When Sherlon Lee Ferguson graduated from Morgan State University in 1971, he had a degree in mathematics and no real idea about how to put it to work.
Eventually, he settled on becoming an actuary -- a lucrative, if unglamorous, line of work. But while studying for an actuarial exam, Mr. Ferguson was introduced to the field that has propelled him to business success -- environmental and building controls.
Oddly, it was a secretary who introduced him to that obscure but lucrative business.
"She saw I was bored with actuarial work and suggested that I try selling environmental control products," he says.
That mention led Mr. Ferguson to Honeywell Inc., a century-old company and a leader in the business of controlling the heat, air conditioning, security and energy systems in large buildings.
After being trained in the business by Honeywell, Mr. Ferguson sold for the firm for 11 years, before forming his own company, FSCO Inc. in 1983.
He has not looked back. FSCO generated more than $7 million in business last year, and things are looking even better now, recession or no, Mr. Ferguson says.
Currently, FSCO is in line to design the computerized building control systems -- fire, heat, security, air conditioning, elevators -- for the 11-story City Crescent federal office building planned for the corner of Howard and Baltimore streets.
The firm also is a subcontractor on the Central Light Rail Line, where it has been hired to maintain the computerized fare collection system. The line is scheduled to open in 1992.
FSCO, with headquarters in Baltimore County, works mainly with engineers, architects, mechanical contractors, and developers to generate business.
Mr. Ferguson says that being fully black owned has also proven to be a disadvantage. He says he is one of the few black firms in the country doing environmental control work and has had to overcome some negative stereotypes.
"People have gotten use to the idea of hiring blacks on demolition jobs or paint jobs," he says. "But building control is so integral, so important, so technical and complicated, that many people think blacks can't handle the job."