The cover of the collector’s edition August 2010 40th Anniversary Issue of Black Enterprise features an editors’ choice of the 40 covers that best tell the story of Black Enterprise as the undisputed chronicler of black American business achievement and economic progress. Here are the stories behind the covers, year by year.
In the August 1970 premiere issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE, the mission statement read: “Lacking capital, managerial and technical knowledge and crippled by prejudice, the minority businessman has been effectively kept out of the profitable corner of the American marketplace. We want to help change this.” Over the past 40 years, BLACK ENTERPRISE has sought to do just that. The cover subject, Fayette, Mississippi Mayor Charles Evers was an example of the ingenuity and determination needed to run black-owned businesses such as the Medgar Evers Shopping Center, named in honor of his late brother, a prominent civil rights leader slain by an assassin in 1963.
The February 1971 BLACK ENTERPRISE cover story, “The Returning G.I,.” dealt with the problems of black Vietnam War veterans in a society that was ill-equipped to reintegrate them. The result: many traded firefights in Southeast Asian for unemployment lines in urban hubs. Their economic plight mirrors that of today’s veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they seek to find decent jobs or gain financing to start businesses.
The June 1972 cover on “The Economics of Health Care” reveals that the issue was a politically-heated topic close to 40 years ago. The multi-article editorial package reviewed the ongoing debate over “socialized medicine” as alternative proposals were submitted by Republican President Richard Nixon and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, among others. Our editors also explored the preservation of black hospitals and adoption of a national Sickle Cell Anemia Prevention Act.
In June 1973, BLACK ENTERPRISE launched its most enduring franchises with its original Top 100 list ranking the nation’s largest black-owned businesses, including industrial, service, and professional businesses. Total sales: $473.4 million. Motown Industries, owned and operated by legendary music mogul Berry Gordy, was the list leader for well over a decade. Now called the BE 100s, our rankings of leading industrial/service companies, auto dealerships, advertising agencies and financial services firms, has become the authoritative barometer for black business progress.
Considered “The First Lady of Wall Street,” Ernesta Procope was the face of black female business success when she was featured on this August 1974 cover. As CEO of E.G. Bowman Co., Inc., she owns and operates nation’s largest black-owned insurance brokerage to this day. The issue devoted much of its content to “Black Women in Business and Public Life.” The centerpiece was a roundtable focused on the status of black women in corporate America. Said one panelist: “We’re constantly playing catch up – expending the extra amount of energy, time, discipline – to find out what happened in [an] organization 15 years ago when no blacks were there.”
Even before BE Next – our movers and shakers between the ages of 21 and 35 – our editors were on the lookout for the best and brightest on the rise. In this August 1975 cover, Under 30 & Moving Up, BLACK ENTERPRISE identified quite a few individuals who left an indelible mark on the business world. In the feature, we identified Goldman Sachs Associate W. Don Cornwell, who went on to create one-time BE 100s media giant Granite Broadcasting; Leo Burnett Associate Creative Director Carol H. Williams, who now owns and operates the nation’s second largest black-owned advertising agency; and Presidential Advisor Richard Parsons who made the transition from politics to business, eventually serving as chairman for both Time Warner and Citigroup.
The focus of the October 1976 cover package was our annual money management special. As the illustration shows, our readers – and the nation as a whole – were trying to find ways to rise above the inflationary economic climate. Among other financial strategies, our editors promoted the value of investing in stocks and bonds, hiring a good accountant and using credit unions as a banking alternative.
.BLACK ENTERPRISE has always educated readers about the relationship between business and politics. In January 1977, we profiled Andrew Young, the civil rights activist who became a proponent of “New South” coalition politics after the strategy helped him become the first African American elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction. After playing a pivotal role in the 1976 election of President Jimmy Carter, he was portrayed in the media “as one of the nation’s most powerful African Americans” and viewed as the insider who could collect the “political debt” of employment and business opportunities Carter owed black voters. Young would serve a controversy-filled term as Carter’s United Nations Ambassador before becoming Mayor of Atlanta.
