Fighting To Win

Champions. Contenders. Down For the Count. These categories best characterize the companies that constitute the BE 100s-the nation’s largest black-owned businesses. One common trait they all share is a fighting spirit.

These enterprises-from the top-ranked black industrial/ service companies to the leading African American financial services firms-all fought for revenue growth, market share, and improved profitability in a rough-and-tumble business arena. They’ve had to protect their companies against the shocks of war, escalating oil prices, rising interest rates, no-holds-barred competition, and life-altering natural disasters. Of these, Hurricane Katrina presented the greatest difficulty. Most companies met the challenge by fine-tuning their business models through acquisitions and divestitures, strategic partnerships, development of new lines of commerce, and recruitment of A-list management talent.

Despite the poor performance of the domestic automotive industry, which hurt legions of black auto dealers and suppliers, sales for the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 and BE AUTO DEALER 100 indicated a significant increase. These BE 100S companies produced a 13% increase in combined revenues, up from $23.2 billion in 2004 to $26.3 billion in 2005. In fact, the sales growth leader was Troy, Michigan-based automotive supplier TAG Holdings L.L.C. (No. 14 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list), which showed a 230% boost in sales, from $103 million in 2004 to $340 million in 2005. Between the two lists, 27 companies grossed more than $200 million in revenues and, for the first time in black business history, three posted more than $1 billion in revenues: World Wide Technology and CAMAC International-the list leaders on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100-and Prestige Automotive-No. 1 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list. “We showed growth across all of our sectors,” says David Steward, CEO of WWT, which produced revenues of $1.85 billion. “Next year, we will exceed $2 billion in revenues, and I’m not just being bullish.” If Steward’s claim holds true, WWT will be the second black-owned business in history to break the $2 billion barrier. The first was TLC Beatrice International Holdings exactly a decade ago.

In addition, as a group, our industrial/service companies and auto dealers slightly expanded their employee ranks. They increased their workforce by a mere 3%, from 82,390 in 2004 to 85,388 in 2005. The industrial/service employment leader, Fairfield, California-based MV Transportation (No. 11 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with gross sales of $373.5 million), employs more than 9,000 workers.

Conversely, there were a number of battered and bruised companies. Auto manufacturers shut down a record number of black auto dealers. Several ad agencies lost vital accounts and had difficulty maintaining cash flow and profits. (This year, BE did not name an advertising agency of the year because of the state of the industry and the forecasted industry shake-up.)

And, for the first time in history, BE could not rank black insurers. Competitive pressures from large insurers, exacerbated by a weakening customer base, have decimated the ranks of black insurers from 10 to four within the past decade. The banks on our list had to augment marketing and operations budgets to compete