Bold Players New Strategies

Staking a claim in the mainstream

Georgia (No. 11 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $151 million in sales) with a 25.88% increase in revenues, manage sizable import car operations.

Advertising agencies had to endure industrial shifts or make internal adjustments. Some, like Burrell (No. 4 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $190 million in billings), underwent major restructuring: Advertising icon Thomas J. Burrell stepped down as CEO and placed control of his Chicago-based firm in the hands of two top black managers. Others, like the Chisholm-Mingo Group Inc., the 2001 BE Advertising Agency of the Year, closed its doors after 27 years of operation due to brutal economic forces and unrelenting competition.

Financial services companies still feel the competitive squeeze from majority institutions. For instance, black banks and insurers must contend with large institutions—ranging from Citigroup and Bank of America to Allstate and State Farm—that can attract customers through a national network, an advertising blitz, and a host of financial products. In fact, the consolidation of black insurance companies has reduced our top ranking from 10 three years ago to five today.

Despite these challenges, many black institutions continue to find creative ways to build income. For instance, last July, Atlanta Life Investment Advisors (ALIA), the asset management arm of Atlanta Life Financial Group (No. 3 on the BE INSURANCE COMPANIES list with $76 million in assets), struck an agreement with MetLife to manage $50 million of the insurance giant’s assets. Placing the assets in its portfolio of large-cap equity funds, ALIA’s assets under management catapulted from $67 million to $117 million.

But some growth initiatives devised by black financial institutions proved unsuccessful. New York-based Carver Federal Savings Bank (No. 1 on the BE BANKS list with $616 million in assets) failed in its bid to acquire Independence Federal Savings Bank in Washington, D.C. (No. 12 on the BE BANKS list with $178 million in assets). The Office of Thrift Supervision squashed Carver’s nearly $33 million stock buyout because of Independence’s decline in total assets and accumulation of approximately $1.2 million in losses. The deal was expected to boost Carver’s assets to $750 million and place it on course to reach its $1 billion asset goal.

Asset managers continue to be the strongest players among black financial services companies. Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, one of the nation’s best asset management firms—black or white—successfully competes for placement in 401(k) and other employer-sponsored plans against large firms such as Fidelity and PIMCO. Leading the pack, Ariel’s assets under management have grown 32.92%, from $16.1 billion in 2003 to $21.4 billion in 2004—the first time a black asset management firm has managed more than $20 billion in assets. EARNEST Partners, last year’s Financial Company of the Year, also produced stellar returns. The Atlanta-based firm’s assets under management vaulted a staggering 70.43%, from $8.2 billion in 2003 to $13.9 billion in 2004.

Last year’s winners maintained their competitive advantage by becoming major players in the business mainstream. To continue to grow, the BE 100S will need to constantly rethink their

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