For years, BLACK ENTERPRISE has devoted the month of September to tackling education issues. In September 1978, public education was in a state of crisis – and African American children in urban hubs suffered the worst – sounds familiar? As show in the cover illustration, urban school systems were plagued by a multitude of ills: budget cuts, lack of accountability, teacher apathy and alarming dropout rates. That issue’s Publisher’s Page proved prophetic: “Thousands of young people have cosigned themselves to the backwaters of American life, their futures foreclosed by a system designed ostensibly to liberate them from a cycle of dependency but which has failed them.”
In the November 1979 cover story, BLACK ENTERPRISE featured a series of profiles on “sports entrepreneurs.” In the article, we identified players like basketball phenom Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and baseball superstar Lou Brock who started entrepreneurial ventures because they knew “that front-office jobs and advertising endorsements were remote for black athletes.” Cover subject Arthur Ashe, who managed to land endorsements with AMF/Head racquets and Aetna Life Insurance, also launched Arthur Ashe and Friends, a chain of tennis shops he founded with a group of fellow tennis pros.
The issue of immigration raged more than 30 years ago as BLACK ENTERPRISE tackled this controversial subject. The April 1980 cover illustration depicted challenges faced by Haitians who claimed they were fleeing political persecution and needed to gain asylum in the United States. Reported during the Cold War era, the article revealed that thousands escaping Communist or Middle Eastern regimes were granted “political refugee” status or gained a special “parole” from the US Attorney General while fewer than a hundred Haitians – called the “black boat people” – received the same consideration. At one point, the federal government charged more than 10,000 Haitians with illegal entry and deported them.
Our December 1981 cover revealed funnyman Bill Cosby as one of America’s top celebrity endorsers due, in part, to having qualities that many in the advertising industry believe “transcend race.” Leading the pack with $3 million in TV and other advertising contracts for hawking products such as Coca-Cola and Jell-O pudding, Cosby helped usher in a new crop of black spokespersons, including boxing sensation Sugar Ray Leonard, baseball superstar Reggie Jackson and R&B singer Gladys Knight.
In April 1982, BLACK ENTERPRISE covered a media milestone: Bryant Gumbel being named co-host of NBC’s Today, the first black to anchor a network morning program. The 33-year-old former sportscaster and host of the network’s leading NFL program – one that reached 70 million television viewers – replaced Tom Brokaw out of a field of the toughest veteran competition at the time. When asked by our editors would his promotion provide another opening for blacks in media, he responded: “I think there has been less than a terrific effort on the parts of all the networks to find new people. You’re dealing with people who have been in the business a long time and [they] have been white males.”
Long before talk of careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), BLACK ENTERPRISE reported on opportunities in the sciences. Months before our February 1983 cover subject Lt. Col. Guion Bluford Jr. became the first African American astronaut launched into space on the Challenger shuttle, he and other scientists shared the range of opportunities for blacks within NASA and the aeronautics field. Other astronauts featured in that issue: the late Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Lt. Colonel Frederick D. Gregory and Major Charles F. Bolden, Jr., who became the first African American to head NASA when he was appointed by President Obama in 2009.
In August 1984, BLACK ENTERPRISE kicked its coverage of blacks in corporate America into high gear as a new generation of young professionals – many armed with MBAs from the best schools – sought to get on the fast track to higher positions, more lucrative salaries and rewarding perks. The industry of choice: finance. The most coveted workplace: Wall Street. In that issue, our editors made the term “Buppies” – black urban professionals – part of the ‘80s business culture.
Our July 1985 cover subject Henry “Hank” Aaron no longer hit homeruns from the baseball field but sought to score in the front office as the Atlanta Braves’ vice president and director of player development – at that time, baseball’s highest-ranking African American executive. Aaron was the rare exception when came to black ascension within the executive ranks of professional sports. In fact, the lack of such representation in the front offices was considered “an embarrassment” to baseball, basketball and football leagues. Such reports, in part, led to present-day diversity efforts. As for the future appearance of Aaron on BLACK ENTERPRISE cover – the June 2004 issue when his successful dealerships made him BE Auto Dealer of the Year.
