A Tactical Edge

The B.E.100s are working every angle to gain the competitive upper hand and stave off the competition

They’ve been revamped, restructured and reborn. Over the past decade, the chief executives of America’s largest black-owned businesses have repositioned their companies for the 21st century through a deft combination of strategic planning, expansion and innovation. As a result, the concerns that comprise the black enterprise industrial/service 100s have conquered new markets and targeted select niches.

Of course, these companies have been the beneficiaries of the eighth straight year of economic growth, but their success can be traced to more than macroeconomics. Learning from the past and anticipating the future, the CEOs focus on developing superior business models by identifying contemporary trends and applying capital, time and skills. The proof has been in the performance: in 1999, the total revenues for the BE Industrial/Service 100s were $8.77 billion, a 13.48% increase from $7.73 billion in 1998. But what was significant was the growth of the number of such enterprises that grossed $150 million or more. There are 16 such companies on the 2000 list, compared to 11 in 1999.

There was significant growth in the number of employees as well. Last year, 67,647 employees received paychecks from the BE Industrial/Service 100s, a 13.41% increase from 1998. Detroit-based Hawkins Food Group (No. 12 on the BE Industrial/Service 100 list with $176.2 million in gross sales) had the greatest number of personnel among the industrial/service employment leaders (see chart). The company employed 6,693 people last year (an employee-to-sales ratio of $1 to $26).

Such growth will continue as the BE Industrial/Service 100s starts its next chapter. And a number of factors will impact its future: the ascent of tech firms; the application of digital solutions to old-line businesses; the use of capital markets to raise financing; and the identification of the next, big profitable thing. In fact, this year’s growth leaders provide valuable clues to such future developments.

THE LEAP TO LEADERSHIP
Last year, several firms made huge leaps in revenues, providing solid platforms for advancement. But the ascension of World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT) was a watershed event. A pure product of the New Economy-an environment marked by surging consumer confidence, a bullish, yet volatile, stock market and dazzling technology-WWT, a St. Louis distributor of information technology products, made a list-rocking jump of 105.5%, from $201 million in 1998 to $413 million in 1999. As a result, the high-tech dynamo became the new leader of the BE Industrial/Service 100 list, beating out such Old Economy mainstays as Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., (No. 2 on the BE Industrial/Service 100 list with $395 million in gross sales), and Johnson Publishing Co. (No. 3 on the BE Industrial/Service 100 list, with $386.8 million in gross sales). Not too shabby for the 1999 be Company of the year.

What factors accounted for such revenue growth? CEO David L. Steward pushed his company to astronomical heights using three different “e-marketplaces” launched in 1999: telcobuy.com to serve the telecommunications sector; fedbuy.com for federal government contract projects and ugsource.com to accommodate the commercial sector. These e-marketplaces generated 75% of WWT’s revenues. “The utilization

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