Milestones Of The B.E. 100s

A look at a quarter-century of major events which shaped the growth of the nation's largest black-owned businesses

sales and distribution business.
1981 The BE 100 reports annual sales of $1.53 billion.

The nation’s black-owned auto dealerships found themselves in the dangerous undertow of the worst financial crisis in the history of the auto industry. Each of the domestic automakers were in a desperate battle to survive, posting more than $4 billion in losses. Chrysler was saved by a controversial government bail-out plan that would indelibly etch Chairman Lee Iacocca’s name into the folklore of American industry. At Ford Motor Co., more than 500 dealerships went under, including nearly a third of its black-owned franchises. The number of auto dealerships on the BE 100 went from 37 in 1977 to only 30 in 1981. The nation’s largest black auto dealership was Dick Harris Cadillac in Detroit, with $14.1 million in sales.

Interesting fact: The June 1981 BE 100 issue is the first issue of BE to be distributed on newsstands nationally.

Most revealing quote: “The worst is over,” said Dick Gidron, owner of Gidron Cadillac, whose dealership (the nation’s second largest black auto franchise) fell from No. 17 to No. 31 on the list.”Those who have weathered the storm now can see an upturn in sales.” It would take the better part of a decade for Gidron’s optimism about the domestic auto industry to be borne out.

1982: The 10th anniversary listing of the BE 100 was marked by $1.9 billion in sales. Motown still reigned as the nation’s largest black company with revenues of $91.7 million. The largest auto dealership on the list was Atlanta’s Robinson Cadillac-Pontiac Inc., ranked No. 32 with sales of $16.3 million. The smallest company was Detroit’s Porterfield Wilson Mazda-Honda, with $6.5 million in sales. More than 21,000 people worked at BE 100 companies. Fifteen of the original Top 100 have appeared on all 10 lists.

Family Savings & Loan Association and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. maintained their reigns as, respectively, the nation’s largest black thrift and the largest insurance company. Meanwhile, Freedom National Bank of New York dethrones Independence Bank of Chicago as the nation’s largest black commercial bank.

Meanwhile, in a prelude to the looming S&L crisis of the mid-1980s, black thrifts were battered by high interest rates and a recessionary economy. The thrift industry as a whole lost more than $6.4 billion in 1981–and the worst was yet to come.

Interesting fact: Although each of the previous annual reports on black business profiled companies on the respective lists, the 1982 BE 100 report was the first to officially recognize an industrial/service business, commercial bank, thrift and insurance company as BLACK ENTERPRISE Companies of the Year. The honorees for 1982: BE Company of the Year, New York-based Inner City Broadcasting Corp.; BE Bank of the Year, Cleveland’s First Bank National; BE Savings & Loan of the Year, Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan Association of Chicago; BE Insurance Company of the Year, Atlanta Life Insurance Co.

1983: Less than five years since surpassing $1 billion in combined revenues, the BE 100 passes the $2 billion milestone.

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