Reinvention Through Innovation

Despite the sluggish economy, a number of B.E. 100S companies are winning the battle for market share and profits by retooling their enterprises

Heritage also snagged the syndication rights to Showtime at the Apollo (See “Showdown at the Apollo,” January 2003).

Mercado-Valdes, who “hocked everything” to develop new programming, took advantage of the recession by hiring quality talent that had been laid off by larger companies. With a 50% sales increase over last year, acquisition of the rights to shows such as The Parkers and Resurrection Blvd., and an alliance with renowned African American producer Suzanne de Passe to make made-for-TV films, Mercado-Valdes says Heritage is set up to reach the $100 million revenue mark.

Business owners who didn’t share Mercado-Valdes’ gambler’s instincts focused on efficiency. Take Mays Chemical Co. Inc. (No. 22 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $165 million in gross sales), which had to contend with an oil crisis brought on by the war in Iraq, turmoil in Nigeria, and the prolonged Venezuelan oil strike. Although between 25% and 30% of the chemicals and raw materials the company distributes are petroleum-based, the firm stuck to its sacrosanct formula for profitability. “We’re in a scenario where the cost of oil could go up dramatically in a short period of time, so our challenge is to be very attentive to our raw-materials costs, ” says Senior Vice President Bill West. “[We] make sure that we pass those costs on efficiently and promptly to our customer base of manufacturing companies.”

May
s also minimized its exposure by positioning itself to take advantage of a wartime economy as its clients in the pharmaceutical industry increased purchases. Now, it’s conducting more business with healthcare and defense customers.

DEALING WITH THE ADVERTISING SLUMP
In 2002, many of our top 20 black-owned advertising agencies were pounded by a tough economy. One of the industry leaders, UniWorld Group Inc. (No. 2 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list), fell 9.9%, from $258.5 million to $232.98 million in billings, while less established firms such as E. Morris Communications, which plummeted 41.6%, from $32 million in billings to $18.7 million, fell off the list. A number of other BE agencies produced flat performances.

Surprisingly, some companies prospered. Among the list’s top performers were the independent boutiques SWG&M Advertising Inc. in El Paso, Texas (No. 8 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $36 million in billings), and Equals Three Communications Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland (No. 6 on the list with $80 million in billings), which posted increases in billings of 44% and 17.6%, respectively.

BRAVE, NEW FINANCIAL WORLD
Black-owned financial services companies, which includes our rankings of insurance firms, banks, asset managers, investment banks, and private equity firms, continue to expand and contract in a sluggish economy and deregulated environment. New Orleans-based Liberty Bank & Trust Co. represents the type of innovative institution that will stay competitive in the future. Last year it focused on selling consumer credit cards as well as adopting an austerity program. All told, these measures helped the bank earn a profit of $2.15 million, up from $1.62 million in 2001.

A more ingenious maneuver by CEO Alden J. McDonald Jr. was partnering with the Minority

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