Giving Away the Store

UPDATED 05/15/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/15/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

Anthony Parks was about to make millions last fall when the online company he helped develop went public. So what did he do? He told his stockbroker to start giving away thousands of shares of the dot-com grocery start-up. "He gave me a list with six people on it," Rick Warner recalls. "Three days later he gave me a list with 30 more people. Within a week or two there was another list of 30." Though Warner admired his client's generosity, he began to worry. "I'm not giving it all away," Parks reassured him. "If I can't get by on $8 million instead of $10 million, then I have a problem."

Before long, Parks, 41, had handed over stock then valued at nearly $2 million to family, pals and coworkers he had encountered on his road to riches. "Geez, none of us got anywhere without the help of others," Parks explains. "To roll up my sleeves and help paint a side of a building, that's one way. To give one or two million, that's another."

It's not that he doesn't enjoy the bounty that comes with being a multimillionaire bachelor: a four-bedroom home in Marin County, Calif., lush leather furniture, a big-screen TV and, of course, cars—a '98 Toyota 4Runner, a '98 Mercedes-Benz and a '93 Volkswagen Jetta. He also plays a competitive game of golf and likes the ladies. But Parks is known for his creed, not his greed. "Anthony has always been generous," says longtime friend Gene Barnes Jr., 48, a hair-products salesman and widower who received 2,500 shares himself and 500 for his 17-year-old son Gene III. "Even when he didn't have anything to give, he was giving." Says high school pal Beverly Gibian, 38 (100 shares): "He is the last nice guy out there."

So nice, in fact, that he gave his father, Robert Hickman, who left before he was born, 500 shares; and twice that number to stepfather Willie Worley, 62, whom he calls Dad. Parks's mother, Jacqueline Worley-Kemp (number of shares: a secret), says she has received the best gift of all—"his love."

Worley-Kemp, 58, was just 16 and single when she gave birth to Anthony in Minneapolis. When he was a toddler they moved to Oakland, where his mother worked long hours to support him and later his younger brother Godfrey, now 37 and a recovering substance abuser. (Parks says he is holding 500 shares in Godfrey's name "until he's ready to manage things.") Worley-Kemp completed beauty school and worked styling hair. "She'd practice on me and my younger brother," says Parks, laughing. "We had some pretty wild Afros in the '70s."

Their mother valued education, sending her boys to St. Cyril's, a Catholic school. But money was scarce. She went on welfare after her five-year marriage to Worley ended. Parks was only 8, but the family's precarious situation fueled his ambition. "I absolutely hated it when my mother sent me to the store with food stamps," he recalls. "I'd say to myself, 'One day I'll do better.' "

He swept floors in a McDonald's, mowed lawns and washed cars. "In any position I've had, my goal was to be the best," he says. Though Parks didn't go on to college after graduating from Redwood High in 1977, his mother never worried. "He was in charge," she says.

When Parks was 19 a girl he was seeing got pregnant; today, he says, his daughter Keiala Price, now 21 and a student nurse-practitioner, "is my closest friend and greatest source of pride." Yet it was hard for the young father to make ends meet.

In 1986, when he was food and beverage manager of San Francisco's Sheraton Hotel restaurant, patron Steve Wiezbowski hired him to work at his upscale eatery Neptune's Palace. Within six months, Wiezbowski (100 shares) promoted Parks to general manager, supervising, among others, dishwasher Victor Loggins (100 shares). When Loggins had a brush with the law, Parks refused to fire him. "Anthony hung in there with me," says Loggins, 42.

In 1993, Parks was recruited by Starbucks to expand its San Francisco operations. He opened 20 new shops before joining the then-fledgling Webvan.com in 1996 as head of customer service at a salary of $75,000 a year—plus stock. When he left in 1999 he had amassed about 500,000 shares, whose value has fluctuated between $6 and $35 each.

Recently, Parks started R.E.A.L. Role Models, Inc. (10,000 shares), a nonprofit foundation to help middle school kids realize realistic goals. "Use me as an example that a black man can come out of the inner city and reach financial independence," says Parks. "I want to be a catalyst to get people to see how to give back."

Christina Cheakalos
Penelope Rowlands in San Rafael, Calif.

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