Pursuing A Strategic Vision

B.E. 100s CEOs are focused on maintainingtheir competitive edge today, while positioningtheir companies for tomorrow's opportunities

Publishing Co., with $325.71 million in gross sales, is the No. 2 mainstay. Rounding out the top five are Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Inc., headed by J. Bruce Llewellyn, with sales of $326 million; Lanham, Maryland-based Pulsar Data Systems Inc., a computer reseller with gross sales of $166 million; and Atlanta-based H.J. Russell & Co., the construction and concessions management concern, with gross sales of $163.76 million.

Karl Kani Infinity, last year’s Company of the Year with sales of $59 million, continued its impressive run as CEO Karl Kani introduced new clothing lines to broader markets. His sales increased to $65 million last year.

The largest black-owned auto dealers produced sales of $5.93 billion in 1996, from $5.69 billion in the previous year. 15 auto dealers skidded off the 1997 BE AUTO DEALER 100.
There was a slight adjustment at the top of the list. Al Smith of Al Smith’s Chevrolet-Oldsmobile Inc. in Brighton, Colorado, was nudged from the top spot by Mel Farr’s Automotive Group in Oak Park, Michigan, which, with revenues of $503.3 million, experienced phenomenal growth last year.

The good times continued for Carl L. Barnett Sr., the 1996 Auto Dealer of the Year. Indeed Barnett, who saw revenues climb from $39.0 million in 1995 to $44.1 million last year, felt a name change was in order. So out with the old (Houston’s Gulf Freeway Pontiac-GMC
Truck) and in with the new: Barnett Automotive Group. This year’s Auto Dealer of the Year, Cornelius Martin, rode the popularity wave of Saturn automobiles to near record profits.

But the news wasn’t as good for other auto dealers. Last year, BE AUTO DEALER 100 perennial Dick Gidron discovered that his 23-year ride with General Motors was over. GM notified him that his Bronx, New York-based franchise, Dick Gidron Cadillac, had been turned over to another dealer. In response, the tenacious entrepreneur filed a $357 million lawsuit against GM charging that the automaker did not offer him the same financial arrangement that was provided other dealerships. The lawsuit claims GM violated his civil rights through a process akin to redlining, scrapping black dealerships located in urban communities. Prior to the suit, negotiations with GM to keep his franchise was disrupted by the closing of his dealership for several months due to a tax dispute with the IRS. (GM contends that since Gidron’s dealership was closed by the IRS, he breached his franchise agreement.) The action, however, wrecked revenue growth: gross sales for Gidron’s automotive operation plummeted 42.4%, from $34 million in 1995 to $19.6 million last year.

To prosper, many BE 100s companies realized that they cannot tie their economic future to one product, service or industry. Often, diversification means a company’s survival when an industry is in the midst of a downturn or the key to an enterprise’s propulsion to the realm of phenomenal growth. In fact, one BE 100s CEO orchestrated his return to the list while breaking new ground: Barden Companies Inc., the Detroit, Michigan-based diversified holding company (No. 18 on

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