Countdown To The 21st Century

How can black companies thrive in the new millennium? Our economists offer imperatives CEOs must embrace now

are doing things for which there is a market overseas,” he asserts. “And it doesn’t have to be large or exotic. Perhaps they make an ingredient or extract that can be used in a product outside the U.S. You can make money and your product can still be very basic.”

For black businesses to grow and make a significant impact, black CEOs must recognize that their primary objective is to be profitable, say the board members, and not necessarily to act as instruments of social development for African Americans. The social benefits of black business growth jobs, economic development, political empowerment–are natural by-products of growing large, successful companies.

“From my viewpoint,” Brimmer asserts, “increased employment of blacks by black-owned businesses is a byproduct of the engagement of business. You should be in business for profits, not for social development. When it gets to the point where the best opportunity for you is another business, don’t be so possessive of the one you now control. Think about getting rid of it and moving on to something else.”
Alexis believes that mindset has taken hold among the new wave of black business leaders. “The current generation of black M.B.A. students has very different attitudes about business, financing and joint ventures,” he observes. “None of those things scare them. They understand that this is the way you put your bricks together to get where you’re going. And, you have to have an exit strategy. If you start a business, that doesn’t mean you’re going to die as the head of that business. The point is to make your wealth and move on.”

Boston agrees. “As I talk to young blacks who are coming out of business schools now, they have adopted the Malcolm X phrase ‘By any means necessary,'” he observes. “They say they want to grow any way they can grow. It doesn’t matter whether it’s debt or equity or through venture capital. To me, that really represents the future.”

Whoever has the best trained, most prepared labor pool wins. In an economy where workers are more important as thinkers and decision-makers who can work as a team than as individual performers rewarded for physical labor alone, companies cannot afford to skimp on recruiting and developing the best talent available at all levels of their operations. Developing a strong management team, as well as a regularly updated succession plan to keep the company growing through multiple generations of ownership, is critical to the growth and stability of black business.
“Prepare the next generation of workers and business leaders,” says Simms. “In order to be competitive, you need good employees who know how to adapt and who will help find those new ideas.”

“Our people must think more in terms of acquisition,” Swinton asserts. “This is a way to acquire expertise, market share and other value without starting from scratch and going through elaborate learning curves.”
Growth through acquisition is a strategy that W. Don Cornwell of

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