And Still They Rise

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

Corp., which finally made the be Industrial/Service 100 list in 1996, departed following a deal that placed a majority of the firm’s ownership in the hands of four executives from high-tech giant BTG, reducing the African American ownership to 50%.

Other companies fell off because of financial difficulty, among them systems engineering company Maxima Corp. The Lanham, Maryland-based concern recently filed for bankruptcy.

The computer systems integration company (the 1986 be Company of the Year), which had sales of more than $60 million at the peak of its success a decade ago, saw revenues shrink steadily and, according to court filings, owes about $2.5 million, mostly in taxes and debts to suppliers. In recent years, the company has lost nearly all of its key contracts and spent considerable sums on a legal dispute between company founder Joshua Smith and his son, Joshua Smith II, who was a Maxima vice president until his father fired him in 1993. Maxima sued the younger Smith and two colleagues for allegedly diverting company funds improperly; Joshua Smith II responded with a lawsuit accusing the company of defamation.

A settlement in the case was eventually negotiated, but Maxima had lost many of its government contracts and the business was in turmoil.

Other companies bowed to the consolidation trends within their respective industries and were sold outright. Such was the case with Soft Sheen, which was sold to the Paris-based cosmetics giant L’Oreal.

The sale of Soft Sheen to L’Oreal came as a surprise to few. Indeed, the sale was just the tip of a shakeup in the ethnic haircare industry that also saw Johnson Products sold to Carson Products from IVAX for $70 million. Terri Gardner, who remains at the company as president of the Soft Sheen division, said Soft Sheen fielded overtures from many companies while the concern was on the block, and was contacted by L’Oreal in 1997. "In L’Oreal we saw a strategic partner with muscle through which we could fulfill our vision for the company," says Gardner. "Going forward, this opportunity will magnify Soft Sheen’s success on multiple levels."

…IN WITH THE NEW
Akinola Olajuwon may not be headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame like his older brother Hakeem, but this former Merrill Lynch stockbroker is making his own way. He’s the CEO of Olajuwon Holdings, a Houston-based investment firm that counts among its holdings 73 Denny’s restaurants across 13 states. The restaurants accounted for $85 million in revenue last year. Olajuwon is an example of growth through ingenuity. Exploiting Denny’s parent company Advantica Restaurant Group’s desire to change its image in the African American community, Olajuwon saw an opportunity and jumped at it. "I see it as an advantage, because if you’re coming into a company that is looking to change its image, you’re in a good position to work with them and help prove this is a good place to be."

Others executives are returning in a lead

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