Stella Mercado is a tough woman to pin down. If the president and chief executive officer of Mercom Corp. is not at her office in Georgetown County, she’s at one of her branches in Virginia or Charleston, attending a conference, trying to bring in business for the corporation, spending some quality time with her 2 1/2-year-old son or spreading the word about Teach My People, Mercom’s top charity.
It’s small wonder then that Mercado earned the initial Entrepreneur of the Year by the Grand Strand Technology Council. Nor was it surprising that Mercado was not able to accept the award in person — she was at a conference out of state.
Awards are piling up for Mercado and Mercom, the family-owned business she and her brother, Larry, started in 2000, moved to Murrells Inlet in 2002 — about the same time she got her first federal contract for about $20,000 — and to its current Pawleys Island location in 2005, where Mercom has grown to a multi-million dollar entity.
“I still have it,” Mercado laughs about that first contract.
It’s a reminder of how far she and Mercom have come. Last year, the privately held business netted two $500 million contracts from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, one for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information operations and assurance and the second for network and communications equipment.
In between, Mercom keeps collecting accolades, consistently ranking among the top 500 of Hispanic-owned businesses, in the top 500 of fastest growing government services companies and cited by Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines for its success.
Mercado has shared in those honors.
“Have you looked at what she’s done?” asked John Sanders, chairman of The Grand Strand Technology Council. “She’s a role model to her employees, she was instrumental in gaining HUBZone (historically underutilized business) certification and helping put Georgetown County on the map and she is always giving back to the community, annually hosting a golf tournament to raise funds for Teach My Children. In short, she’s everything you would want in an entrepreneur.”
Pawleys Island and the Grand Strand are much of what Mercado sought when she left the hubbub of the Washington, D.C., area for a quieter home life. She found it here and plans to stay — at least for the foreseeable future.
Mercado did not plan to go into business. She earned a dual degree in Spanish and international relations at the University of Virginia.
“I was heading toward government and the State Department type of policy work,” she said. “I learned how government worked from a policy standpoint.”
Since then, she’s learned how it works in actuality as well as how to take risks to achieve her goals.
One of her first risks was starting Mercom.
“I knew early on that I wanted to start a business,” she said. “The specifics came after being in the IT industry.”
Another risk early on was hiring her first employee outside her family. In 2004 she added Simone Feldman in sales. Today, Feldman is Mercom’s sales manager.
Family is important to Mercado. In addition to brother Larry, the chief operating officer at Mercom, another brother, Allan, is the leader of Mercom’s Virginia office.
The entire group — about 10 to 15 people — was be together for Christmas in South Carolina. And then it’s back to the routine eight- to 10-hour days that Mercado admits to working, but it’s a good bet she puts in more time.
If there’s one thing holding Mercado back, it’s finding technically skilled workers. The Mercom website routinely lists a number of vacancies. Mercado attacks that with the same drive that has made the corporation a success.
“I do national searches, get referrals and then do some training. It’s part of growing a business.”
And judging from Mercom’s bottom line, growing a business is what Mercado does best.
By Anita Crone
For The Times
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