Then & Now

BE's coverage over the last four decades reveals how far we've come and how far we must go

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Oprah Winfrey Show. That deal spawned a business empire that includes a television and motion picture production company, a magazine, national cable network, and Harpo Inc. (No. 14 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 with $275 million in sales). Those enterprises, along with Winfrey’s other business interests, have made her the first black woman to enter the ranks of the billionaires’ club.

Clifton Wharton is named chairman and CEO of $70 billion TIAA-CREF, becoming the first African American to run one of the nation’s top 1,000 publicly traded corporations. This milestone raised the question: Would another deserving African American take the helm of one of the nation’s largest corporations?

Reginald Lewis’ TLC Group acquires the international food and beverage manufacturing division of one of the 500 largest corporations in a $985 million leveraged buyout, the largest offshore transaction at the time. The deal creates TLC Beatrice, which appears on the 1988 BE INDUSTRIAL
as the nation’s largest black-owned business with gross sales of $1.8 billion. It would take 15 years for another black-owned business — Houston-based CAMAC International — to pass the billion-dollar revenue threshold.

JUNE 1988
This issue of BE signals the creation of the BE 100S — the top 100 industrial/service companies and 100 leading auto dealerships. Collective sales for 2004: $23.2 billion.

APRIL 1989
In Croson v. City of Richmond, the Supreme Court strikes down a Richmond, Virginia, law guaranteeing that 30% of the city’s public works contracts go to minority-owned firms. That ruling effectively puts an end to set-aside programs for minorities in 36 states and 200 municipalities and begins a series of death blows to affirmative action in business and education. One of the most severe hits: the 1995 ruling in Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Peña. The high court calls for “strict scrutiny” in determining a history of discrimination before the implementation of a federal affirmative action program.

Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is the first African American elected to run a state in the history of American politics. Serving during a rough national recession, he is lauded for operating one of the nation’s best-managed states. After a withdrawn presidential bid in 1992, Wilder now serves as mayor of his hometown, Richmond, Virginia. But his example has inspired a legion of black politicians to run for statewide and national offices over the last decade.

MAY 1992
BET Holdings, parent company of Black Entertainment Television, raises $72.3 million in an initial public offering, making it the first black-owned company controlled by African Americans on the NYSE.
Founder Robert Johnson sees the deal, in part, as a means for black companies to gain access to capital and minority entrepreneurs to amass wealth through an institutional business model. Growing tired of answering to shareholders, Johnson eventually takes BET private in 1998 and then sells the cable network for $3 billion to media giant Viacom, which controls Paramount Studios, CBS, and MTV, making him the nation’s first black billionaire.

In a one-for-one stock swap valued at $67 million, Johnson Products Co., the hair care products company known for

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