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They are young, highly educated, and self-assured. Having been trained by the masters themselves--the men and women who founded and built the largest black-wned businesses in the United States--a new generation of BLACK ENTERPRISE 100s CEO is on the rise. Their names: Bernard Bronner, Mel Farr Jr., Gary E. Gardner, N. Russell Goldston IV, Earl G. Graves Jr, Charles H. James III, Linda Johnson Rice and Pierre M. Sutton. After watching their parents build some of the nation's top black companies, all of them know what it takes to create something substantial out of nothing.

As the BE 100s enters its third decade, this meticulously prepared group is stepping forward to guide their families' companies into the next century. Each of these eight individuals are mindful of their parents' vision for their businesses. Now it is time for them to move forward with their own entrepreneurial dreams.


Bronner Brothers

When Bernard Bronner tells you that he and his five brothers grew up in the family business, he really means it. As a child, Bernard manned the cash register and swept the floor at one of his father's six beauty products supply stores in Atlanta. His brothers did the same work at another store.

When asked at what point he actually began training to succeed his father, 78-year-old CEO Nathaniel Bronner Sr., Bernard now 31, has difficulty nailing down the exact moment. "He's been preparing us for years--from the very beginning," says Bernard. "It's been a very gradual transition."

The transition is expected to come to an end later this year when Bernard will take on his father's title of president and CEO. The position falls to Bernard, who was a business major at Georgia State University, rather than to his older brother Nathaniel Bronner Jr., a 36-year-old chemist who is currently vice president of research and development, simply because of the difference in their interests.

Three other brothers, Darrow, Dale, Charles and a cousin, Arthur Bronner III, also have been instrumental in the $19 million hair care products manufacturer's success. (Bernard's youngest brother, James, is a college freshman.) Slowly, Bronner Brothers is expanding in the United States and overseas as part of its strategy to develop into a full-blown conglomerate.


Mel Farr

Automotive Group

Talk about like father, like son. Mel Farr Jr. has made a habit of following in his namesake's footsteps. As a youth he worked as a lot boy--mostly washing cars--at his father's rapidly expanding car dealerships in Detroit. As a teenager he began learning the sales trade. He played college football just like his father had. In fact, he played at the same school--UCLA--and the same position--running back. And, like Mel Farr Sr., Mel Jr. was drafted by the pros after college.

But after making the rounds through a few teams, Mel Jr. was cut and decided, as his father did 16 years earlier, to earn his living by selling cars.

In September, the 25-year-old Farr left the Motor City for Fairfield, Ohion, where he became the sales manager of the newly acquired Mel Farr Ford. (Younger brother Michael, 24, currently plays wide receiver for the Etroit Lions. They also have a 17-year-old sister named Monet).

Due to some unexpected upheavals in management, Farr progressed swiftly to finance manager and finally to general manager. Although Farr admits to still being "green," he says he relished the chance to cut his teeth in his own shop.

"I needed to start somewhere where everyone was learning from the ground up," he says. "In may father's Detroit stores, where everyone is firmly established, I would have had to learn by watching. Here I can learn by doing."

Looking back at his start in the business as a youth, Mel Jr. admits, "I would rather have been doing what other kids were doing." But he adds that working with his dad, 1992 BE Auto Dealer of the Year, taught him discipline.

Farr says that he is eager to relieve his 47-year-old father of some of managing the $106 million Mel Farr Automotive Group. Not surprisingly, he sounds much like his dad.

"If we only get one person in here a day, we have to make sure we sell that person a car," he says. "We want to be, and one day will be, the number one dealership in the country."

Those are the kind of words that make Mel Farr Sr. proud.


Soft Sheen

Products Inc.

Question: If you're the head of a family-owned business, what comes first--the family or the company? Simple, says Gary E. Gardner. "In a family business, the family comes first," says the 37-year-old president of Soft Sheen Products Inc. "My first job is to protect my family's interests, and second, to protect the business."

That statement is not surprising coming from the son of Edward and Bettiann Gardner, who co-hair the $87.9 million hair care company's board. With siblings Terri and Guy Gardner presiding over two company's under Soft Sheen's umbrella, and Gary's wife, Denise, overseeing the marketing area, the hair care concern continues to epitomize the family business affair. It's obvious that each family member has played an integral role in the company's success.

Although Gary is Soft Sheen's president and has been the driving force behind his company's push towards globalization, he is extremely careful not to step into his father's shadow. "The passing of the baton doesn't happen all at once," Gary says. "It must happen gradually."

While Soft Sheen has been lauded for its success in attracting premium talent (it now employs 23 black MBAs and has hired highly skilled workers away from majority-owned companies), Gary Gardner remains keenly aware of what he is up against in competing on the open market.

"Black enterprises are so fragile," Gardner says. "Think about it: We are trying to campress 140 years of maturing that large, American companies have enjoyed into 40 years of growth and development. Most corporations have had more time to mature and more resources to guilt with."



The Gourmet Cos.

By the tender age of 12, Russell Goldston was already up to his neck in responsibility at his parent's company--Atlanta's Gourment Service. It was then that Goldston began spending summer's washing dishes and emptying trash cans. Asked about his salary at the time, Goldston, now 25, replies with a laugh, "My payment was that I had a house to live in and food on the table."

Goldston's salary, like his level of involvement in what is now called The Gourmet Cos., has increased dramatically since then. Having received a bachelor's degree in hospitality management in 1989 from Cornell University's hotel management school, Goldston is studying the operations portion of his family's business as food service director at Morehouse College. It represents the midway mark in the second phase of his training to take over the $34.3 million concern. His 53-year-old father, founder Nathaniel R. Goldston III, has indicated that he would like to retire in about five years.

