Three years after my father founded BLACK ENTERPRISE, he fulfilled a critical plank of his editorial and business mission. More than creating a vehicle to staunchly advocate our full participation in every tranche of the American economy, from Main Street to Wall Street—he fought to unequivocally demonstrate that our transformative ideas and commercial contributions were, indeed, vital to the advancement of global business.
(Black Enterprise founder, Earl G. Graves Sr.; Image: File)
We were more than just our nation’s laborers who dutifully performed tasks at the instruction and bidding of others; we were captains of industry who applied vision and leadership to revolutionize individual sectors and our society as a whole. At the same time, we built business empires, cultivated a much-needed, diverse managerial pipeline, and, yes, turned a significant profit.
Rallying our editorial team, he realized some 45 years ago the creation of our inaugural ranking of the nation’s largest black businesses, which today is known as the BE 100s. Until that time, the financial performance of African American firms had not been tracked by the media or government on an annual basis, nor were our entrepreneurial journeys widely chronicled.
We found that it was equally important to produce an annual barometer of black business as it was to tell the monthly stories of founders who demonstrated tenacity, acumen, and ingenuity to grow their companies—despite racial discrimination and diminished access to capital and business opportunities.
Most of these companies consistently demonstrated widespread impact. Motown, the nation’s largest black-owned business when our Top 100 list was first introduced in 1973, provided “The Sound of America” with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye. Parks Sausage was an American breakfast staple in both black and white households.
Each month, Essence magazine displayed the multi-hued beauty and multidimensional brilliance of African American women. Other trailblazers included the late financier Reginald Lewis whose superior dealmaking skills produced a black company that surpassed the billion-dollar revenue mark; BET founder Robert L. Johnson achieved the milestone, among others, of placing a black company on the New York Stock Exchange while building wealth for African American investors; and Oprah Winfrey proved that ownership of intellectual property could serve as a platform for not only reaching billionaire status but becoming an impactful change agent. They—along with multitudes of other titans like them—shattered barriers while setting new bars for business achievement.
So we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the BE 100s under the apt theme, “Evolution.” The reason: Our models of African American exceptionalism progressed in lockstep with major business trends of the past half century. The industrial, automotive, advertising, and financial services companies on our various rosters always found ways to accelerate their strategic plans, display pliability during the toughest of economic times, and achieve their commercial best.
Now a new generation of BE 100s companies are emerging. We will find them from a number of sources. Some will be discovered through our small business coverage and participation in events like the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit.
In fact, one newcomer to this year’s Top 100 is Sundial Brands. Through hard work, savvy marketing, and an array of top-shelf products, this beauty care company propelled forward, from receiving our 2008 Small Business Award for Emerging Company of the Year to a BE 100s leader with revenues of $300 million and a national reach of 35,000 major retailers. The founders, Liberian immigrants Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman, built their company by meeting the needs of their employees, customers, and community.
We will also continue to witness the rise of black businesses that power the world through innovative technology. Take San Francisco-based Rocket Lawyer, founded by Charley Moore, a former attorney to Silicon Valley tech companies. In its second year on the list with $40 million in revenues, this BE 100s disruptor represents one of the most widely used internet-based law services in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
I am excited by Dennis and Tubman, Moore, and the next wave of leaders that will inevitably replace the old guard, as it should be. Their presence underscores why the BE 100s will always matter. As this evolution continues, there will remain a common thread between generations: the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit that will take the BE 100s to the next level and, in the process, spur industrial innovation, elevate our society, and create multi-generational black wealth.
Click here to access the entire digital version of the 2017 May/June issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE featuring our 2017 BE 100s report.