30th annual report on black business: ready to rumble: during the last year, the B.E. 100s were fighting for survival. Successful firms won the battle for market share and profitability with stamina, intelligence and tenacity.

Author:Dingle, Derek T.
Position:B.E. 100s Overview

Ready to Rumble

During much of 2001, the B.E. 100s seemed like a welterweight facing a super-heavyweight of an opponent: the economy.

Although the CEOs of these companies knew the go-go days of the late '90s were over, none of them could forecast the devastation of multiple forces--Sept. 11, war, recession, anemic business spending, and Enronitis--on Main Street and Wall Street. Against this backdrop, American business, from media and retailing to technology and manufacturing, was walloped, leaving a number of mainstay companies sprawled across the canvas and down for the count.

The enterprises that endured and, quite frankly, thrived were those that exhibited the characteristics of the best prizefighters: stamina, agility, intelligence, and tenacity. In fact, these attributes marked the winners among the heavyweights of black business--companies that perform in any economic climate. Just take a look at our roster of 2002 companies of the year profiled in this issue for confirmation.

This year there are a total of 300 companies that comprise the BE 100s, our listing of the largest black-owned industrial/service companies, auto dealerships, advertising agencies, banks, asset managers, and--our new contenders--private equity firms. The 2001 revenues for the top 100 industrial/service firms and the leading 100 auto dealerships alone were $20.3 billion, up from $19.7 billion in 2000--evidence that the BE 100s are a resilient lot.

A significant number of black entrepreneurs managed to not get caught on the ropes. There were 57 industrial/service companies and auto dealerships that grossed $100 million. Twenty-two of this collective group produced more than $200 million in revenues.

The biggest development was the crowning of a new champion: CAMAC. The Houston-based energy producer and distributor, run by Nigerian-born Kase L. Lawal, emerged as the nation's largest black-owned company by pumping revenues of $979.51 million, just in spitting distance of the $1 billion threshold. (See "A New Leader Emerges".) CAMAC expects to exceed that milestone in 2002.

The last time a billion dollar leviathan was included among the BE 100s was in 1998 when TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., the former New York City-based operator of offshore grocery stores and food manufacturers created by the late, legendary financier Reginald Lewis, posted sales of $1.4 billion.

Another heavy hitter has entered the BE 100s arena: Oprah. Harpo Inc., which produces the immensely popular The Oprah Winfrey Show, is the most recognized new arrival on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100, ranking No. 9 with gross sales of $285 million. Stay tuned for more developments.

Many of this year's dominant companies followed an age-old, but effective, boxing strategy: stick-and-move. They took care of existing markets and customers and, at the same time, found new lucrative beachheads. One example is World Wide Technology (WWT), dethroned this year as the nation's largest black-owned company--a distinction it held for the last two years. But the company, which grossed $802 million in 2000 and was expected to inherit the title of breaking the billion dollar mark from TLC, decided to restructure operations to prepare for what it views as an impending rebound in the telecommunications sector. The management team spun off its Telcobuy.com (No. 2 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $604 million in sales) division, which offers products over the Web to telecommunications firms, into a separate entity. (Both WWT and Telcobuy.com are both more than 51% black-owned.) With 2001 revenues of $320 million, WWT dropped to No. 7 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list, but the company remains one to watch; combine total sales for WWT and Telcobuy.com and it would be a $924 million entity.

WWT was not the only former champ to undergo a major overhaul. It is not yet known whether the retooling of Mel Farr Automotive, the nation's largest black-owned company in 1999, represents the beginning of a profitable master plan or an ineffective version of the rope-a-dope. In January Farr shocked the automotive...

To continue reading