A Tale Of Four Freshmen

By Sonya A. Donaldson

décor, to fast-food and casual dining restaurants like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

If James’ name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason: He and his family have been in the food service business for four generations. Having cut his teeth at the family-owned C.H. James & Co., he went on to purchase and then sell pre-cut produce-processing plant North American Produce. From there, James launched ProduceOnline.com, which he sold for $20 million in 2000, several times the $3.3 million he raised to fund the venture.

But as James sees it, he’s no serial entrepreneur. “I have chosen to operate in a real marketplace, that is moving faster. It’s a very competitive marketplace, and I’ve had to be very nimble.” He says his strategy is to create a company that will develop economies of scale to meet the needs of companies in the food service industry. “Economies of scale are very important. Major chains can’t afford to have hundreds of little suppliers — they need key suppliers that can handle all aspects of that channel.”

James’ experience as a serial acquirer has helped him take the family business from operating in what was essentially a mom-and-pop marketplace to one that is attempting to stay competitive through acquisitions along the food service channel. “There are other things C.H. James & Co. is working on that will give us the opportunity to go down that channel, such as real estate and restaurant opportunities.”

One thing being a serial acquirer has taught James is the importance of timing, that is, capitalizing on opportunities the moment they become apparent. “Right now, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times for business,” he says. “In terms of capital, there has never been a better time to be a minority entrepreneur. The money is there.” And the food service industry is a “willing marketplace” for minority entrepreneurs. The challenge, he says, is getting into the deal-making community. His answer? Simple: timing, opportunity, and sweat equity.

Making the Top 100
The 14 companies that make up the 2003 freshman class had an even tougher act to follow than last year’s. Unemployment numbers are still high and the economy has yet to rebound. “Gulf War II,” initially expected to boost the economy, did not have the impact hoped for. But even in the midst of this lingering recession, businesses found a way to prosper. In fact, the climate of political unrest presented a couple of this year’s BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 companies with some of the most lucrative business opportunities they’d seen in years. Meet the newcomers.

Act One Personnel Services No. 3
CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd’s 300-employee staffing and professional services firm in Torrance, California, ranks high on the list with $487.53 million in revenues.

MV Transportation Inc. No. 27
Providing fixed route and paratransit services to the government is how this $155.31 million Fairfield, California, company made the list.

PrimeSource Food Service Equipment No. 30
Former CEO Charles H. James III put his Midas touch on this distributor of restaurant equipment. He introduced the $139.9 million,

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