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Where Will You Go? Jonathan Williams Graduates College Then Goes to Work for a Company He Started in High School

When it comes to cleaning, Jonathan Williams, 21, has one piece of advice:  "Work smarter, not harder."

He takes his own advice—almost. That's because Jonathan, who works smart, also works hard.

Jonathan runs his own professional cleaning business, Chestnut Hill Cleaning Co., which he started while only a junior at Central High School. He just finished up his last semester at the College, graduating on May 5 with an Associate in Arts degree in Business.

If taking college classes and running a business doesn’t sound hectic enough, each Thursday, Jonathan mentors 15 to 20 middle-school students in business through a nonprofit he started, the "Sky is the Limit Entrepreneurial Program."

Working hard comes naturally to him. The working smart part comes in Jonathan's ability to utilize the lessons he learned through his course work at the College and through attending "Power Up Your Business," the College's neighborhood-based training and peer-learning program for small businesses like the one Jonathan currently runs in Chestnut Hill.

"When I was 16 and starting my own business, I didn't have any mentors," he said. "I just wanted to find a way to make money."

The Power Up program, which he attended at the Northwest Regional Center, helped him understand the fundamentals of branding. "I do a lot of personal marketing," Williams said, so he appreciates the opportunity to understand and perfect his elevator pitch, a 60-second spiel about his business. "It's a creative way to catch people very quickly."

Dr. Donald Guy Generals said the College community congratulates Jonathan for his work in class and in his neighborhood. “Small businesses like Jonathan’s serve to stabilize commercial corridors and increase the vitality and livability of Philadelphia. He’s a job creator, and he’s not yet out of college.”

On campus, business instructor Jerel Ruttenberg's advice has resonated with Jonathan. Ruttenberg and Jonathan's mother, Jasime Williams, sat in the VIP box at commencement, waiting for Jonathan's moment to cross the stage.

"He was emotionally supportive," Jonathan said of Ruttenberg. "I was going through a rough time and he was there." But Jonathan, the business man, doesn't linger long with emotions. He credits Ruttenberg with helping him learn how to price his services so that people from his Chestnut Hill neighborhood knew he had a serious business and "wasn't just a kid shoveling snow."

For his part, Ruttenberg said he "thinks the world of Jonathan. He had his head on straight and he really knew what he wanted to do. Most kids at 18 years of age, the future is lunch, but he had his eye on the ball. He wanted to grow his business and he just needed some guidance."

Jonathan pointed out that many of his former classmates at Central are now finishing their four-year degrees, while he nearly didn't graduate from the College. "I had to take a year off from school," he said. "If I wanted to build my business, I had to work at it full time." Now his profitable business keeps five independent contractors busy cleaning churches, schools and businesses, mostly in the Chestnut Hill area. He landed one of his clients, a barber, after meeting him in the Power Up program they both attended in May 2017.

"He's a great cleaner," said Shaun Miller, the Power Up graduate who runs The Art Shop, a combination barbershop and art gallery in Chestnut Hill.

Jonathan isn't sure whether he'll continue his studies. At this point, he feels that knowledge he gained at the College and through Power Up, plus the mentoring and connections he makes through the Chestnut Hill Business Association, provide the networks needed to take his company to the next level. "I'm planning on continuing my business and figuring out school slowly," he said. "I feel like I learn a lot more from business mentors than from being in a classroom."

There's one thing that's certain: "I don't want to work for anybody in my whole life," he said. Ultimately, Jonathan aims to run an international conglomerate. "I want to be the first trillionaire," he said. "No one else has done it, so why can't I?"