CAMAC Holdings Inc. was the second black-owned enterprise to gain membership into the BE 100s billion dollar club when it reached the No. 1 slot on our 2003 INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100. In fact, the Houston-based oil and gas exploration, consulting and engineering company was only a hair away from achieving the milestone when it made its debut on our industrial/service list in 2002 – – gross sales for 2001 were $979.5 million. Operated by Nigerian-born Kase Lawal, CAMAC (which stands for Cameroon-American) grew through its ability to integrate upstream services, the production of oil and gas, and downstream operations, which included trading and refining of its products. CAMAC, which reported its highest level of revenues– $2.43 billion– on the 2009 list, left the BE 100s in 2011 after shifts in operational structure, management and ownership.
One of the legendary serial entrepreneurs of black business is BET founder and billionaire Bob Johnson. Over the decades, he has owned companies in every BE 100s category except for advertising. He currently has three on our 2014 rankings – private equity firms, RLJ Equity Partners L.L.C. and RLJ Credit Management L.L.C., and the Little Rock, Arkansas-based megadealership RLJ McLarty Landers Automotive Holdings L.L.C. (No. 1 on the BE AUTO DEALERS list with $1.3 billion in gross revenue). In 2007, Johnson teamed up with Mack McLarty, a White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, and veteran auto dealer Steve Landers to create a vehicle to give African Americans an opportunity to manage and own dealerships. Identified as the Automotive News All-Star for privately-held dealerships, the global enterprise was cited for growing the number of outlets, which can be found in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, from 10 to 25 in four years. RLJ McLarty Landers first appeared on the auto dealers roster in 2009 and surpassed the billion-dollar revenue threshold on the 2012 list.
Although Oprah Winfrey may be the first African American woman to become a billionaire, Janice Bryant Howroyd is the first to own and operate a company that generates more than $1 billion dollars in revenues. Act-1 Group, the Torrance, California-based global staffing firm, hit that target on the 2012 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 when it gained the No. 3 position with $1.4 billion in revenue, joining World Wide Technology, Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C. and CAMAC in such rare air. How did Act-1 get there? When Act-1 became our BE Industrial/Service Company of the Year in 2012, Howroyd said it took meeting the demands of corporate giants like Merck and AT&T; designing customized services that deliver maximum results; and increasing its international presence. No. 2 on the 2014 industrial/service ranking, Act-1 grossed $2.3 billion in 2013.
Entrepreneur Ronald Hall, Sr. built his business to become one of the BE 100s revenue and employment leaders through partnership and providing unassailable service to the automotive industry. Developed through a joint venture with mammoth car components manufacturer Johnson Controls Inc., Detroit-based Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C. grew to a $1 billion-plus auto supplier by assembling thousands of seats for models such as the Cadillac DTS, Buick Lucerne and Ford Focus. Ironically, it reached $1.3 billion in gross sales on the industrial/service rankings in 2008, the year that auto industry crashed, financial services sector experience its meltdown and the Great Recession wrecked batteries of companies, large and small. However, Hall & Co. retooled for future growth and profitability by designing flexible operations and automating manufacturing using robotic machinery. Bridgewater – which never dipped below $1 billion in sales during these tough times – grossed $1.5 billion in 2013, currently holding the No. 3 spot among BE industrial/service companies. It’s also one of the leading employers in black business with 1,500 workers.
TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. still remains the BE 100s’ billion-dollar standard bearer. With his historic $985 million leveraged buyout of TLC Beatrice International Foods Cos.—the largest offshore transaction at the time—the late financier Reginald F. Lewis catapulted his company to the leadership of the BE 100s in 1988 with $1.8 billion in gross sales and, at the same time, transformed black business forever in terms of setting a new bar for high finance and global business. Not surprisingly, that same year TLC was named the BE Company of the Year. With vast worldwide holdings, TLC would surpass $2 billion in gross sales and hold on to the No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 for 12 years – even with the untimely death of the founding titan in 1993. By 1999, TLC’s board approved a plan to unlock shareholder value by liquidating the company and selling the remainder of its assets, closing one of the most exciting chapters in black business history that continues to inspire generations of black entrepreneurs.
In June 2001, our editors hailed David Steward as “The $800 Million Man” when his Maryland Heights, Missouri IT firm World Wide Technology was named our BE Company of the Year. It was a prescient sign of a rising New Economy leader. Within just three years, WWT would snare the No. 1 spot on the 2004 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 with revenues of $1.2 billion. Over the years, the enterprise would expand through developing partnerships with tech giants such as Cisco Systems, HP and EMC as well as meeting the infrastructure needs of companies like Boeing and Dell with a no-excuses commitment to time and cost-efficiency. On the 2014 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100, privately-held WWT still holds the No. 1 position. However, its revenues have grown 533% in the past decade to $6.4 billion – placing it No. 410 if it were listed among the nation’s 500 largest publicly-traded companies.
The newest member to join the exclusive club is Dublin, Ohio-based auto parts manufacturer Modular Assembly Innovations L.L.C., run by CEO Billy R. Vickers. The enterprising entrepreneur developed the conglomerate that currently operated a group of companies – Great Lakes Assemblies, LLC, Gulf Shore Assemblies, LLC and Indiana Assemblies, LLC – providing manufacturing and supply chain management services for Toyota and other large car makers. On the strength of the auto industry and Vickers’ laser beam focus on customer service, MAI has risen to the nation’s fourth-largest black-owned industrial/service company with $1.2 billion in revenues. When Vickers spoke at the BLACK ENTERPRISE- Walmart 20/20 Vision Forum in Indianapolic last year, he shared with the audience that his company was able to reach the billion-dollar mark through mentorship and partnership from the BE 100s: Joseph B. Anderson, CEO of mechanical parts supplier TAG Holdings L.L.C. (No. 61 on the 2014 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE list with $53 million in revenues) – his former employer.
Gregory Jackson has always prided himself on customer service and sales prowess to enable his Detroit-based megadealership Prestige Automotive to zoom past the competition. In 2005, it also made history by becoming the first black-owned automotive franchise to surpass $1 billion in sales , achieving the pole position on the then AUTO DEALER 100. At the time his revenues were driven by new locations – he then had a total of nine outlets- repair services and fleet sales, which had represented 60% of his business. He stayed a billion-dollar dealer for three years until an industry downturn that decimated black franchises, among them BE 100s mainstays. As a result, our auto rankings shrunk to 60. The savvy Jackson, however, weathered the storm by restructuring Prestige’s operations and eliminating less profitable fleet sales. Still among the largest black-owned dealerships, Prestige ranked No. 5 on the BE AUTO DEALERS list with $414 million in revenues.