The Tough Get Going – Black Enterprise

The Tough Get Going

Whether the blame falls on the sluggish economy, take-no-prisoners competition, or poor business management, a majority of CEOs who run the nation’s largest black-owned industrial/service companies found 2003 to be a downright nasty year. In fact, the unmerciful business environment produced a number of casualties. Take Exemplar Manufacturing Co., ranked No. 26 on last year’s BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $157.5 million in sales. After 12 years in business, the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based automotive supplier bade farewell to the BE 100S when it filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2003. Prior to this move, Exemplar was forced to lay off 80 employees after General Motors cancelled its multimillion-dollar contract to produce fasteners. Also, Ford Motor Co. yanked Exemplar’s contract to develop wire harnesses. Both auto manufacturers cited production and delivery concerns as the reason for severing ties with Exemplar. CEO Anthony Snoddy told BE: “There is no future for Exemplar Manufacturing Company. All assets have been liquidated.”

Exemplar’s fate is just one example of the harsh realities of today’s unforgiving business climate. Performance is the key to growth and survival. And the environment will become more intense as customer standards become more stringent and competition remains relentless. This is demonstrated by the key fact that sales for the companies ranked on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 remained flat. Total sales for 2003 were $12.9 billion, up 1.1% from $12.8 billion in 2002. This year’s revenue growth leader is the 2004 Company of the Year, Peebles Atlantic Development Corp., which ranked No. 42 with sales of $82 million, a 141.2% increase from 2002. (See “The Prince of South Beach,” this issue.)

Like majority firms, the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 focused on productivity, doing more with less people. In 2003, these firms employed 74,402 workers, a 0.8% drop from the 75,020 workers employed in 2002. La-Van Hawkins Food & Entertainment Group L.L.C., ranked No. 13 with sales of $293 million, emerged as this year’s employment leader with 6,831 staffers.

There were a number of major shifts among the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100. And quite a few could be considered seismic. One of the most significant developments has been a change in leadership. After being dethroned two years ago, Maryland Heights, Missouri-based World Wide Technology Holding Co. Inc., a distributor of information technology products and services, re-emerged as the nation’s largest black-owned business with sales of $1.2 billion. Its strategy to recombine its World Wide Technology and units as well as aggressively pursue government and corporate contracts paid off handsomely. In 2003, World Wide added Boeing, Dell, DaimlerChrysler, EDS, and the Transportation Security Administration as clients by building and deploying their information technology infrastructure in a cost-efficient manner. This expansion of World Wide Technology’s five-star roster of customers increased gross sales by a whopping 62.6%. CEO David Steward says, “World Wide’s growth was broad-based across all of our vertical markets, which include the public sector, telecommunications, automotive, and Fortune 500 commercial customers.”

CAMAC fell to the No. 2 slot after it underwent a major corporate reshuffling.