Dawn Of The Black Millennium

The B.E. 100s have ridden the wave of economic prosperity to great heights, but will the good times continue into the next century?


Collectively, the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list experienced a 6.26% decline in sales growth, from $5.93 billion in 1996 to $5.55 billion in 1997. And 9,111 employees received paychecks from the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list–a 1.05% decrease from the previous year. Several auto dealers suffered significant sales losses. CEO Jesse A. Moore saw sales for his Warner Robins Oldsmobile Cadillac Pontiac GMC-Truck franchise, based in Warner Robins, Georgia, fall from $356 million in 1996 to $136 million in 1997. Declining fleet sales were a major culprit.

Observers should not read this as a gloom-and-doom scenario. The aforementioned figures reflect not a seismic economic event but a structural change. Most of the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list companies demonstrated stellar corporate performance. As with Fortune 500 companies, they were propelled, in part, by “Clintonomics,” an economy marked by robust growth, low interest rates and strong consumer confidence. As the economy continues its expansion for a remarkable seventh year–gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an impressive 3.8% in 1997, the best showing in a decade. The BE 100s CEOs have spent the past few years strategically positioning their companies by bolstering internal operations and identifying external growth opportunities. In short, they have prepped their companies for the next millennium.

As always, the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list has experienced significant comings and goings. Ten companies left the list last year because of divestitures or bankruptcies, or they simply did not meet the $18 million minimum to make the cut. Some companies, however, leave as quickly as they arrive. Take West Palm Beach, Florida-based Convenience Corp. of America Inc. (CCA), last year’s rising freshman that ranked No. 8 with sales of $137.4 million from its chain of 150 convenience stores and gasoline stations. Last year, CEO Leslie M. Corley sold a majority interest for an undisclosed sum to a group of investors, apparently because of its troubled operations. Although terms of the deal prohibited Corley from revealing the name of the investment group and the value of the sale, an official for Contemporary Industries Corp., the operator of the 7-Eleven franchises that CCA owns, “filed for voluntary bankruptcy” on Feb. 17 and has sent prospectuses “to over 100 parties as part of a bankruptcy sale of assets.” (See “7-Eleven Acquisition Sours,” Newspoints, this issue.)

Another concern, Am-Pro Protection Agency Inc., was bounced off the list after first filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May and then being forced by NationsBank, its main creditor, to liquidate its holdings after the bank won a petition to lift the company’s protected status.

Top performer Sylvest Management Systems Corp., the Lanham, Maryland, computer and network integration firm that grossed $107.5 million in 1996, was sold to majority-owned Federal Data Corp., a systems integration firm in Bethesda, Maryland. CEO Gary Murray said the company was not sold because of a financial short circuit. He believed the merger could reprogram Sylvest into a full-service Goliath that could provide both products and services to federal agencies.

Some new arrivals are vying for leadership

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