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Going against the grain; newcomers to the B.E. 100s prove it's not where you start but where you end up that matters. (B.E. 100s Freshman Class).

There's no doubt about it: 2001 was a tough year for Americans, economically and emotionally. But for newcomers to the BE 100s list, tough times are nothing new. In fact, Ed Corley Automotive Group, Madison Research Corp., Thor Construction, and Golden Krust haven't merely survived tough times, they've thrived despite them. And in this tough year they've broken through to join the ranks of the nation's largest black-owned companies.

BUILDING THE FUTURE

Some people are born entrepreneurs. Others are made. And for a few, it takes a good, swift kick in the pants. Richard Copeland of Thor Construction Inc. (No. 89 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $31.2 million in sales) falls into the latter category. The CEO of the Minneapolis-based construction firm got his wake-up call in 1980 while working for his father's trucking company. A dispute with the elder Copeland left him jobless. "He fired me," laughs Copeland. "He marched me out of the office right in front of everyone."

And it was poor timing. Copeland had just gotten married and he and his wife were expecting their first of five children. But days later, while driving past a road crew for the local electric company, Copeland had an idea. "I went to their offices and said, `Would you give me a chance?'" This time, Copeland's timing was perfect. "They were way behind on a job. All I needed was a work certificate. I spent my last $50 on a certificate, and they gave me stacks of work orders. I worked from sunup to sundown," he reminisces.

Copeland's flash of an idea lit the spark for his construction company, which posted revenues of $31.2 million in 2001--not too shabby for someone who started out with a rake, a shovel, and an old pickup truck. "People used to tease me and sing the Sanford and Son song when I drove by." But that didn't bother Copeland, now 46. While they laughed, he was busy building a firm that today has offices in Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. "Atlanta is a great market for African American businesses because a lot of the decision makers are open to your inclusion. In Las Vegas there are no [other] sophisticated [African American] contractors who can compete. And if you don't get a foothold in the marketplace, there's no accessibility to the mainstream. You're just fighting over pennies."

But to gain accessibility, Copeland says it's important to team up with other firms to compete for large projects. Because of a relationship he cultivated with the regional director of the majority-owned Mortenson Construction, the two firms worked on a $7 million project. It went so well, they decided to team up on future projects and landed a $37 million contract to build the Minneapolis Convention Center. In 1985 Copeland bought his father's trucking company, which had revenues totaling $9 million for 2001. (His father passed away last year.) Copeland's largest solo contract to date was a $19 million award to build Army barracks at Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin in 2000. It was also the largest deal struck with an African American contractor in the state's history.

The firm celebrated another landmark April 3 when it unveiled the Como Park Bridge, a job Thor won in an open-market bid. And over the years, Copeland says he's learned to do inclusive work--public sector and private--and not to rely only on minority inclusion work. Another rule he lives by is to create opportunities in the black community. "I believe strongly in subcontracting, mentoring, and hiring people of color. If I don't mentor and bring other minority firms along, I'm nothing more than a flash in the pan."

SKY'S THE LIMIT

These days it's not unusual to find professional and former athletes heading up their own businesses. And some might say these athletes have it easy, that they're capitalizing on their celebrity, or that they're mere brawn backed by other people's brains. If you think that of John Stallworth, you're wrong. As president and CEO of the Huntsville, Alabama-based Madison Research Corp. (No. 56 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $60.6 million in sales), the former Pittsburgh Steeler (and NFL Hall of Famer) heads up a firm responsible for providing high-level engineering and information technology services to government and commercial clients such as NASA and the Department of Defense.

Make no mistake--it didn't come easy for Stallworth. "One of the biggest challenges was trying to eliminate the perception that a lot of folks have about athletes," says Stallworth who is as proud of his M.B.A. from Alabama A&M University as he is of his four Super Bowl rings. "You have to prove to people that you're intelligent enough to start a business, to take care of all the intricacies of financing it, and [to fulfill] all the contractual requirements. I wanted to prove that I could do it and that this didn't just happen because I played football."

