After more than a decade as the nation’s largest black-owned company, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. relinquished its hold on the title of largest black-owned company in the nation. But the retrenchment of TLC is one of many tales that have occurred among the nation’s largest black-owned businesses in what has been both a compelling and portentous year.
Certain sectors proved to be particularly profitable for our Industrial/Service companies. These included the information technology sector as concerns such as World Wide Technology (No. 6 on the be Industrial/Service 100 list) and Digital Systems International Corp. (No. 18 on the be Industrial/Service 100 list) saw double-digit percentage increases in revenues in 1998. The food manufacturing business also proved to be a booming arena, as Siméus Foods International and Hawkins Food Group also saw rapid increases in revenue.
Amid a flurry of recent activity, the dethroning of TLC Beatrice was not unexpected. The company’s rapid rise to prominence is well documented. The dream of the late CEO Reginald Lewis was realized when he orchestrated the historic $985 million acquisition of the company in 1987. The deal catapulted the company to the head of the be Industrial/Service 100 list in 1988 and Lewis into business lore. TLC continued to prosper following Lewis death in 1993. But as his widow, Loida Lewis, ponders the next chapter in her life, the dismantling of TLC, which began in 1997, continued throughout much of last year. The company, which had $2.2 billion in sales in 1996, sold off its French food-distribution business for $573 million in 1997. That sale brought TLC back down to earth, but still allowed it to hold on to its No. 1 ranking. But the breakup continued last year, as the company sold its interests in its European beverage group for $44 million. As a result, there was a 77% drop in revenues from the $1.4 billion the company earned in 1997 to the $322 million it earned in 1998.
"This is part of a managerial strategy to unlock the value of the company for our shareholders," says TLC Vice President Butch Meily. "Selling the beverage group will enable the business to continue to develop and grow." Perhaps TLC, in a different incarnation, will indeed return one day to its top ranking. But for the time being its departure paved the way for an interesting battle between John Johnson’s Johnson Publishing Co. and Bruce Llewellyn’s Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co. for the coveted top spot. When the smoke cleared, Llewellyn’s concern, whose revenues increased 8.9% to $389 million in 1998, rose to the top spot on the the be Industrial/Service 100 list.
A YEAR OF UPS AND DOWNS
But before we look forward, let’s consider what’s occurred over the course of the past year. TLC wasn’t the only Industrial/Service firm to go through radical restructuring in 1998. The granddaddy of be 100s companies, 116-year-old C.H. James & Son (No. 78 on the be Industrial/Service 100 list with $31.4