In May 1986, conspicuous consumption was the order of the day. Our editors created a package that spoke to the aspirations of our readers: Affording the good life. But don’t mistake our coverage for the wanton extravagance shown on the popular ‘80s program, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. We revealed how black families could live extremely well on their household incomes as well as how professionals can gain life-enhancing perks through their jobs. That issue’s Publisher’s Page summed up our approach: “In order to gain greater fiscal freedom, one must create clear-cut objectives and concrete, long-term strategies. The first step in the process is making an investment in yourself.”
Our editors literally stopped the presses in order to report one of the greatest deals in black business history: Reginald F. Lewis’ historic $985 million leveraged buyout of Beatrice International Foods Cos. – the largest offshore transaction at the time. Our November 1987 cover story, with its exclusive interview with Lewis, scooped much of the business press. As a result of the transaction, the late financier would create TLC Beatrice, the first African American global enterprise to break the billion-dollar revenue mark. Lewis’ financial prowess continues to inspire a generation of African American entrepreneurs.
In February 1988, BLACK ENTERPRISE published an unprecedented list of blacks who reached the upper echelons of corporate power. The roster, “The 25 Hottest Managers in Corporate America,” looked at executives who controlled multimillion dollar budgets and ran billion-dollar divisions. Not one executive on that list was a black woman. From that original list, however, two reached CEO status at one of the nation’s largest 500 publicly-traded corporations: A. Barry Rand, former CEO of Avis Corp. and Kenneth I. Chenault, current Chairman and CEO of American Express. As of 2009, the list has grown to become the “100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America.” Currently, there are nine black CEOs of the nation’s largest publicly-traded corporations – including one woman.
This April 1989 cover shows Percy Sutton, the “Godfather of Urban Radio,” in front of Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre, which he acquired, renovated and revitalized as part of a nationally-syndicated Showtime at the Apollo television show. As we interviewed the Tuskegee Airman, civil rights activist and politician who took a single radio station and transformed it into Inner City Broadcasting Corp., he was continuing to develop new media ventures as well as begin the process of handing the reins of his business empire to the next generation.
When Kenneth I. Chenault assumed the role of president of American Express Co.’s Consumer Card Group , controlling all of its U.S. card products, BLACK ENTERPRISE wrote in March 1990 that he was “a polished, articulate mixture of savvy marketer, corporate insider and entrepreneurial visionary: the stuff of which CEOs of the 21st Century are made.” At the time, the 38-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer was one of a handful of African Americans with the credentials and potential to run one of the nation’s 500 largest publicly-traded corporations. Twelve years later, he would take the helm of the financial services giant and represent the highest standard of corporate leadership.
Despite a tough recession, franchising was producing super returns for a number of entrepreneurs as our September 1991 cover illustrated. The composition of the BE Franchise 50 – our listing of the companies with the most black-owned franchise outlets – showed that 22% were in the fast food sector while 10% could be found in business/postal services, cleaning services and specialty foods, respectively. However, blacks were still woefully underrepresented in the total universe of franchising: only 3% of the more than 500,000 franchise outlets were minority-owned.
In this December 1992 cover story, BLACK ENTERPRISE delved inside the world of Russell Simmons and his hip-hop empire-building. Through his talent for finding the right musical talent, marketing strategies and business partnerships, his mission was to take urban culture global. At that time, the 35-year-old mogul’s $34 million Rush Communications, which included the Def Jam record label, was No. 32 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES List; earned an annual salary of $5 million; and considered taking the company public. And that all happened before he launched the Phat Farm clothing line.
