What do all prizefighters have in common? Proficiency in the sweet science, of course. But beyond that there’s heart, courage, hunger, and a desire to be the absolute best in the ring.

That fortitude is a quality shared by successful CEOs as they square off against the competition. While some struggle with adverse business conditions, these men and women focus on improving customer service, landing more lucrative contracts, and making strategic acquisitions to grow to the size needed to conduct business at its highest levels.

This degree of skill and determination is essential in today’s business environment, particularly as we evaluate the industries represented by the BE 100S. This mettle was found in many of the companies on our industrial/service, auto dealer, advertising agencies, banks, asset managers, investment banks, and private equity lists.

The stock market struggled against rising interest rates and increases in oil prices and other raw materials. These events not only impacted financial services companies but also industries that rely on the transportation of goods, as the increased cost of shipping spiraled down the supply chain.

On the automotive front, imports continue to outpace domestic brands, leaving many would-be contenders by the wayside. Advertising agencies have had to contend with an ever-changing industry as well as competition from larger general-market agencies that have worked harder to court minority advertising dollars.

Companies unable to roll with the economic punches were sent reeling to the canvas. But CEOs able to identify new revenue streams, land significant contracts, and acquire businesses with proven track records climbed the BE 100S rankings to take their place among the black business elite-the champions of industry. They are the title holders inspiring future generations of black entrepreneurs while ensuring that their companies are in condition to go the distance.

In some cases, the champs kept their belts. For instance, World Wide Technology, the nation’s largest black business, grew 32% from $1.4 billion to $1.85 billion by adding more than 500 customers, including Eastman Kodak and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This year, CEO David Steward is confident that WWT will become the second black business to gross more than $2 billion in revenues.

Other companies were able to climb up the ranks and reach the top of their division. Take EARNEST Partners. The firm increased the total dollar amount of assets managed by 63% to $22.68 billion, ending the reign of the leader of the BE ASSET MANAGERS, Ariel Capital Management (No. 2 with $19.36 billion in assets under management).

Another champ is Eric G. Johnson, CEO of Baldwin Richardson Foods Co. (No. 37 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $113.3 million in sales), which supplies liquid bakery ingredients for food manufacturers; produces sauces, syrups, and condiments for chain restaurants; and manufactures its own dessert toppings, mustards, and wing sauces under the Mrs. Richardson’s and Nance’s brand names. The organization acquired the Industrial Bakery Ingredients division of J.M. Smucker Co. last year. The deal -valued at $30 million-allowed Baldwin Richardson Foods to expand its bakery capabilities and grow gross sales