A Tactical Edge

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

juggernaut capable of pursuing multimillion-dollar auto parts contracts.

In Portland, Oregon, United Energy Inc. & Subsidiaries (No. 43 on the BE Industrial/Service 100 list), a petroleum distribution firm, saw its gross revenues climb 100% from $33 million in 1998 to $66 million in 1999. The reason for the spike: the rising price of oil. But CEO James Winters is not resting on his gusher. So customers can track usage, volume and orders, he is in the process of building a Web-based database. And with an eye toward diversification, he has begun to expand into food-services operations. “We acquired 11 Taco Bell restaurants in the Bay area last year,” he says. “We’re on track to do about $100 million [in business] this year.”

THE CHANGE IN COMPOSITION
Typical of the BE Industrial/Service 100, the list had a number of companies coming and going. Fifteen companies left the list because of divestitures or bankruptcies, failure to meet eligibility, or they simply did not meet the revenue floor. The most noteworthy exclusion was TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., the global food manufacturer and distributor and the only BE 100s company to break the $2 billion-dollar sales barrier. Last year, TLC’s board approved a plan to liquidate the concern and sell the remainder of the company’s holdings, closing one of the most exciting chapters of black business (see “TLC’s Fi
nal Act,” September 1999).

The BE 100s’ oldest family-owned enterprise, 117-year-old C. H. James & Son (Holdings) Inc., dropped off the list as well. The Charleston, West Virginia-based produce wholesaler sold North American Produce, which had sales of $25 million in late 1998, to Salinas, California-based Taylor Farms Inc. The move cleared the way for CEO C.H. “Chuck” James III to start (you guessed it) a dotcom serving the produce industry (see “Harvesting An E-Commerce Solution,” May 2000).

Another perennial lost its perch on the industrial/service list: Dallas-based Pro-Line Corp. The 29-year-old cosmetic and hair-care manufacturer was purchased by Alberto Culver. The sale leaves only four black hair-care manufacturers among the BE 100s.

CEO Russell Simmons totally revamped his company by selling his core business-and increased sales in the process. Last year, he sold Def Jam Recordings to Universal for more than $100 million. He focused his attention on urban fashion, and advertising and marketing. The restructured Rush Communications (No. 15 on the BE Industrial/Service 100 list) grossed $150 million in 1999, a whopping 114.3% increase from the $70 million in gross sales it generated in 1998.

One Old Economy concern, however, was placed on the scrap heap. Detroit’s Thomas Madison Inc., the $110 million auto industry steel fabricator listed among last year’s top 20 largest black industrial/service companies, filed for protection under Chapter 11 in 1999.

Eleven new companies appeared on the list, ranging from multi-company owners like the Roberts family of St. Louis (see “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” this issue) to returnees like Dick Griffey Productions/ADPIC, a Sherman Oaks, California, firm that grossed $61 million in 1999 from a blend of music publishing and mineral brokering.

One newcomer, Las Vegas-based RLLW

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