Bold Leadership for the 21st Century

Innovation. Vision. Guts. Today's CEOs need these qualities to lead their companies to profitability -- and growth

Today’s CEOs face more challenges than perhaps any other generation of business leaders. Not only is the U.S. economy on dubious footing, but the dollar hovers at or near all-time lows against foreign currencies. Consumer trends, shaken by ever-rising unemployment rates and staggeringly high gas prices, threaten to curtail spending — another damaging blow to a business climate already reeling from a credit crunch and a weak financial services sector.

As a result, it has become increasingly critical for CEOs to identify new business opportunities within this difficult environment. It’s also critical to continue developing growth strategies to help their companies survive these downturns. While size and scale don’t guarantee invulnerability (see Bear Stearns), these factors, combined with sound business practices and an evolutionary focus, make for a good start.

Good leaders realize they can’t play by the same old rules. Those who fail to prepare and innovate risk going the way of the dinosaur. Companies that find opportunity and make money will be those with inventive leaders who have assembled the right teams coupled with the right resources and a shared vision.

Good leadership is illustrated throughout our coverage of the BE 100S, particularly in those identified as this year’s companies of the year. Our Auto Dealer of the Year, Corley Automotive Group Inc. (No. 23 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $107 million in revenues), embraced technology and developed a digital platform that allows potential customers to build their dream cars online. It also created a diversity outreach program to help acquire and retain employees from its predominantly Navajo and Latino surroundings.

Atlanta Life Financial Group, our Financial Services Company of the Year, found that the days of selling retail insurance were over and evolved into a diversified financial services holding company, complete with two BE 100S companies under its umbrella — Atlanta Life Investment Advisors Inc. (No. 15 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $1.1 billion in assets under management) and Jackson Securities L.L.C. (No. 8 on the BE INVESTMENT BANKS list with $4.8 million in senior-managed issues). Knowing the importance of a happy, productive workforce, Harpo Inc. (No. 14 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $345 million in revenues), our Industrial/Service Company of the Year, instituted a tailor-made, yearlong program designed to help its management and staff with professional development.

Edward Corley, Ronald D. Brown, and Oprah Winfrey are among the bold leaders of the 21st century and the CEOs, respectively, of our companies of the year. In the ensuing pages you’ll see examples of others. These intrepid CEOs are directing, refocusing, and adapting their companies not just in reaction to the challenging environment but also in anticipation of further shifting conditions down the road. Sadly, there will also be examples of black-owned businesses that, for various reasons, fell by the wayside. Because in business, it’s not enough simply to keep up with the times — you have to stay ahead of them.

The Freshman Class

This Year Company Location
Private Equity

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