Naveen Jindal School of Management alumni Almaz Woldeab, chief accounting officer and managing director at Civitas Capital Group in Dallas, and Dr. Sulman Ahmed, founder and CEO of Dallas-based DECA Dental Group, have each been recognized by the Dallas Business Journal with a 2018 Minority Business Leader Award.
The award honors women and men throughout Dallas-Fort Worth for exceptional business and community leadership. Recipients were recognized at a luncheon on Feb. 20 at the Westin Galleria Dallas and featured in a special section of the Dallas Business Journal on Feb. 23.
Judges, who reviewed more than 100 nominations, named 30 honorees, chosen, the publication said, “because of their impressive career track record and their impact on the community.”
Both Woldeab, a 1993 graduate, and Ahmed, who graduate in 2001, earned a BS in Business Administration degree from the Jindal School.
Almaz Woldeab is the chief accounting officer and managing director at Civitas Capital Group in Dallas, a niche real estate asset management firm. She volunteers with several organizations to share what she learned after coming to the U.S. from her native Ethiopia.
“I feel strongly about working in minority communities to ensure that everyone has the education, skills and support system they need to help them achieve their dreams,” she said. “I know what it means to be persecuted in your own country.”
Woldeab, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on accounting, worked for 12 years for Texas Instruments prior to joining Civitas.
She immigrated to the United States in 1985 — on her own — immediately after finishing high school in Ethiopia. Her home country was embroiled in political turmoil and civil war, and she dreamed of a different life.
“I come from an education family, and I knew that education was my way of getting out of my situation,” she said. “When I came to the U.S., my only plan was to go to school, but I did not have a plan for what field of study to pursue.” While at UT Dallas, she could take classes at night, keep her job and finance her education.
Woldeab first attended Richland College, but it was a little like trying to find her way in the dark. “Being new to the country, I didn’t know how things work, and I found it challenging to find information about access to financial aid that may have been available to me. I once went without textbooks for two weeks because I had to wait for my paycheck to buy the books.”
As a UT Dallas student, Woldeab quickly learned that her professors and others were willing to help her. “I’d never had a mentor before, but I realized that my teachers could be my mentors,” she said. “They influenced me to focus on business administration, building leadership skills and how to set goals and how to achieve them.”
She says her experience at UT Dallas was key in preparing her for a business leadership role. Woldeab has an MBA from Southern Methodist University and is a certified public accountant.
Woldeab volunteers with several organizations and serves on the board of directors of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a Dallas-based nonprofit that assists survivors of violence worldwide.
She also is a fellow with the National African-American Women’s Leadership Institute — NAAWLI — a nonprofit leadership development organization that encourages African-American women to discover and maximize their leadership potential with a gender-based, culturally relevant program.
Woldeab also is co-chair of EDIR, a committee for the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Mutual Assistance Association for the Ethiopian Community, a nonprofit serving Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans. She has helped to assimilate more than two dozen refugees since she came to the United States.
Founder and CEO of DECA Dental Group, Dr. Sulman Ahmed, said that “when I learned I’d been nominated for this award, it struck a deep chord.”
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he said he moved here when he was 18.
“When you come to the U.S. from that background, you’re thinking about the land of opportunity and the American dream,”
Ahmed said. “When only 10 years later, you’re receiving awards for the company you’ve built, it’s probably one of my proudest achievements yet.”
Ahmed, who obtained a doctor of dental medicine degree from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston, launched DECA Dental in 2008 with one office in Dallas. The company has grown to nearly 900 employees at 75 locations in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Plans are in the works to take the company nationwide, and Ahmed hopes to have news on that front later this year.
He credits his experience at the Jindal School and UT Dallas, and the diversity he experienced there, for helping to prepare him for success.
“There was an international presence there, of not only students, but also faculty,” Ahmed said. “There was a mix of graduate and undergraduate students, and all [economic] classes. Many of the students who attended at night were engineers or business executives, and I was in class with them. I think the school was special in that way.”
When Ahmed was ready to launch his company, he used his experience at UT Dallas as a guide. “Having that experience of diversity had an impact on the kind of culture I wanted to create in my business,” he said. “We are very diverse. We have many women, all races and all ages of people on our staff.”
He also used the University’s example of making class schedules more convenient for students who wanted or needed to attend class at night when he created the patient-centered model for DECA Dental.
“I wanted my business model to be very patient focused,” he said. “For example, other dentists do not see patients on weekends or at night, but we do. We also provide all services under one roof, so that the patient doesn’t have to go to multiple offices to have different procedures done. I’m proud of the fact that we make sure our dentists are doing the highest quality of work and providing the best service possible.”
Ahmed has built partnerships with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and he is the exclusive provider of free dental services to thousands of children with the Kidd’s Kids organization and Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities. He also serves on the board of DECA Dental and the Young Presidents Organization.
DECA Dental has been recognized with a number of awards, including Inc. Magazine’s 5000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. several years in a row. Ahmed also received EY’s Health Entrepreneur of the Year Southwest Award in 2017. His success has made him a sought-after speaker at leadership, entrepreneurial and motivational conferences.
— Glenda Vosburgh