As the century draws to a close, we find many of the be 100s CEOs have prepared themselves well for the coming millennium. For some, this has occurred through acquisition and nurturing critical business alliances. For others, it’s meant delving into heretofore unexplored niches.
The fruits of their labor have had a telling impact on their respective bottom lines. Total sales for the be 100s were $14.02 billion in 1998, a 6.29% increase from the $13.19 billion in sales in 1997. As a result, the bar for joining our exclusive listing has been raised ever so slightly, from the $18 million in revenue needed in 1998 to the $23.5 million required in 1999.
Besides the Industrial/Service and automotive sectors, black-owned businesses in other sectors continue to grow. Despite challenges from mainstream firms, the companies on the be advertising agencies list showed a sizable growth in billings of 11.49% And, fighting to stay competitive in a rapidly changing environment, the be financial 50 list — our collective rankings of the top 15 African American investment banks, the 25 leading black banks and the 10 largest black-owned insurers — increased their assets while pursuing capital, clients and deals. Even the black insurance companies, locked in one of the most mature industries, held on to their turf through joint ventures, state-of-the-art technology and a range of new products — a new way of doing business for this group.
The financial prosperity of the be 100s did not occur in a vacuum. Indeed, if the Dow, which has advanced to and retreated from the 10,000 mark in recent weeks, is any indicator, the be 100s simply rode the wave of economic growth like the vast majority of U.S. firms. An economy marked by robust growth, low interest rates and strong consumer confidence gave a needed boost to many corporate bottom lines across the board.
It has been, indeed, a notable year. A record 39 be 100s companies reported revenues of at least $100 million. And for the first time, the claim of owning the nation’s largest black-owned business actually falls to an auto dealer. The Mel Farr Automotive Group continued its dominance in 1998 with $596.6 million in sales, a 4.1% increase from the $573.1 million the concern had in sales the year before. This makes the former professional football player the CEO of the nation’s largest black-owned business.
But where do we go from here? While J. Bruce Llewellyn, John Johnson and Loida Lewis form a powerful triumvirate atop the be Industrial/Service 100 list, in many ways they represent the last of an older generation. As the new millennium approaches, there’s a young, aggressive group of entrepreneurs snapping at their heels, eager for their time in the spotlight. They are the "New Power Generation" — a group of CEOs no longer tied to convention who have sought to grow their enterprises by developing strategic alliances, creating vertically integrated empires, demonstrating deal-making prowess and introducing revolutionary products and services. These concerns will