Russell Goldston says the key to his company's continued success will involve two things: putting out a quality product and diversification. Contributing toward both of those ends is Russell's wife. Leslie, an executive chef trained in Switzerland and at The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. Leslie is currently the company's director of catering for the Atlanta region and, at some point, Russell hopes to open a restaurant in which his wife's input will be fundamental.

Says Goldston: "It's wonderful to know that in the end you'll be the direct recipient of the benefits of the work you're doing."


Earl G. Graves Ltd.

In January, Earl "Butch" Graves Jr. moved into the executive wing at Earl G. Graves Ltd. Ironically, the new office for the company's senior vice president of advertising and marketing is just one door away from that of his father, CEO Earl G. Graves.

The move, says Butch, is satisfying "not because I have a new office with new carpeting and a couch, but because it's a sign that my father has really come to rely on me and value my opinions. He wanted me closer just to have someone to bounce things off of."

It has been four years since Graves, fresh out of The Harvard Business School, joined his parents' New York-based company as vice president of advertising/marketing for BALCK ENTERPRISE magazine. When the elder Graves teamed up with Earvin "Magic" Johnson in 1990 to purchase Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., L.P., Butch participated in the negotiations, which lasted three years. Along with other senior New Uork-based managers, he continues to interface with Pepsi's management team. (The Pepsi franchise reported 1991 sales of $44 million.)

Butch credits his father eith exposing him to and-including him in on every aspect of the family business while giving him enough space to make and learn from his own mistakes.

While there is no explicit timetable for succession, the 30-year-old Butch says he expects his father, now 57, to cut back on his workload around the usual retirement age of 65. By then, Butch says he and his brothers--Johnny, 29, a Wall Street lawyer, and Michael, 25, a business development manager at the Pepsi facility--will be firmly in place so that their father can step back from the $17.5 million company without concern.

"The key for black business in the next generation is going to be in acquisitions of existing companies instead of reinventing the wheel each time," says Butch. "I would love to see us acquiring other companies. That will give us the oportunity to develop further some of my fellow directors as well as bring in black managers and chief operating officers to fill positions that they might not otherwise gain access to. That will be a key challenge for black entrepreneurs over the next 20 years."


C.H. James & Co.

When Charles H. James III became CEO of his family's business in 1988, it was more a rite of passage than the completion of a succession plan. Three prior generations of James men had successfully operated C. H. James & Co., a Charleston W. Va.-based food distribution business. Now it was his turn to continue the 109-year-old legacy.

James, 33, grew up working beside his father, C.H. James II. He worked just about every job in the company, and was anxious to step in once his father retired. "When your name is on the building and the trucks that distribute the food, you feel a personal pride, and you accept the responsibility," says James.

He has merged his Wharton School training with the grity work ethic of his predecessors, to create a tremendous growth strategy. And his experience as a banking associate helped him find creative ways to finance that growth. During his first four years as CEO, James has transformed C.H. James from a $4 million regional operation into a $18 million multinational conglomerate.

Says James, "The goal is not just to maximize wealth. The goal is to turn over the business in a healthy conditon--so that the next generation will be able to enjoy the same things that you did."


Johnson Publishing

Co. Inc.

When 74-year-old publishing magnate John H. Johnson decides to retire, it is his daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who will succeed him as chairman of Chicago's $261.3 million Johnson Publising Co. Inc. Rice will become one of only a handful of women CEOs of major companies in the country.

Since 1987, the year she received her master's degree in business administration from Northewestern University's J.L. Kellogg School of Management, Rice has served as Johnson Publishing's president and chief operating officer. Rice has worked in tandem with her father overseeing the company's tree magazines, two radio stations, its hair care division, television production affiliate, and the Fashion Fair Cosmetics line.

It is in Fashion Fair that Rice, 34, see the greates opportunity for growth over the next two decades. "I see Fashion Fair as a major global player in the cosmetics field," she says. Despite having offices in France and the United Kindom, which distribute cosmetics in parts of Europe and Africa, Rice insists, "We still haven't really tapped that market."

However, that won't stop determined Rice. Her own personal challenge, she says, is to "be even 50% as successful as my father has been. We would like to shoot for 150%, but for me, 50% would be a huge achievement."


Inner City

Broadcasting Corp.

As one of a handful of children of BE 100s CEOs to have completed the transition from president to chairman, Pierre "Pepe" Sutton of New York's Inner City Broadcasting Corp., has a unique perspective on his job. In short, he says, "I kind of like it."

This statement is telling only because the 45-year-old Sutton admits he "wasn't looking forward to it" at all. By the time Sutton took the reins in January 1991, he had already served as president of Inner City for almost 20 years under his father, chairman emeritus Percy E. Sutton.

In many ways, says Pierre, advancing to chairman was "sort of anticlimactic because I've been doing this for so long." But the transfer of the Apollo Threatre--soon to be owned by the nonprofit Apollo Threatre Foundation-hass created fresh challenges for Inner City and added a new dimension to the chairman's tasks. Meanwhile, Sutton must still keep his company's radio stations, in cities such as New York, Detroit and Los Angeles on top.

Assisting Sutton as he guides the $26 million company into the next century are his sister, Cheryl, who was running the Apollo Theatre, and cousins, Chuck Sutton and Oliver Sutton II.

"We fully intend to control this company into infinity," says Pierre. "It's so critically important that we institutionalize our businesses. These [black] companies are much more impportant to our community than IBM is to the larger community. We must continut to own them. The founders' thoughts must remain alive."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:black executives
Author:Clarke, Caroline V.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Previous Article:Building a first-rate management team.
Next Article:Saying goodbye to corporate America.

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