And Still They Rise

Through partnership, acquisition and synergy, the ascent of the B.E. Industrial/Service 100 will not be denied

million in sales), recently completed a strategic divestiture of North American Produce (NAP), valued in excess of $10 million. James also sold its 40% stake in GSF Australia, a Sydney, Australia-based company that processes and distributes pre-cut lettuce to McDonald’s. "I had everything tied up in the business," Charles H. James III says. "I felt it was time to make sure that my family’s future was secure, and, at the same time, free up dollars to reinvest in the business."

Closer to the home front, black enterprise publisher Earl G. Graves, also the CEO of Pepsi Cola of Washington, D.C. L.P. rode the wave of soft drink industry buybacks as he sold the majority interest in his distributorship, Pepsi Cola of Washington, D.C. L.P. back to Pepsi. Graves retains a minimal stake in the business.

Other deals involving be 100s CEOs are pending. Russell Simmons, CEO of Rush Communications, is in the final stages of negotiating a deal that will see his remaining 40% interest in Def Jam Records (home to rappers Jay-Z, DMX, Foxy Brown and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man) go to Seagram Co. for about $100 million to $110 million.

Word on the street is Simmons isn’t the only CEO looking to sell off his enterprise. Industry insiders say two of the be advertising agencies, UniWorld Group Inc. and Burrell Communications, are in early talks that could culminate with the sale of either firm.

But while many companies divested themselves of various holdings, others worked vigorously not only to stay on, but to increase their rankings on our list.

For these companies, the key was often growth through acquisition, innovation or enterprise.

Case in point: Terry Manufacturing Co., which among other recent transactions landed a lucrative contract with the National Hockey League to produce NHL-branded apparel. The Roanoke, Alabama-based apparel manufacturer already boasts over 150 licenses for collegiate apparel. "But we believe the NHL license will be a growing part of our business," says Co-CEO Roy Terry. "We believe the product range is the broadest license ever awarded to a minority firm by a major sports league."

As it courts potential suitors, advertising firm UniWorld Group Inc. has already expanded its orbit by hosting such events as the UniverSoul Circus and the Acapulco Black Film festival. Last year it fully embraced this niche by launching a new division, Uniworld Films, which will work with existing film studios to market black-themed films to an African American audience.

On other fronts, plans to bring Black Entertainment Television back into private hands were finalized in 1998. CEO Bob Johnson announced his desire to reclaim his company in 1997 — thus opening up his concern to perhaps more speculative maneuvers without risking the wrath of nervous stockholders. Soon after, the company announced plans to move ahead with the creation of its own movie production company. Unfettered by the quarter-to-quarter profit mentality of sensitive shareholders, Johnson says he at last can

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