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From entertainment to apparel, Rush Communications has become the leader in urban-focused products by moving to its own beat. At a black-tie event on a cloudy April evening, Russell Simmons is doing something one might not expect from one born of hip-hop culture: pressing the flesh and schmoozing with the best of them-shaking hands with politicos such as former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and attorney Johnnie Cochran-and posing for pictures like a presidential candidate just before election day. The chief executive officer of New York City-based Rush Communications Inc. is clad in a black suit, T-shirt, and spotless white Phat Farm “Classic” sneakers, mingling like a pro. Simmons, the budding political activist, is learning the ropes of an arena new to him.
Fast-forward a few days and he’s in his sizable but warm executive office, replete with earth tones of greens and browns-command central for the Rush Communications Empire. The only adornment mounted on the walls is a 3-foot-long, framed charcoal sketch of Simmons and his wife, Kimora Lee (who serves as the president and creative director for Baby Phat, the company’s apparel line for women). This time it’s a different kind of power meeting. A dozen or so students, part of a high school entrepreneurial program, pepper him with questions-some having to do with his business and some well off-topic. “How many phone calls do you get a day?” asks one. “How did you get started?” asks another. Meet Simmons, the philanthropist.
Some 60 minutes (and several phone calls) later, Simmons is in Times Square, stuck in rush hour traffic and late to a business powwow. His white Ford Excursion crawls through a river of yellow taxis and buses that seem to stretch the length of Manhattan. His cell phone rings repeatedly, voices on the other end urgently seeking his approval, his input, and his green light. Simmons, the businessman, is doing what he does best-making deals.
Defying the Odds
It’s just another day in the life of the CEO of Rush Communications — the 2002 BLACK ENTERPRISE Company of the Year. This diverse and dynamic company has been ranked among the largest black-owned businesses in the U.S. for a decade. It defied the odds last year, posting $192 million in revenues, a stunning 92% increase from 2000’s reported figures — despite a harsh economy that led to falling revenues and paltry profits for companies of all sizes.
The fashion industry was one of those hardest hit by a recession that curtailed discretionary spending, yet the Phat Farm Men’s apparel line — Rush’s core business — grossed $120 million, twice that of 2000. Baby Phat, the women’s apparel line launched in 2000, grossed $30 million in 2001, triple the previous year’s total of $10 million. Phat Farm’s Kids apparel tacked on another $25 million last year, up from $15 million in 2000. The remaining $17 million was generated by other businesses, including, Oneworld Magazine, Def Pictures, and RSTV (producers of Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry). Growth is the name of