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Against a sluggish recovery, a rough-and-tumble business environment, and a ferocious battle for revenue growth and market share, the CEOs who operate the BE 100s–the nation’s largest black businesses–confronted all of these unyielding forces in 2010 and expect to contend with more in years to come. To borrow an oft-used phrase: “Fortune favors the bold.” That’s the attitude adopted by chief executives as they rethink business models to stay competitive. They’ve redesigned enterprises by venturing into new lines of business, employing the latest technology, exploring global opportunities, and creating unassailable workforces. For the BE 100s, success today will come by way of revolution and reinvention.
After surviving harsh blows from the Great Recession, CEOs in 2010 were better able to maneuver and reposition their companies for an economy in recovery. What’s the backdrop for all of this? An economic climate that’s warming. The U.S. economy grew by a healthy 3.1% in the fourth quarter of 2010 versus a scant 0.2% in 2009. Unfortunately, economic growth has slowed to 1.8% in the first quarter of 2011. The Consumer Price Index rose 1.6% for 2010 as families continued to pay higher prices for food and gas. On the other hand, personal income advanced 3% in 2010, reversing a 1.7% decline in 2009. America’s jobless rate held at 9.6% in 2010 compared to 10% in 2009. “We can stop worrying about growth because the economy is doing fine,” says black enterprise Board of Economists member Thomas D. Boston, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Economics at Georgia Tech and CEO of EuQuant, an Atlanta-based research firm. “Barring a significant natural or man-made disaster, economic growth will soon reach or exceed 4%.”
This was good news for companies tied to industrial and automotive manufacturing, such as Detroit-based Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C. (No. 2 on the BE industrial/service companies list with $1.6 billion in revenues). Over the past year, revenues for the automotive supplier that builds high-quality seat systems for Ford and General Motors vehicles grew a whopping 46% due to a surge in the volume of hot-selling models such as the revamped Ford Focus. CEO Ron E. Hall Sr. says the company has doubled work shifts to keep up with the demand for fuel-efficient cars.
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