When Johnson Products Co., the haircare products company known for Ultra Sheen and Gentle Treatment, was sold to majority-owned conglomerate IVAX Corp in a deal valued at $67 million, it created a firestorm of protest in the African American communities. The furor led to our editors developing the November 1993 cover story, “Should Black Businesses Be Sold To Whites?” The article stated that “the sale challenges our understanding of economic empowerment: Are blacks who sell their businesses to whites savvy entrepreneurs or sell-outs?” Even though two decades later a number of such divestitures have given black entrepreneurs access to capital for expansions and acquisition, the practice continues to rankle many who believe black institutions should be preserved at all cost.
In August 1994, BLACK ENTERPRISE profiled Ann C. Fudge, president of Maxwell House Coffee Co., a division of Kraft General Foods. The appointment made her the highest–ranking black female executive in corporate America. Fudge, however, downplayed her elevation in the cover story, citing that her assets were experience “resuscitating older brands” and exercising “patience, perseverance and persistence.” Her philosophy paid off roughly a decade later when she was named Chairman & CEO of Young & Rubicam, the first African American to head a major Madison Avenue advertising agency.
On the April 1995 cover, BLACK ENTERPRISE cited the appointment of Robert Holland, a corporate executive and turnaround artist, as CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. as another corporate milestone: the first African American recruited to run a majority-owned franchisor. He said of his ascent: “Twenty years from now, nobody’s going to know Bob Holland, Dick Parsons or Ken Chenault . There’ll be 20 black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, half of them or more women. So this is just a passing point in time.”
As our editors were producing the June 1996 issue, Ronald H. Brown, Commerce Secretary under the Clinton Administration, and his fellow travelers met an untimely end in a plane crash on a Croatian mountainside. As stated in that issue’s Publisher’s Page: “It is only fitting that we pay tribute to Brown in the same issue that features the BE 100S. Brown was a vocal and active champion of minority-owned enterprise; even as his opponents and peers scoffed, Brown held fast to the tenet that American business cannot thrive if its minority-businesses cannot thrive.” In his role, Brown helped black businesses gain unprecedented access to emerging global markets.
In celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the BE 100s – the rankings of the largest black-owned businesses – in the June 1997 issue, our editors recognized the “Marathon Men,” leaders of the five companies on every listing since its inception. They were John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Co., the parent of Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair Cosmetics; Herman J. Russell of H.J. Russell & Co., the largest black-owned construction company; Clarence Smith and Ed Lewis of Essence Communications Inc., publisher of Essence Magazine; Nathan Conyers of Conyers Riverside Ford; and Earl G. Graves, Sr. of Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine. To date, Johnson Publishing, H.J. Russell & Co. and Earl G. Graves Publishing are the remaining BE 100s perennials
Gospel music has become big business – and BLACK ENTERPRISE was one of the first publications to cover this trend. Recording artists like our July 1998 cover subject CeCe Winans made gospel, or contemporary Christian, the fastest-growing genre and the sixth most popular form of music, beating our jazz and classical. The feature, “Gospel Rides Again,” highlighted artists who brought a new style to gospel with cutting-edge hairstyles and fashions like Yolanda Adams and God’s Property, one of the first to rack up platinum sales – 1 million units each.
Our August 1999 cover features international business consultant Kathryn D. Leary who connected corporate clients and entrepreneurs with prospective partners in Japan and South Africa. Not only did this issue demonstrate BLACK ENTERPRISE’s ongoing commitment to exposing our readers to business opportunities in international markets but our editors also identified a growing trend in which black female executives and entrepreneurs were rising as a global business force.
The January 2000 issue kick-started BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 30th Anniversary—and the Black Wealth Initiative, our financial literacy and empowerment program in response to the widening wealth divide between African Americans and white Americans. The program included a Financial Fitness Contest – the winner received $2,000 and free advice from a financial planner – and our Declaration of Financial Empowerment, 10 money management principles to encourage African Americans to begin the process of building multigenerational wealth. By 2009, the program had been expanded into a companywide mission under our “Wealth for Life” banner.
