Architects of Growth

When BLACK ENTERPRISE first compiled its Top 100 in 1973, combined sales for the component companies (which comprised an array of industrial/service firms and auto dealers) totaled $473 million. Today, the top 100 African American industrial/service companies and 100 leading auto dealers–the core of our BE 100S–collectively grossed more than $27 billion.

The phenomenal growth of these companies–and the business-altering developments among the nation’s largest black advertising agencies and financial services companies–mark the evolution of black business over the past four decades. And these companies will need to demonstrate even greater dexterity in the years ahead as BE 100S CEOs face the competitive pressures, shifting consumer demands, and sweeping industrial changes of an unmerciful environment. Their business mandate: adapt or die.

Apparently, the chief executives of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses fully understand this; they know size matters. Stodgy, inflexible CEOs who don’t engage in best practices can quickly become former CEOs watching their businesses fade into oblivion. The 35-year history of the rankings gives us several examples of entrepreneurs who have made strategic decisions–some pretty radical–in order to compete effectively.
These architects of growth have reinvented and redefined their businesses and have reaped the rewards, creating wealth not only for themselves but for their shareholders and employees. Among them:

Don H. Barden, CEO of Barden Cos. Inc. (No. 6 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list), who sold off his cable operations in 1994 for more than $100 million to enter the lucrative gaming industry. Barden now owns five casino properties in Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, and in gambling’s capital, Las Vegas.

Former CEO John W. Barfield of The Bartech Group Inc. (No. 23 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list), seeing the limitations within the industry, transformed the company into a staffing services firm that provides engineering, information technology, and administrative personnel. It began as Barfield Cleaning Co., a janitorial services business.

Russell T. Wright, CEO of Dimensions International Inc. (No. 24 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list), who in 2004 orchestrated the acquisition of SENTEL Inc., a company nearly 80% Dimensions’ size, in one of the most successful mergers of two black-owned companies.

Eric Johnson, who, after leaving his family’s haircare company, bought Baldwin Ice Cream Co. In 1998, he purchased Richardson Foods from Quaker Oats and merged the two companies into Baldwin Richardson Foods (No. 39 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list). In 2005, the company acquired the bakery fillings segment of the J.M. Smucker Co. U.S. Formulated Industrial Business.

This year’s companies have reached new milestones. World Wide Technology Inc. (No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list) became the first company to reach the $2 billion sales mark since TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. generated $2.1 billion in sales in 1996. In the world of finance, the 2005 Financial Services Company of the Year, Fairview Capital Partners Inc. (No. 1 on the BE PRIVATE EQUITY list), surpassed the $2 billion mark. And two other companies exceeded $1 billion–CAMAC International Corp. (No. 2 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list), BE’s Company of the Year in