Marathon Men Revisited

The veterans. The godfathers. The cornerstones of the BE 100s

what I plan to do.”

H. J. RUSSELL & CO. | Atlanta, Georgia
Look at the Atlanta skyline and you’ll see Herman Russell’s hard work. The 71-year-old CEO can proudly point to some of the city’s most impressive skyscrapers — buildings built by H. J. Russell & Co., one of the nation’s most successful construction companies, black or white. His structures — ranging from high-rise condominiums and low-income housing to airports and ballparks — have touched millions of lives.

Over the past three decades, sales of the 50-year-old firm have grown from $6 million on the original BE 100 to gross sales of $240.3 million on today’s list. To keep it running smoothly, he has deftly structured his firm into several divisions, including construction, engineering management, and airport concessions. In times of recession or prosperity, Russell has expanded the firm through what he calls “controlled growth” and has adhered to a standard set of principles. “My philosophy is honesty and commitment,” he says. “Understand the art of saving, equip yourself for the job, and learn everything you can.”

One of a handful of black-owned construction firms, H.J. Russell shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. “We have had more growth in the last five years than we’ve had in the history of our company,” he maintains.

Although Russell, whose net worth is estimated between $40 million and $100 million, brags that he now only works 10 hours a day instead of the 15 he worked when he was younger, he does bring up retirement every now and then. His three children are all involved in the family business: H. Jerome, 38, serves as COO; Michael, 36, runs construction; and daughter, Donata Major, 42, oversees the airport concessions division. In his Southern accent, Russell quips: “One of the kids will succeed me, but I’m not ready to announce which one.”

For 33 years, Essence has been the dominant voice for African American women. It’s a remarkable achievement for a magazine that was given last rites by the industry during its first year of publication.

Today, the magazine, which reaches more than 1 million subscribers, is part of a global communications empire that includes an interactive media unit, a television awards program, and a New Orleans-based music festival that has attracted more than a million attendees since it was launched in 1995. Essence Communications Partners (ECP) has come a long way from its No. 63 ranking on the Top 100, as the Hollingsworth Group Inc., with gross sales of $2 million, to being listed among the top 30 companies on the 2002 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with gross sales of $144.2 million.

Publisher and CEO Edward T. Lewis, 62, and President Clarence Smith, 67, continue to grow the successful brand. In 2000 the company entered into a historic partnership with Time Inc., the nation’s largest publisher and a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner Inc. in New York City. Essence Communications Inc. officially became Essence Communications partners

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