The theme of our February 2001 Annual Careers and Opportunities Issue was “Calling Your Own Shots.” In the editorial package, our editors captured the latest trends, attitudes and actions related to the new 21st Century work environment. Instead of deciding to become corporate lifers, more professionals, led by GenXers, opted for greater flexibility through job-hopping and independent contracting. For example, our cover subject Torrance Mohammed, a 28-year-old computer consultant, stood out from the corporate crowd – as shown in our updated take of Rene Magritte’s “Man in the Bowler Hat “ – by selecting his assignments and clients as a free agent.
A few days before the February 2002 issue was to go on press, Richard D. Parsons was selected as CEO of the $36 billion AOL Time Warner media empire which included such properties as Time Inc., Warner Bros., CNN and HBO. The editorial team of BLACK ENTERPRISE conducted an exclusive photo shoot and one-on-one interview for the groundbreaking achievement that placed Parsons as one of five African American CEOs of the nation’s 500 largest publicly-traded corporations and arguably the most powerful media executive in the world.
Boondocks comic strip creator Aaron McGruder, power celebrity attorney Londell McMillan, uber-agent Andrea Nelson Meigs and top dealmaker Gregg A. Gonsalves graced the December 2003 cover as members of our inaugural Hot List, the most powerful players under the age of 40. Our roster represented BE 100s CEOS, hip-hop moguls, corporate financiers and other titans-in-training who were changing the dynamics of their industries – and many continue to do so.
Our February 2004 cover subjects financial analyst Cid Wilson and actress Gina Torres represented the estimated 4 million Latino Americans of African descent. After attempts to forge economic, political alliances have proven lackluster, our editors developed this feature to establish a much-needed link between that nation’s largest minority groups – by sharing our common ground. In a series of interviews with several prominent Afro-Latinos, including Wilson and Torres, they shared insights on discrimination, misconceptions and barriers to forming long-term alliances for our story “The Afro-Latino Connection.”
As part of our 35th Anniversary – and commitment to wealth-building, BLACK ENTERPRISE launched the Own Your First Home Contest in our August 2005 issue. Through our BlackEnterprise.com website, we provided applicants with the opportunity to win $10,000 toward a down payment on their property. The contest was limited to first-time home buyers who met credit requirements to qualify for a mortgage. So far, we have selected four winners. Although cover subjects Maria and Cameron Saulsby did not participate, the first-time home buyers offered a strong example of how homeownership enables individuals to achieve long-term wealth-building goals.
On the May 2006 cover story, Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell and Bishops T.D. Jakes and Eddie L. Long demonstrate how they apply business strategies to execute the multifaceted agendas of their churches. The feature, “The Business of Faith,” revealed that the growing number of financial, legal and real estate development issues confronting black megachurches, houses of worship with more than 2,000, have basically transformed a number of ministers into de facto CEOs of multimillion-dollar enterprises.
Our June 2007 cover subject Robert Johnson is an entrepreneur in perpetual motion: He founded Black Entertainment Television, the first black cable network, in 1980 and took it public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991 – another historic feat. After buying all the shares of BET, he took it private in 1998 and then sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion, making him the first black billionaire. The cover story explored his second act: the acquisition of the controlling interest of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats – the first African American to own a major sports franchise – and development of a series of deals that would create BE 100s companies on the industrial/service, auto dealers, banks and private equity lists.
BLACK ENTERPRISE gained an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, one of the world’s most celebrated personalities, for the cover story of our June 2008 issue. Although she considered herself a mogul in training, the BE 100s CEO’s business partnerships and instinct-driven leadership enabled Harpo Inc. to grow into an expansive media empire, including a booming film and production unit; a thriving publishing arm; a successful satellite radio channel; and a new cable television network. In the process, Winfrey has become a ubiquitous brand, influencing the buying decisions of millions.
Our March 2009 cover story gives readers a front row to history: Barack Obama is sworn in as the President of the United States of America – the first African American to achieve that pinnacle of power. The editorial is the culmination of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s coverage of his meteoric political rise and groundbreaking campaign as well as our analysis of how he will manage a nation sliding into an economic depression. As that issue is released to our subscribers, BLACK ENTERPRISE becomes the first magazine to secure an exclusive interview with the new president.