It’s black history month, aka everyone’s favorite month of the year, aka the month of black love and culture, aka the month of Black excellence, aka all that other stuff. It’s not a coincidence that Valentine’s day falls on black history month, you know we’re all about the love, you dig? Of course you do.
So in celebration of how much fun it is to be black, despite the current situation of the country I want us to cast our eyes on the business landscape and remember that just because black people are economically underrepresented right now does not mean it’s destined to always be that way. I’m a huge proponent of black economic empowerment and believe that if the business of America is business, then we black people must learn to acquire assets, do business and build wealth if we’re ever to be taken as seriously as we’re supposed to in this country, you dig? I mean, why isn’t the biggest music company in the world black owned? All the best artists are. Why isn’t the top sporting franchise in this country black owned? All the best athletes are. I could go on but today is about celebrating where we’ve been, as a way of getting us geared up for where we could be. And to do that? I’ve chosen to discuss the first black company to cross One billion dollars in sales. That company? TLC Beatrice International, aka Beatrice Foods.
The story of Beatrice as a black owned business is really the story of Reginald Lewis. Reginald was a black corporate attorney originally from Maryland who attended Harvard Law School. During the late 80s junk bond era, he leveraged financing and raised his own funds to take over Beatrice Foods in a private equity deal for $950m. The same year, the company was turned around by Lewis and reported revenues of around $1.8 billion becoming the first . The company continued to grow and at its peak in 1996, had a reported revenue of over $2.2 billion, although by that time, Reginald Lewis had passed on from brain cancer (in 1993)
While alive, he gave $1 million to Howard University and another $3 million to Harvard Law School, which at the time was their biggest donation ever. The latter named a building after him for the donation, making him the first African-American to have that honor. He also built the biggest African-American Museum on the East Coast, the Smithsonian affiliated Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History which covers 82,000 sq ft and has a special focus on Maryland African-American community.
What I especially love about the whole story is that Lewis only put up $15 million of his own money, raised another $80 million in credit and then borrowed the rest from the bond markets, and then making the payments from selling off parts of the company post acquisition at a higher valuation than they had prior. All the time, he was growing the revenues of a technically shrinking business. It’s a brilliant maneuver and a testament that anyone who says African-Americans don’t have the ability to do business at a high level just don’t know what they’re talking about.
One of my goals is to read the details of how the man did his business in his book: “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” I’m sure I’ll pick up a bunch of lessons and details about the deal that may be useful to me sometime.
Anyway, that’s that story. We will talk about other brilliant black people this month. It’s all about #BlackExcellence.
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