At the Top Of Their Game

These companies emerged as B.E.'s 1998 Small Business Entrepreneurs of the Year-Emerging Company, Business Innovator, Rising Star and Kidpreneur

Despite a host of challenges, including lack of adequate start-up capital, competition from larger majority firms and an anti-affirmative action environment, African American business owners are forging ahead and succeeding as we stand on the threshold of the new millennium.

We are expanding our business ranks at nearly twice the rate of the overall business community, according to Aida Alvarez, administrator of the Small Business Administration. From 1987 to 1992, the Census Bureau estimates that black-owned businesses grew by 46%, from 424,000 to nearly 621,000. And, those black-owned businesses with revenues of over $1 million annually are growing the fastest.

But the real story isn’t in the numbers. You have to look at the businesses themselves to understand what success is truly made of. At the Black Enterprise/NationsBank Entrepreneurs Conference last May in Orlando, Florida, five individuals who had embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship were honored as recipients of the Third Annual Black Enterprise Small Business Entrepreneurs Awards. Some of these businesses are on the cusp of becoming BE 100s firms; others are just out of the starting blocks. But all were recognized for their potential, innovation, perseverance and commitment to African American entrepreneurship.

EMERGING COMPANY OF THE YEAR
The Emerging Company Award recognizes businesses that are poised for future growth. They have adopted creative marketing techniques and carved out a niche for themselves.

ROBERT LUSTER President & CEO Luster Group Inc.
Robert A. Luster has built his company on three pillars–integrity, client focus and social responsibility. As president and CEO of Luster Group Inc., this former Army officer believes that it’s not what his company does that matters, but what it stands for.

Luster, 40, founded Luster Construction Management (CM) in 1990 in San Francisco to provide project and construction management services to the private and nonfederal public sector. In 1996, he established Luster Group Inc., comprising Luster CM Inc.; Luster National Inc., providing program and project management services to federal clients; and Schoenberg Design Associates Inc., providing landscape architecture, environmental and planning services. Luster also founded the Luster Fund, a nonprofit entity that provides education and training in various fields.

Prior to starting his own firm, he spent 10 years with the Army at the Department of Defense and co-founded another construction management firm. Luster says he found the transition from the Army to the private sector eye-opening. His first business, Athena Management Engineers, failed after only two years.

“I got a Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks,” says Luster. “I learned how differently things are done. People have different objectives–you have to interpret between the lines. In the Army, what you say is what you mean–there’s a high sense of integrity. It’s not profit-oriented. In the private market there are more variables that go into the equation.”

Determined to “own a piece of the rock” and work with family members, Luster started his second company with $50,000 from credit cards, despite being $35,000 in debt from his first company. “After working for the largest bureaucracy in the world,” he says, “I thought there was

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