“I’m chasing trillions, not millions.”—media mogul Byron Allen at the 2018 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina
In those five words, Allen summed up the mindset that must define our focus and dominate our thinking if we are to create the wealth necessary for African Americans to thrive. Allen, who literally shocked the world earlier this year when his company, Entertainment Studios, purchased the Weather Channel for $300 million, added: “I don’t want to play in the Negro Leagues; I want to play in the global leagues.”
Cultivating and elevating this no-limits mindset for entrepreneurs is a chief reason why Black Enterprise became the only media outlet to quantify and rank the nation’s largest black-owned businesses more than 45 years ago. Today known as the BE 100s, these rankings include lists of the largest companies, as well as rankings of the top auto dealerships and financial institutions, owned and/or controlled by African Americans.
When we published our first rankings in 1973, $1 million in annual revenues was enough to make the Top 100; the largest company, Motown Records, reported $40 million. However, that was just the beginning; we knew that once we quantified the revenues generated and the wealth created by these companies, it would show other black entrepreneurs what was possible, and spur them to even greater innovation, productivity, and revenues. In the decades since, iconic BE 100s CEOs—from Berry Gordy and John H. Johnson to Reginald F. Lewis and Janice Bryant Howroyd—have steadily raised the bar, driven to excel by what has become a near-ubiquitous, insistent pledge of ambitious black business owners: One day, I will be a BE 100s CEO. My company will make the BE 100s.
Increasingly, achieving that goal is about building businesses that generate not millions, but billions of dollars a year. Today, the BE 100s include a half-dozen companies with more than $1 billion in revenues, and more than a dozen others reporting annual sales of at least a quarter billion dollars. We’ve come a long way, but we are far from where we need to be. It is vital for us to create large, multibillion-dollar black-owned companies of scale if we are to drive wealth creation and close the gaping disparity in net worth between black and white households and communities.
This means using new ways to acquire, partner, invest in, liquidate, merge, operate, diversify, and otherwise increase the value of the assets we create and control, in ways that may not have been explored or even considered by previous generations of black entrepreneurs. We must think of multigenerational wealth creation in terms beyond merely passing the family business, unchanged and intact, like an antique heirloom, from founders to children to grandchildren.
For this reason, our latest BE 100s report on America’s largest black-owned businesses is more important than ever. It is critical that we look to Bryant Howroyd (CEO of Act-1 Group, the largest black-woman-owned company), commercial real estate mogul Don Peebles, and black billionaires like Vista Equity Partners Chairman Robert Smith, as the new standard for how we can operate and what we must achieve as black entrepreneurs playing in a global league.
These and other BE 100s CEOs are setting the standard for a new generation of black business leaders—a standard that must not only be met, but exceeded. Now is the time for more of us to shock the world.