hard-nosed financier would demonstrate that African American CEOs could play on a world stage and run an organization focused on boosting shareholder value. Lewis, the Francophile with a love for fine cigars, was well on his way to amassing power, success and wealth on an unprecedented scale.
ACT II: PICKING UP THE PIECES WHEN A TITAN FALLS
In January 1993, the unthinkable happened. Reginald Lewis died of brain cancer. His untimely demise stunned the business community and rocked TLC.
Lewis knew months earlier that he was going to die and started taking measures to secure his company and his estate. In late 1992, he formed an “office of the chairman,” which was led by his half brother, Jean S. Fuggett, a former football player and attorney who had served as vice chairman of the company. After his death, the Lewis family owned about 55% of the stock and Fuggett was installed as CEO.
But Fuggett’s tumult-filled tenure would last almost a year to the day of the death of the titan who forged TLC.
The concern’s far-flung operations were hurt by a crippling European recession. Currency fluctuations pulled down sales. Fuggett took measures to stabilize TLC through a major restructuring and cost-cutting program, shuttering several plants and unprofitable operations and cutting back the number of employees at both the corporate and operating levels.
But he was constantly nagged by questions and comments from analysts and shareholders who believed he could not fill his brother’s shoes nor had the chops to run the sprawling enterprise. Fuggett was asked to vacate the CEO’s chair.
On January 5, 1994, the company announced that Loida Lewis, an immigration attorney and her husband’s unofficial advisor, was over her bereavement and would take the helm. The action caused the
African American business community to wonder whether TLC was still a black-owned entity, since its stock had been redistributed and Lewis was Asian American. However, the Lewis family, including the Lewises’ daughters, 21-year-old Leslie and 14-year-old Christina, owned 51% of the shares and retained complete control of the predominantly African American board of directors. (Leslie would eventually become a member of the corporate board.) Said Lewis at the time: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that TLC Beatrice is an African American-owned company. This is the legacy of my late husband and I will do everything in my power to advance his vision.”
So now it was Loida Lewis’ turn to put her imprint on the company. Acting immediately to strengthen the corporate balance sheet, she assembled a team, led by Glover, and implemented a series of rapid-fire decisions. She sold the company plane, cut the corporate staff, moved the company to modest midtown Manhattan digs and hawked noncore holdings to repay debt. Like her husband, she, too, walked the factory floors and listened to managers. Reflects Glover, “Reg and Loida had different styles. Reg was more direct and in-your-face while Loida was more spiritual. In fact, she would open each meeting with a prayer. But they were similar in terms of challenging