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Where are they now?

Over the past two decades more than 700 companies have been ranked on the BLACK ENTERPRISE list of the nation's top black-owned businesses. For the first 15 years the list consisted of leading African-American industrial/service companies and auto dealers. In 1988, we divided the list into the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 and the BE AUTO 100; together they are the BE 100s.

Although it would be virtually impossible to track the fates of all of the companies that are no longer on the list, BE looked at 11 of the most notable former BE 100s companies. Five of these ventures were sold to non-minority buyers. Two have closed their doors. The rest have revenues too low to make the list.

Although we profiled only a few of the companies, their stories represent many of the businesses no longer to be ranked as BE 100s enterprises.

Motown Sells Its Soutl, Act II: The Gordy Co.

For the first 11 years of the BE 100s. Motown Industries held fast to the No. 1 slot on the list of the nation's largest black companies. But in 1984, Johnson Publishing (Ebony, Jet and Fashion Fair Cosmetics) muscled its way to the top, leaving Motown at No. 2 with sales of $108.2 million. Over the next five years, it was obvious that founder Berry Gordy was losing interest in the record business. And even though sales of the company continued to climb, many of the orignators of the world-famous "Motown Sound" (i.e., Diana Ross, The Jacksons, Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Miracles) had already jumped ship. By 1990, Gordy was setting his sights on television and film as he sold Motown and formed The Gordy Group.

When Berry Gordy Jr. started the legendary Detroit-based record company in the late 1950s, it seemed as if everthing he touched turned gold. By 1963, Motown was the world's largest independent record label and was already expanding its operation out West. With superstars like Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations and The Four Tops, everyone believed Motown to be invincible.

Motown topped the first BE 100s list in 1973, reporting sales of $40 million. Although armed with the creative genius of Stevie Wonder, Gordy realized that Motown needed to diversify its interest and soon segued into music publishing, television and firm. In 1972, Motown produced its first movie, Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross. The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Ross.

Despite the departure of some of its major stars, revenues on the 1983 list for the premier black entertainment company skyrocketed to $104 million. That same year, Motown signed a distribution deal with MCA Records Inc.

By the mid-'80s, Motown was still humming releasing hit after hit from Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and a new act, Debarge, to the tune of $137 million, it maintained its No. 2 ranking on the 1985 BE 100s list. Motown's mega-hits catalog subsidiary, Jobete, was also pulling in big bucks with movie soundtracks from such hit films as the Big Chill, pumping up the demand for "oldies but goodies."

The company's newly formed Motown Productions was busy as well. In 1985, Motown rocked the little screen with the Emmy award-winning Motown's 25th Anniversay and Motown Returns To The Apollo.

When Motown revenues peaked on the 1987 list with $152 million, Gordy was ready to pull out and considered selling the entire music business to the $2.3 billion entertainment giant MCA Corp. But his financial advisers convinced him to wait until a more favorable tax climate. By this time, Motown Productions had already stumbled in its television efforts, producing two blunders, Sidekicks, a family sitcom and Nighlight, a talk show hosted by David Brenner. By the 1988 list, Motown had hit its lowest point on the list at No. 5, grossing $100 million in sales. Now Gordy was ready to deal.

Not able to impress Gordy with its original $40 offer, MCA joined forces with Boston Ventures to put together a $61 million package. The new Motown, headed by former MCA hitmaker Jheryl Busby, is divided as follows: 70% to Boston Ventures, a $200 million investment banking firm, and 18% plus a 10-year distribution deal to MCA. Busby, Diana Ross and others control the remaining shares. Busby told BE in the December 1991 covr story "Pumping Up The Jam For Profits" that he plans to return Motown, which he says is worth over $150 million, to black ownership in the near future.

The remainder of Motown, now called The Gordy Co., is comprised or Motown Productions Inc., a movie and television production unit, Jobete Music the ctalog of classic hits, and Hitsville USA, a recording studio. Bolstered by the sales of Motown Records, The Gordy Co.'s first year on the chart was at No. 5 with $105 million in sales. In Mayh 1989, Motown Productions, under President Suzanne de Passe, won acclaim by sweeping the other networks with the miniseries Lonesome Dove. In 1990 (the last year on the BE 100s list), revenues slid to $100 million, as the company continued to seek out new television, cable and film projects. At this time, The Gordy Group is no longer considered 51% black-owned.

Philadelphia International Records: The Sould Of Survival

When Philadelphia International Records catapulted onto the BE 100s in 1973 with sales of $18 million, the legendary "Philly Sound" dominated the soul charts across the nation. Listed under its parent company name, The Great Philadelphia Trading Co./Assorted Music Inc., Philly International was a nonstop hitmaking machine. Founded by producers extraordinaire Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the Philly label was sure to be a longtime BE mainstay.

