The Freshman Class Of ’97

This year's neophytes include an operator of convenience stores, a technical services contractorand a former football pro turned sausage magnate

Excuse their swagger. But breaking into an exclusive club such as the largest listing of black-owned companies in the nation is indeed an occasion to celebrate and one deserving of a pat on the back. Each year, the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 is transformed by a fresh crop of newcomers who have brought their enterprises to the next level. These emerging concerns bring a new level of diversity to the list and, in many cases, show the prowess of African American entrepreneurs in cutting unprecedented deals and managing multimillion-dollar monoliths.

Included in this year’s freshman class of three is an ax-football star determined to reinvent a former BE 100s company. The second entrepreneur is breaking new ground in health care through high technology, while the third is an investment banker whose remarkable takeover of a chain of convenience stores instantly made his company one of the top players on the BE 100s.

PLAYING ON A NEW FIELD
David Duerson knows about beating the competition. For years, he intercepted passes and gained yardage as a defensive back in the National Football League for such teams as the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Phoenix Cardinals. And his prowess earned him two Super Bowl rings. Today, Duerson is playing on a totally different field. As president of Fair Oaks Farms Inc., he scrambles every day to score sales for his Kenosha, Wisconsin based meat processing operation. And thus far, the performance of Fair Oaks Farms has been worthy of an end-zone strut. The firm’s 1996 revenues of $42.6 million place it at No. 48 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100.

A graduate of Notre Dame, Duerson, 36, became involved in the food business by happenstance. At a sporting event, he met the president of McDonald’s who encouraged him to consider owning and operating-a franchise. Still unimpressed by the business, he was further nudged by his best friend, a multiple-franchise owner, and his wife. “I was extremely reluctant,” says Duerson, who initially viewed practicing law as his next career move. “But I told my wife if she handled the due diligence and completed the application then I would pursue it. To my surprise, she had all the paperwork completed in 72 hours.”

After working behind the counter for a day, Duerson became committed to developing a burgers-and-fries enterprise. During the NFL off-season, he went through an intense franchisee training program at Hamburger University. But as he started the process of taking over two McDonald’s outlets in Louisville, Kentucky, a representative from Gerlen Corp., a majority-owned holding company based in Chicago, offered him the opportunity to become a food supplier for the Golden Arches. As an insider, the Muncie, Indiana, native would have an appreciation for the type of product that would best serve McDonald’s operators. “When I first interviewed with McDonald’s as a registered franchise applicant, I told them of my intent to eventually move to the supplier side,” says Duerson. “I planted the seed for this transition early on.”

The deal was made all the sweeter by the fact

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