Military Background Helps Black Veterans Run BE 100s Companies

A non-commissioned officer overseeing Marine Corps retail exchanges in Iwakuni, Japan, Leon Richardson for two years led over 40 Marines and civilians. Their duties included providing several thousand Marines with everything from cigarettes to bubble gum to civilian clothing.

As an infantry officer and platoon leader, Joseph B. Anderson Jr. commanded 44 men during his first Army tour of duty in Vietnam. A West Point graduate, Anderson’s military exploits were featured in the Academy Award-winning 1967 documentary, The Anderson Platoon.

Richardson and Anderson have much in common. In addition to being veterans, they are African Americans now using their military acumen to lead BE 100s companies.

A Growing Trend

With Veterans Day approaching this Saturday, it’s fitting to salute men and women who fought to protect America. Veterans work in positions ranging from corporate executives to business owners, overseeing millions of U.S. workers. A military background provides veterans the drive, confidence, and disciplined lifestyle to thrive in the business world, observers say.

The number of African Americans who are becoming entrepreneurs after they end active duty service is trending upward, says Roderick Rickman, a veteran and owner of Rickman Enterprise Group, a Detroit-based industrial, environmental, and facility management firm.

In fact, there were 13,170 firms with paid employees owned by male or female black veterans in 2015, up from 11,391 in 2014, according to the latest reports from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rickman has run several firms over the years that have made the BE 100s lists. He is president-elect of the National Veteran Owned Business Roundtable, an advocacy group for veterans.


(Rod Rickman. Image:


The military provides a company executive or an entrepreneur who is a veteran, the leadership skills, ability to focus, and teamwork qualities to accomplish a specific strategy, Rickman says.

“Those are the fundamental skills that an entrepreneur needs to be successful and sustainable in his or her business development,” he says.

Military Provides “The Gift of Leadership”

Anderson, CEO of Wixom, Michigan-based TAG Holdings L.L.C (No. 89 on the Top 100 list with $30 million in revenues), agrees. His firm, with more than 1o0 employees, mainly provides mechanical parts to companies in the automotive, aerospace, heavy equipment, and defense industries.


(Joseph Anderson in his office. Image: Courtesy of TAG Holdings)

Since becoming an entrepreneur over 20 years ago, he has bought over 15 different companies, including ones that were parts suppliers to Honda, Ford, and General Motors. He has sold several companies to managers who once helped run his businesses.

Anderson says that includes selling three companies to Billy Vickers, the CEO of Modular Assembly Innovations L.L.C. The Dublin, Ohio-based automotive parts supplier is No. 5 on the Top 100 list with over $1.2 billion in revenues. Firms run by Anderson were in the top five on the Top 100  list (previously the Industrial/Service Companies list) for several years, with roughly $800 million in revenue at one point.

The gift of leadership was among the biggest skills the military helped Anderson gain. He relies on it as an entrepreneur to manage people and run companies. “You can’t do that unless you can organize people, raw material to make your product, and a sales team to accomplish your objectives.”

In 2017, Anderson expects revenue for his four companies that make up TAG Holdings to reach $35 million, with the gain from 2016 coming from doing more business with existing and new customers. He says his company plans to acquire two auto parts manufacturers in the next six months, something he hopes will boost sales to over $200 million in 2018.

Learning everything from building the right team to understanding what items Marines want as customers, helped Richardson run the Marine retail exchanges. As  CEO of Southfield, Michigan-based ChemicoMays L.L.C, (No. 30 on the Top 100 list with revenues of $108 million), is using those skills sets to run his firm. ChemicoMays, with over 300 employees, provides chemical management services.

(Leon Richardson talking to employees of General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. Image: Courtesy of ChemicoMays)

“We learn how to strategically understand all aspects to our business and tactically execute them,” Richardson says, detailing how his military experience helps him in business.

Moving forward, Richardson projects 2017 revenues at ChemicoMays of over $120 million. The $20 million gain from last year will stem from doing additional business with new and existing customers. He added the goal is to more than double the firm’s revenues in the next five years.