In addition to dispelling stereotypes, Stallworth, 50, also had to contend with some lean years when he first started the Company in 1986. "Early on, we had to make some sacrifices to keep people on. There were times when a lot of our contracts were short-term; if the government didn't pass a budget, we would have to wait." Stallworth says '88 and '89 were so tough "we wondered if we were ever going to get through that period."

With 2001 revenues totaling more than $60 million and a staff of 650, Madison Research has come a long way from it's humble, home-based beginnings when Stallworth, his wife, Flo, and a third partner who was an engineer, pooled their talents and resources--about $5,000--to bid on their first contract worth roughly $20,000. With that contract in hand, the three of them were then able to secure a line of credit with a local bank which in turn enabled them to open an office. Sixteen years later, the company has offices in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Maryland, and a client roster that reads like a who's who in defense contracts. NASA, the Air Force, and the Army's missile defense program are but a few.

Now a seasoned veteran in the high-tech procurement arena, Stallworth is looking toward the future. In his line of business, this is key. It's simply not enough to prove yourself. "You also have to develop a track record," he says. "You have to have projects in the pipeline that you're going to bid on six months to a year from now. You can't rely on the short-term because very few contracts are won on short notice."

GOLDEN PROFITS

Trust and commitment are two values dear to Lowell Hawthorne's heart. And it's these two values that led to the creation of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery Inc. (No. 85 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $32 million in sales) in 1989. Hawthorne, 41, a native of St. Andrew, Jamaica, was an accountant with the New York City Police Department, but he missed the family business. Fifty-five years ago in Jamaica, Hawthorne's father had founded Hawthorne & Sons Bakery, a well-known entity on the tiny Caribbean island. Hawthorne wanted to get back to the family business without going back home to do it.

But that would be easier said than done. It was the late '80s, businesses were failing, and "the failure rates for restaurants were so high that banks basically turned their backs on us," says the soft-spoken Hawthorne who came to the U.S. with his family in the early '80s. "But we had a family meeting and decided to to go back to our roots." The Hawthorne clan (eight brothers and sisters at the time) mortgaged their homes, pooled their resources, and launched the first Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery in the Bronx, New York. Their patties, Jamaican hard-dough bread, buns, and cakes were a hit; within four years the family had opened stores in New Jersey and Connecticut. Then, in 1999, Golden Krust won the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in New York City.

"Suddenly, calls started coming in from all over; people were interested in the concept," says Hawthorne. "So we sought information on franchising." From a single location in the Bronx, the Hawthorne family--with Lowell at the helm--has grown the business to 37 franchises and six family-owned locations nationwide. Their menu also expanded to include the full range of Caribbean fare, from soup to jerk chicken. Hawthorne brags that "Golden Krust is not just patties" anymore and adds that the company participates in the New York City school lunch program. "When Golden Krust is on the menu, kids don't skip school," he says laughing.

The company also produces its own line of juices and recently expanded its bakery/production facility to 60,000-square feet, taking up nearly an entire city block in the Bronx. Last year the company grossed $32 million.

As the business has grown, so has the family involvement. With 11 brothers and sisters, as well as their spouses now on board, Hawthorne says it's vital that family members participate in every aspect of the company. "We were really serious about this being a family business," he says. "We gave up our professions and committed ourselves to this. Once you stick together, you can really accomplish your goals."

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

In business, so the saying goes, there are three important elements that make for success: location, location, and location. That has proven true for Ed Corley Automotive Group (No. 28 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list with $90 million in revenues) in Grants, New Mexico. Texas native Ed Corley Sr. had no intention of getting into automotive sales, but a golden location took him from a service station owner and operator to CEO of a firm with five dealerships.

It all started one day in 1982, when Corley, a father of eight (five girls, three boys), looked across the street from his Exxon service station. When he saw the remnant of an auto dealership that had been closed for two years, it dawned on Corley that it made sense to make a change. His timing couldn't have been better.

