The BE 100s companies have operated with miniscule financial and human resources when compared to their white counterparts. But they have never been short on intellectual capital. These companies, and the entrepreneurs behind them, have demonstrated unbelievable dexterity and moxie. In only three decades, they've come a long way. The first list, published in 1973, showed that the Top 100 generated sales of $473.4 million. Today, the largest black-owned company alone grossed close to $1 billion. And don't forget the millions of dollars in billings produced by our Top 20 Advertising Agencies, and the billions in assets managed by BE financial services firms.
Yes, let's celebrate. Our hearty acknowledgement doesn't mean we have ignored the fact that these businesses share the same concerns as the business mainstream--an unpredictable economy and the specter of terrorism--or those specific to minority enterprise--blocked access to capital and outright racism. Despite these challenges and, in some cases because of them, the BE 100s is here to stay.
As another generation of entrepreneurs aspires to their lofty ranks, we decided it was a good time to reflect on the past achievements and future direction of the BE 100s. Read the following pages. And marvel.
IT'S NOT EASY TO REACH THE RANKS OF THE BE 100s. In winning that race, black entrepreneurs must clear a number of hurdles--financial challenges, winner-take-all competition, and economies old and new. Just try crossing the finishing line for 30 years in a row.
That's what the six corporate chieftains we profiled in this article did. We call them our "Marathon Men"--a title bestowed upon them during our 25th anniversary of the BE 100s in 1997. These CEOs--John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing, Herman J. Russell of H.J. Russell & Co., Edward T. Lewis and Clarence O. Smith of Essence Communications, Nathan G. Conyers of Conyers Riverside Ford, and Earl G. Graves of Earl G. Graves Ltd., the parent company of this magazine--have appeared on every list we have published since 1973.
These men represent the Olympians of black business, having employed tens of thousands, achieved major milestones in commerce, and broken barriers for legions of African Americans. And at an age when most would have long since hung up their cleats, they remain in the race. As you read their stories, you'll find they are more determined than ever to take their enterprises to the next level even as they prepare to pass the torch on to the next generation.
JOHN H. JOHNSON, JOHNSON...