Mace Electric was ranked the 14th largest minority-owned business in Greater Baltimore in June by the Baltimore Business Journal.

Mace was founded in 1954 by Otis Mace. In 1983, a rejuvenated Colon heard that Mace was about to liquidate the company and decided to make an offer. "I want to buy the firm but I don't have a dime," Colon recalled.

Otis Mace was a guy who wanted to help a young businessperson get off his feet. So the two men struck a deal. Colon would pay off outstanding bank loans, and Mace would sign everything over to Colon.

But taking a company that is almost dead and bringing it back to life isn't always easy. Colon used his "little black book," which contained the names of people he previously loved to work with and those who he would never want to work with again. He hired 12 from the book to make up his "team of scorchers." Mace was expected to lose $240,000 in the first year, but Colon's team grossed $2 million within the first two years. And it continued to grow.

Now, the company's work is ubiquitous in area commercial projects, including Spinnaker Bay, a 650,000-square-foot building that will hold 350 condo apartments.

Mace has also secured a $1.2 million contract with the Maryland Port Authority for the South Locust Point Cargo Shed. The company also just wrapped up a $9 million project for the new 125-acre parking facility at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

Colon said much of his success comes from selecting and managing good people. He gives one option to his 45 employees: "You can be a team player or leave."

In order to be a respected boss, "you need to able to wear a different hat with each client and employee," said Colon, who is now 61.

One of those hats is a mentor. He understands the difficult road to success.

His father, an immigrant from Puerto Rico, left his family when he was 12. So Colon had to begin working at age 14.

"I earned my street degree," he said.

He learned the electrical trade from the Arthur Dozier Industrial School for Boys in Miami. And when Colon became successful with Mace Electric, he thought back to his times at the school.

"I can't imagine how difficult it must be to go to another country and not speak the language," said Colon. This concern got Colon involved with EBLO, Educational Based Latino Outreach Inc., which provides educational opportunities to better the lives of Hispanic youth. Colon, who is an active sponsor, has worked closely with Jose Ruiz, the founder of EBLO, to prepare Hispanic children for an English-based education.

"It is something he believes in and he actually takes action," said Juan Torrico, executive director at EBLO.

"Often when people do well they forget where they came from. But Richard hasn't forgotten his roots," said Gigi Guzman-Torres, chair of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where Colon is an active member.

Colon believes there are four important things one should know before becoming a business owner: 1) Learn the business. 2) Learn the risks. 3) Hone your people skills. 4) Develop a new threshold of tolerance.

"Without patience, your job -- and life itself -- will be a struggle," he said.