SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Over 100,000 hard-hit small businesses have had to close for good following economic impacts since the COVID-19 outbreak arrived in the United States around March, a recent study shows

While it’s been a struggle for many businesses across the country and locally, Savannah native Lucius Mack says his Atlanta-based mortgage brokerage firm Phoenix Mortgage Specialists has managed to thrive and continue helping those in the market for a new home.

“That’s why I love this business, I help individual people to achieve their dream,” Mack told NOW. 

“Buying a home is usually a person’s biggest investment in their life,” he said.

A 2012 Census Report showed that of the nearly one million privately owned businesses within the financial industry, less than 5% are owned by African Americans.

The former Windsor Forest High School student is part of that near-5% statistic.

(Image courtesy of Damon Thomas, Eleven16 Media)

Mack says he contributes the success of his business during the pandemic to two factors — family and failure.

“My parents were not college educated but were hardworking, and that’s what they instilled in me,” he shared, adding that some of his Savannah relatives were also entrepreneurs. 

Mack, a husband to wife Joytrice and father to four children — the youngest of which he named after his hometown — says he knew entrepreneurship was in his DNA from his early days of growing up in Coffee Bluff.

“I’ve been that way since I was a kid,” the Savannah State grad shared. “From cutting grass to laying cement, it didn’t matter; I always wanted to have my own business.”

He used his mathematics background to teach at a high school for four years, then landed a sales job at Atlanta Life Insurance Company.

From there, he and his wife started their own company, Diverse Financial Services, in 2000.

Lucius and Joytrice Mack recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.

“Lucius and I literally built our first business from the ground up, it was like a baby that we birthed,” Joytrice Mack told NOW. “I remember we actually put a business plan together at our kitchen table.”

The business was a success — until the financial crisis of 2007.

“The whole banking industry went down because of the whole meltdown of our whole financial system,” Lucius Mack said. His wife called the impacts on their business and family “heartbreaking.”

Mack wound up losing his business, clients and even his home. 

“I am a father, and when you have to close your business and that’s your only source of income at that particular time, it can be very, very hard,” he said.

“But I always had a dream, and you’re not going to kill my dream,” he added.

Determined to recover, he eventually started a new company, Phoenix Mortgage Specialists.

The name is a nod to the mythological bird, he says, to show that he’s risen from the ashes of the economic crisis.

“We’re just here to cater to borrowers,” Mack said. 

“Because I went through those challenges, I can relay to my borrowers, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if you can’t buy a home right now, but you know what, I can show you how to get to a place where you can buy a home,’” he added.

Mack says Phoenix continues to thrive amid the pandemic because most of the large banks are now tightening their restrictions.

“Basically, I have a wider net of buyers who are coming to me now because they can’t go to the big banks at all,” Mack said. “They’re coming to me to get financing for a home or to refinance their home, so now I’m trying to educate my borrowers just to make sure that they know what they’re doing throughout the whole process.” 

A self-described man of faith, Mack says he’d advise any small business navigating a tough time to not give up.

“I just know that God is always going to take care of my company and my family, so even when you have a bump in the road, it’s only a bump in the road, but it can’t kill your dream,” Mack said, adding, “Remember that if you have a business, do not let anyone kill your dream, and do what you have to do in order to keep your dream alive.”

The business owner also suggests saving up emergency funds for difficult periods and not being afraid to ask for assistance. 

“They have different programs, even through COVID-19, that a business [can use to] help sustain themselves,” he shared.

“If you can make it work for yourself, entrepreneurship is the best thing in life,” he added. “This company and this mortgage business has afforded me a great life for me and my family.”