The Resilience of Henry G. Parks Jr: Leading One of the Nation’s Most Profitable Black-Owned Food Manufacturers
The story of Henry G. Parks, Jr. is one of resilience.
He was a Black entrepreneur, who not only broke racial barriers and excelled in a white corporate world, but also helped raise the standard for meat manufacturing and advance racial integration in the workplace.
Considered one of America’s most brilliant businessmen, Parks transformed an abandoned Baltimore-based dairy plant he acquired in 1951 into one of the nation’s most profitable food manufacturers. He was the founder and CEO of Baltimore-based Parks Sausage Co., one of the first Black companies to publicly trade on the Nasdaq composite index.
Today, the late Atlanta-born and Ohio-raised executive remains a trailblazing titan who once had a seat on the original BLACK ENTERPRISE Advisory Board and served as a valued mentor to scores of Black entrepreneurs before his death in 1989.
From warehouse grounds to making history
Under Parks’ supervision, the Baltimore-based meat processing company upheld a high standard in cleanliness, safety, and employment. He had but two helpers at first, but this leader’s efforts to create and maintain quality mainstream breakfast products while fostering a positive environment for his workers were transformative.
Those around in the 1970s and 1980s may recall Saturday morning radio and television commercials featuring a child calling, “More Parks Sausages, Mom please! The late Henry Green Parks Jr. took his southern recipes and formed Parks Sausages in 1951. In 1969, the company became the first African American-owned publicly traded company and was later acquired by NFL legend Franco Harris.
Parks would eventually recruit and train both Black and white employees. He ensured that front office and plant workforces were integrated at a time when Black workers were usually tasked with jobs on the factory floor.
By the 1970s, with an iconic tagline created and marketed by Parks, the company grew into a multimillion dollar business with almost 300 employees. “More Park Sausages, Mom. More Parks sausages, please…,” could be heard from television and radio speakers, reminding Baltimoreans and beyond that this Black-owned enterprise was solid and thriving.
A city councilman with community intentions
From 1963-1971, Parks served on the Baltimore City Council where he committed his efforts on legislation that banned segregation laws. He also worked to improve both working and living conditions for Black people.
As a member of several corporate boards, including Magnavox, First Penn Corp., Warner Lambert Co. and W.R. Grace Co, Park had also been a trustee of Goucher College in Baltimore.(Henry Green Parks, Jr. Image: Sept 1996)
Ranking on BE Top 100
By 1973, H. G. Parks, Inc.-its official corporate name at the time-made its debut on the first BE Top 100 roster at No. 8, grossing $13.8 million in revenues. A year after returning to Black ownership, the renamed Parks Sausage Co. was ranked No. 29 on the 1983 Top 100, producing $19 million in gross revenues.
A great moment in Black business
In 1977, Parks sold his sausage manufacturer to Norin Corp. for $5 million, more than double its value on the NASDAQ stock exchange, as reported in BLACK ENTERPRISE. He stayed on as board chairman until 1980 and relinquished all his holdings in the company in 1984.
The transaction, very lucrative for Parks, began the cycle of a bleak period for the company. It caused a halt in its company stock trading on the exchange, and according to a June 1981 BLACK ENTERPRISE article, Norin proved unfit to continue its 25-year run of record profitability. This was largely due to rising operating expenses and withdrawal of $2 million in accumulated cash.
After Parks Sausage declined under white ownership between 1977 and 1982, sales took a plunge. Business executive and civil rights leader Raymond V. Haysbert, Sr. and the management team of Parks Sausage Co executed the first leveraged buyout of a historically Black-owned company when Haysbert and his team bought the company for $4 million in 1981, returning it to the BE 100s.
“There was a certain amount of deterioration,” Parks told BE regarding control under what he called the “Norin Regime” during those years. “We had hoped it would have been a springboard to a bigger plateau to expand the company beyond what we could do. But it just didn’t pan out.”
By the mid-1980s, Parks Sausage was making about $30 million a year. Parks would see his company return to its former glory.
More than a decade later, late Franco Harris, a four-time Super Bowl champion, partnered with former Penn State teammate, and Baltimore Colt, Lydell Mitchell, to own Parks Sausage back in 1996. The Parks Sausage Plant is now the Dietz and Watson Plant in Northwest Baltimore.