The Future Of Black Business

The Future Of Black Business

One billion dollars. Not long ago, that sum resided in a distant constellation of stellar achievements — along with leadership of multinational corporations — deemed light-years beyond the grasp of African Americans. In 1973, the year we published our first list of the nation’s largest black-owned companies (then called the BLACK ENTERPRISE Top 100), the total revenues of those enterprises were less than half a billion dollars.

Fast-forward to 2006. Today, our BE 100S lists include no less than 10 companies (up from seven last year) with annual revenues exceeding the $473 million generated by the entire original Top 100. This year, we have an unprecedented three companies with revenues of more than a billion dollars each: World Wide Technology Inc. in Maryland Heights, Missouri; Prestige Automotive Management in Ypsilanti, Michigan; and Houston-based CAMAC International Corp.

CAMAC, a multinational oil and gas exploration company led by CEO Kase Lawal, is our 2006 Company of the Year, the third billion-dollar company recognized by BE since TLC Beatrice International Holdings in 1988. And, our 2006 Financial Services Company of the Year, Carver Bancorp, led by CEO Deborah C. Wright, is well on the way to becoming the first black bank ever with a billion dollars in assets. Two other BE 100S CEOs, Harpo Inc.’s Oprah Winfrey and RLJ Development L.L.C.’s Robert L. Johnson, are among the first African Americans to be recognized as billionaires. When Reginald F. Lewis became the first BE 100S CEO of a billion-dollar-plus company, he often and openly expressed his expectation that other black entrepreneurs would shortly follow, moving the BE 100S into the ranks of America’s largest multinational corporations. While Lewis, tragically, did not live to see it happen, the era of black-owned, billion-dollar companies seems to be at hand.

All of this says a lot about how far African American entrepreneurs and their companies have advanced over the past three decades. But what’s more important, intriguing, and inspiring is what the success of these companies says about the future of black business. What does it mean for more black-owned companies to cross the billion-dollar threshold? What can we take from the examples of companies like CAMAC and Carver to ensure that their success is replicated? What has to happen for black-owned businesses to continue to grow in size, as well as number? The answers to these questions can be found in the stories of the best and brightest of the BE 100S, as chronicled in this issue, which features our 34th Annual Report on Black Business. As you read through this issue, a number of important themes will emerge, pointing the way to the future of black business and the wealth-building potential of all black Americans.

First, in order to grow black-owned companies of significant scale, black entrepreneurs must continue to find ways to secure the nation’s largest corporations as customers, investors, and strategic partners. For example, Lawal’s partnerships with oil industry giants such as Conoco are critical to his ability to grow his $1.5 billion company. My own company provides