The years following the 1979 gas crisis had been tough ones marked by long lines, gas rationing, and skyrocketing prices and tempers. "The service station business was changing because of the gas allocations and it was a very difficult time," says Corley, 68. "I looked across the street and thought it made good business sense [to switch]." Fortune smiled on him. Because of Corley's success as a service station owner--he had five by that time--when Ford Motor Company went looking for businesspeople to participate in its dealer developer program, Corley's name was at the top of the list.

Since then he has grown the business from one dealership to five, with locations in Gallup, Albuquerque, and Grants. In 1995 alone Corley managed to add a Dodge dealership (in Gallup), a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, and a Volvo dealership (both in Albuquerque) to his roster. Over the years his eight children have all joined the business as well.

That Corley has managed to post $90 million in revenues in a town where residents number only about 12,000 is a testament to his business acumen--and the strength of location. Grants is literally at the midpoint of the state, and that central location has been critical to Corley's success.

But Corley also credits the fact that his dealerships are a family business. "I think customers look at that and it helps add honesty and sincerity to the business," he says. "People who enter the store feel they'll be treated like family. You just wouldn't mistreat your family."

Cracking the Top 100

The freshman class of 2002 had a rough year. Faced with an economic recession, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and the war that followed, these companies had a tremendous challenge to overcome. But they persevered. And as a result, the people behind these companies are being recognized by BE. This year's class boasts 16 new entrants on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list, including Dimensions International Inc., an information technology company that does business with NASA. Here is a brief introduction to the newcomers and their rankings on this year's list.

1 CAMAC

Specializes in oil and gas exploration, engineering, and refining. The $979.5 million Houston firm employs 1,000 people and is headed by Nigerian-born Kase L. Lawal.

2 Telcobuy.com

Posting revenues of $604 million, this Maryland Heights, Missouri, firm provides technical and e-business consulting services and contract manufacturing.

9 Harpo Inc.

This legendary television production and publishing company, headed by Oprah Winfrey, posted revenues of $285 million.

13 Total Premier Services Inc.

The Houston-based supplier of oil and gas drilling operations boasts revenues of $242 million and has 75 employees.

56 Madison Research Corp.

Located in Huntsville, Alabama, the information technology firm has 620 employees and boasts revenues of $60.6 million.

61 Dimensions International Inc.

An international information technology firm that boasts an impressive client roster including Boeing Information Services and NASA. The company posted revenues of $55.8 million.

80 A. L. Eastmond & Sons Inc.

A New York City manufacturer of broilers, the company posted revenues of $34 million and has 200 employees.

80 Detroit Heading L.L.C.

Specializes in manufacturing automotive fasteners (bolts). The $34 million Detroit firm employs 90 people. Clients include General Motors Corporation, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler Company.

80 Industrial Inventory Solutions L.L.C.

Specializing in distribution of industrial chemical and freight transportation, the Cleveland-based firm employs 275 people and boasts revenues of $34 million.

80 Shoprite Supermarket of West Haven

Employs 190 people and posted revenues of $34 million. The West Haven, Connecticut, store is headed by Samuel O. Chapman Jr.

85 Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery

With 37 franchises and six family-owned locations, the company, which specializes in Caribbean baked goods, boasts revenues of $32 million.

87 Tec-Masters Inc.

Posting 2001 revenues of $32 million, the company specializes in research and development, implementation technology, professional engineering services, navigation software, and multimedia services.

89 Thor Construction Inc.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company specializes in general contracting and design-building and posted 2001 revenues of $31.2 million.

95 Vanguard Holdings Inc.

Located in Savannah, Georgia, the company, which provides integrated supply services for MRO Software and Blueprint Tooling, posted revenues of $29.2 million.

97 White Construction Co. Inc.

Posting revenues of $28 million, the Detroit company provides general contracting, construction management, and design-building services.

100 Paradigm Solutions Corp.

Providing information technology solutions, the company boasts revenues of $27.2 million and is headed by Raymond A. Huger.
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Author:Donaldson, Sonya A.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:2449
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