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?

of the pack. One such company is World Wide Technology Inc., a St. Louis-based marketer of integrated technical solutions for corporate clients (No. 11 with sales of $135 million). Its most recent coup was signing–along with two other minorityowned companies–a $150 million contract with Southwestern Bell and Lucent Technologies to test, distribute and assemble electronic components. Says CEO David L. Steward about its phenomenal growth over the past seven years: “We always look for opportunities. We are poised to take advantage of the industrial revolution in today’s Information Age.”

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS AND GAINING CONTROL
Many BE 100s CEOs have boosted their company’s value and put their operations on an even keel. At the heart of the TLC Beatrice divestiture was its management’s mandate to meet the objective of late CEO Reginald Lewis–the brilliant financier who orchestrated the historic $985 million acquisition in 1987–to increase shareholder value. The funds enabled the company to successfully complete a $175 million tender offer for its outstanding 11.5% senior secured notes due 2005. “We significantly reduced our debt obligations,” CEO Loida Lewis told BE. “We have an excellent collection of companies and we will continue our program of maximizing value and increasing liquidity.”

The sale means the No. 1 spot could well be up for grabs next year. Waiting in the wings is Philadelphia Coca-Cola, which posted an impressive revenue growth of more than 9% by gulping new territory in Northern New Jersey and unveiling such new products as Surge and Cool Nestea. “With the new cus
tomers and brands, we realized a significant increase in sales over the past year,” says CEO J. Bruce Llewellyn. “We intend to continue to grow our franchise through such expansion.”

Johnson Publishing Co. Inc. (JPC), the Chicago-based publishing, cosmetics and hair care monolith, showed a gain largely due to advertising growth in its long-standing publications, Ebony and Jet, and sales of its Fashion Fair cosmetics line. The concern, however, spent much of last year restructuring its major businesses. JPC suspended publication of decade-old Ebony Man; discontinued E-Style, its catalogue venture with Spiegel; installed new management within its hair-care division; and increased its ownership stake of Ebony South Africa from 51% to 85%, buying out the publication’s white individual investors. “Ebony and Jet had their best years ever in 1997,” asserts CEO John H. Johnson. “I am cautiously optimistic about 1998. We have made changes, however, that will keep us well positioned.”

Other BE 100s CEOs simply sought to take back control of the companies that they built. Last September, CEO Robert L. Johnson and Liberty Media Corp., a subsidiary of TeleCommunications Inc. (TCI), announced their intentions to take BET Holdings Inc. (No. 7 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $170 million in gross sales) private in a $288 million bid. The proposed buyback resulted in a class-action lawsuit by minority shareholders against Johnson; John Malone, CEO of TCI; and the BET board of directors. In late January, the board’s special independent committee determined that the proposed $48-a-share offer “was not adequate,” forcing

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