Roosevelt Roby, entrepreneur, founder and CEO of World Business Exchange Network [WBE.NET] died at age 70.
Best known for his homespun humor, passion for business, and dedication to lifting up the underprivileged and underserved, Roby battled lung cancer for two years, succumbing to pneumonia. He passed away February 12, 2013.
Roby was born in the backwoods of Drew Mississippi, the son of poor sharecroppers. He was denied an education to work in the cotton fields, but had innate sense for entrepreneurship and a talent for fixing machinery that came from the struggles and hardships of growing up in the South before the Civil Rights Movement.
Dreaming of a better life, he left home at age 12 and traveled to Memphis TN where he started his first business washing cars in a shopping center parking lot; moved to Chicago at age 15 and worked a variety of noteworthy jobs, including: the first black auto mechanic trained by Sears Technical Institute, the first black diesel mechanic hired by United Parcel Service, and the first black heavy equipment engineer for high profile construction companies in Chicago.
For all his early accomplishments, he was denied membership in the engineers union because of his race, which prevented him from pursuing the higher paying jobs he was well qualified for. Frustrated by few opportunities, low pay and little respect, his wife Cathy encouraged him to start his own business.
In 1970, he established Contractor’s Equipment Service Company, the first black-owned diesel repair shop in Chicago where he discovered a renewed sense of freedom and pride in owning his own business. He became certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to train in diesel and heavy equipment repair, which forged special interest in mentoring and encouraging other black youth to pursue their dreams. Many other businesses followed when he moved his family to Los Angeles. In 1985 he produced a series of talking books about home based businesses to share his knowledge and experience, and help others create business opportunities for themselves.
In 1987, Roby founded the World Business Exchange Network; starting with a basic dial-up bulletin board system to distribute trade leads he gathered from foreign countries, to establishing WBE.NET, the first commercial website dedicated to import/export trade. He received a Certificate of Review from the Department of Commerce to promote U.S. exports and to develop export trading companies. He was founding chairperson of the Los Angeles Minority Business Opportunity Committee’s International Trade Sub-committee, serving four terms. He was heard weekly on major national radio broadcasts, to inspire and motivate African American entrepreneurs and preach the message of God’s New Millionaires. He co-developed with educators the Global Internet Trade Course for Students [GITCourse.Net], to expand technology and entrepreneurship training for K-12 students and offer hope to underprivileged youth. He received numerous honors and awards, but never forgot the sacrifices and struggles he had to overcome to be a positive influence and respected business leader.
Roby was blessed with the enduring love of his wife Cathy, his partner in marriage and business for more than 43 years. He was the proud father of 7 sons and 3 daughters, with 23 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. The family honors his legacy, maintaining his mission to help the disadvantaged attain financial freedom through entrepreneurship and U.S. export trade.