The history of the BE 100s has been carved from boom-and-bust business cycles, individual fortitude, and institutional innovation. In the 1970s, bootstrapping CEOs forged businesses that largely targeted black consumers: haircare products, media, entertainment, and community supermarkets. The 1980s gave rise to financiers who used mergers, acquisitions, and financial engineering to scale the BE 100S. By 1988, the late Reginald Lewis, dealmaker extraordinaire, led the pack through his junk bond-backed leveraged buyout of Beatrice International and the creation of the first $1 billion-plus black enterprise. A decade later, large numbers of black-focused businesses like haircare companies would go the way of the Jheri curl, making way for, among others, a bevy of tech titans and automotive suppliers.
Today, BE 100S CEOs must contend with a rapidly evolving, globally competitive environment that favors the bold and slaughters the meek. At no other time in business history have so many black entrepreneurs operated in billion-dollar arenas or played such significant roles in business and technological advancement. Thomas Boston, Ph.D., CEO of the Boston Research Group Inc., a firm that studies the success patterns of the fastest-growing small businesses, says, “One of the biggest differences between those companies that were really successful and those that weren’t is what I call ‘value innovation.’ They weren’t adjusting their prices at all. They weren’t concerned about their marketing strategy. What they were concerned about was how they could add value to their existing customers and clients in a new and innovative way.”
Simply put: To meet customer demands and competitive pressures, CEOs must run a tight ship. To focus on such issues, our editors assembled a roundtable of black CEOs across an array of industries. They are:
- Thomas D. Boston, a member of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists.
- William G. Mays, angel investor and CEO of Mays Chemical Co., the nation’s largest black-owned chemical distributor
- JoAnn H. Price and Laurence C. Morse, co-founders and partners of Fairview Capital Partners Inc., the nation’s largest black-owned private equity firm
- Russell T. Wright, chairman and CEO of Dimensions International Inc. one of the nation’s largest black-owned defense contractors
- Shawn D. Baldwin, president and CEO of Capital Management Group Securities L.L.C., a provider of investment banking services, and manager of one of the few black-owned hedge funds
- John F. Carter, president and CEO of Carter Brothers L.L.C., the largest black security firm in the U.S.
- John A. James, chairman and CEO of James Group International, a leading black-owned logistics and supply-chain management firm
- Rodney P. Hunt, president and CEO of RS Information Systems, one of the nation’s largest black-owned information technology and consulting firms
Moderated by BE President and CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., this discussion produced a platform that will help black businesses become even more competitive. The planks are as follows:
RECRUIT PEOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU
To propel your business into hyperdrive, you have to identify the right pilots. William G. Mays says the process takes more than evaluating résumés and calling references. For black-owned businesses to gain intellectual firepower and well-connected corporate Rolodexes, entrepreneurs need to reach outside