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

Corp., Detroit’s Conyers Riverside Ford and United Bank of Philadelphia.

1996 The nation’s largest black-owned industrial/service companies and auto dealerships generated more than $13 billion in total revenues. Twenty-three BE 100s companies posted revenues of more than $100 million each, with TLC Beatrice International breaking the $2 billion sales barrier.

The death of U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown in a plane crash during a trade mission to Bosnia stunned the entire nation and sent shock waves around the world. The June 1996 issue of BE is dedicated to his memory.

The 1996 BE Companies of the Year: Karl Kani Infinity (a Los Angeles- based apparel maker), Houston’s Gulf Freeway Pontiac-GMC Truck and New York’s Carver Federal Savings Bank, which joined the NASDAQ Exchange in 1994.

Most revealing quote: “Ron Brown was the best commerce secretary in the history of this country…. He was just an excellent person in terms of expanding the horizons of business for black people. I cannot think of a single segment of the world community that he touched that will not feel a void from this loss.” –Thomas J. Burrell, CEO, Burrell Communications, “The Best Commerce Secretary Ever,” BE June 1996.

1997 The 25th Annual Report on Black Business reveals a BE 100s list more aggressive and diverse than most could even have imagined in 1973, with sales in excess of $14 billion and more than 55,000 employees.

Not all industries have shared in the progress enjoyed by the industrial/service and auto sales businesses: black commercial banks and thrifts are being tested in a business dominated by giants; black investment banks are scrambling to adjust to a muni-bond market gone bust, and black insurance firms have been whittled down to barely a dozen hardy survivors. Still, the growth and impact of the largest black- owned companies in these and a variety of other industries is undeniable and inexorable.

How far has black business come since the original Top 100 list was published 25 years ago? Well, for one, the top 10 employers on the 1997 BE 100s list provided jobs for more people than all of the original Top 100 companies combined.

Also, the BE 100s long ceased to be synonymous with small business; they are firmly established among the nation’s mid-size and emerging corporations. With the company ranked No. 100 on this year s BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 generating sales in excess of $20 million, only four of the original Top 100 companies– Motown Industries Johnson Publishing Co., and Fedco Foods Corp.–would qualify for this year’s list.

Now that’s progress. But it is also true that change comes in cycles and, as is often said, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Consider the words of BE Editor Pat Patterson in the June 1973 issue: “The businesses represented in this special issue mark a milestone in the history of black economic development in this country. Their presence informs us graphically of the distance black enterprise has come and, more importantly, the miles it has yet to travel.

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