Why Reginald F. Lewis is Important to the Future of Black Capitalism

Less than six months later, the 45-year-old financial wizard shocked Wall Street and the business press once again by dwarfing that deal and, at the same time, vaulting black business to new heights. Lewis orchestrated the unprecedented $985 million leveraged buyout of Beatrice International Foods Companies, a collection of 64 processed food manufacturers in 31 countries, including Europe, Australia, and Asia. In December 1987, he completed the largest buyout ever of overseas assets of an American company. I take great pride that BE gained an exclusive on that coverage. I was the Associate Managing Editor then, and it was the first time I convinced our publisher to “stop the presses” as Senior Editor Alfred Edmond Jr.—today the Editor-in-Chief of BlackEnterprise.com—feverishly reported and wrote this groundbreaking cover story. It was one of those rare, rewarding moments when we scooped competitors Fortune and Forbes on a breaking news story.

In the 1988 June issue in which we unveiled that year’s rankings of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. snared the No. 1 position on our BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list with $1.8 billion in gross revenues. Only three other black-owned companies since have produced gross revenues exceeding a $1 billion: St. Louis-based technology firm World Wide Technology Inc. (No. 1 on the 2009 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list), Houston-based oil producer CAMAC International Corp. (No. 2 on the 2009 BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list), and Prestige Automotive Group (No. 1 on the 2009 BE AUTO DEALERS list). Even by today’s standards Lewis’ achievements are remarkable, and they continue to represent the summit that more African Americans must climb to reach—and surpass. In January 1993, Lewis’ life was cut short at the age of 50 when he succumbed to brain cancer.

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