Women of the B.E. 100s

A look at how women CEOs arte running some of today's largest black-owned DK: businesses

The world of the BE 100s is one of exclusivity. The CEOs that run these concerns often move within select inner circles and make their multimillion-dollar deals behind tightly dosed doors.
These CEOs also share another common trait-they are male.

Of the companies on the 1998 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list, only five firms — TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., Soft Sheen Products Inc., Thomas Madison Inc., V&J Foods and Management Technology Inc. — are headed by women. While they may be in the minority, their impact in the African American business community is unmistakable. Together, these five concerns accounted for $1.69 billion in revenues in 1997 (TLC Beatrice accounting for $1.4 billion), and employed over 8,500 workers. And, three of these five firms hold lofty positions among the top 20 black companies in the nation.

But their contribution doesn’t stop there. Peruse our lists of auto dealerships, advertising companies, investment firms, banks and insurance concerns and you’ll find female CEOs are represented.
Among them are auto dealers such as Norma Ross, running Bob Ross buick in Centerville, Ohio, and Emma Chappell, a powerful force on the financial scene as head of the United Bank of Philadelphia.
Talk to each of these women and they will confide that their success has come only after facing obstacles of race and gender. But if they share any attribute, it’s a determination to succeed and an ability to thrive despite the many hurdles thrown in their path.

Here are just some of their stories:

Norma Ross
CEO of Bob Ross Buick
Norma Ross never envisioned herself running Bob Ross Buick. She was always more content to remain behind the scenes, while her husband Bob made the big deals and set the fast pace for their Centerville, Ohio, dealership. Bob Ross Buick has the unique distinction of being the first of just two black-owned Mercedes dealerships in the nation.

But following her husband’s death last year, Ross, 64, had to make a choice. Either allow the auto dealership her husband purchased in 1979 to die with him or carry it on in his name, The decision came rather quickly. “I never entertained any thoughts of selling the store,” says Ross. “I went back in the office the same week after his death, committed to continuing what my husband had put in place. I have no intention of getting out,” she says with conviction.

What helped with the difficult transition was her familiarity with the business. Whether it was performing public relations and consulting work for the dealership, or just offering words of sage advice and counsel to her husband, Ross was always involved in the company. She maintained an active if subtle presence in the dealership and knew the management staff well.

But it’s one thing to have operated in the background–and another to step to the forefront. Now overseeing a staff of 128 employees, Ross, a former schoolteacher, says she’s still adjusting to her new role. “It means getting used to long hours and into the corporate role of scheduling and attending dealer meetings,” says Ross. “I’m

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