With an all-star roster that included Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, The O'Jays and Billy "Me and Mrs. Jones' Paul, this independent record company was giving the majors as reason to worry. But soon Gamble and Huff realized that a steady stream of hits was just not enough to compete with the big bucks and distribution networks of their larger competitors. After one year on the list, Philly International was already losing money sliding down to No.5 on the 1976 list with sales of $16.1 million.

"Over the last decade," sayes Gamble, "corporate conglomerates have dominated the record industry. All of the independent record pressers and distributors were either bought out by the major rcord labels or crumbled under the competition." Nevertheless the sounds of Philadelpia still survive. Instead of going under, Gamble and Huff dismantled their full-service firm and returned to their forte--developing artists and contracting with the majors to handle the marketing and distribution.

Today, the duo receives royalty arrangements and fees to find and develop artists. Their business is to create marketable demos and promotable artists. Representing such established artists as Phyllis Hyman and The Dells, Gamble and Huff are well-suited for the hunt for hot new talent. Their albums and copact discs are manufactured and distributed by BMG Records.

The team recently sold their catalog (the rights to the songs they wrote) to Warner Bros. for $15 million according to industry insiders. So what's next? Television, cable and film deals, says Gamble.

FEDCO Foods Makes Way For Soft Drinks And Cable

Only one entrepreneur, J. (James) Bruce Llewellyn has the distinction of having four companies appear on the BE 100s listings over its 20-year history. Considered by many of his peers as a consummate dealmaker, Llewellyn's FEDCO Foods Corp. was No. 4 on the first BE 100s list, with $23 million in sales and a staff of 450. With annual sales peaking at $85 million in 1983, the 27-grocery store chain was sold to non-minority investors in 1984. Afte a very brief absence from the list, Llewellyn came back strong on the 1986 BE 100s list with two new ventures. Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Queen City Broadcasting Inc., a Buffalo, N.Y., ABC-TV affiliate. In 1991, he added yet a third company to the list, Garden State Cable TV, a New Jersey cable station.

An attorney by training, Bruce Llewellyn has a knack for sniffing out good deals. When the owners of the Bronx, N.Y.-based FEDCO supermarkets expressed concern that they couldn't sell the inner-city stores because of their less-than-desirable locations, Llewellyn and two partners took over the 11 properties for $3 million. Within two years he had upped the count by three. By the 1983 list, FEDCO had stores sprinkled throughout lower-income neighborhoods in the Bronx and Manhattan, with 725 employees on staff. Reporting flat sales in 1984, FEDCO's last year on the list was as the nation's fifth largest black-owned firm. Later that year, Llewellyn sold FEDCO for an estimated $20 million.

By then the cola wars were already in full swing. Not between Pepsi and Coke, but between the black community and Coca-Cola USA--with a little PUSH from Jessee Jackson and other activists who demanded more economic participation in the multimillion-dollar soda industry. Two years before selling FEDCO, Llewellyn, along with partners Julius Erving (aka basketball legend "Dr. J.") and Bill Cosby purchased a 36% share of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York. As the largest single shareholder. Llewellyn joined the board and was named chairman of its subsidiary, The Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. In 1985, Llewellyn left Coke New York for a larger deal. Llewellyn purchased the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. with Julius Erving with a loan of $75 million from various financial institutions. Philadelphia Coke leaped onto the 1986 BE 100s list one notch higher than FEDCO's last year, ranking No. 4, with sales of $102 million. Sales have more than doubled over the last six years, with 1991 figures soaring to $256 million.

1986 was also the year Queen City Broadcasting, a joint venture among Llewellyn, Irving, Ed Lewis, CEO of Essence Communications, and others joined the list Llewellyn, who serves as chairman and is the largest shareholder, and his team purchased WKBW-TV, in Buffalo for $65 million. Queen City reported sales of $21 million on the 1986 list. The 1992 list reports sales of $25.2 million. Bitten by the broadcast bug, Llewellyn put together yet another partnership group to purchase Garden State Cable TV, which came onto the BE 100s in 1991 at No. 8, grossing $74 million. One year later, the company had jumped to the $88 million mark, according to the 1992 list.

West Coast Distributors Get New Owners

Winning against the odds comes naturally to a NFL Hall of Famer who managed to earn his MBA in the off seasons. Combine that preparation with the dynamic personality of former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis and you have a BE legend who knows how to land on his feet. Debuting at No. 30 on the first BE 100s list with sales of $4.5 million, Davis made his mark with a very successful beer distributorship before gobbling up radio stations and setting his sights to even higher ground: buying a professional sports franchise.

After a blazing 12-year career breaking records and surviving the brutally cold Wisconsin winters, Davis purchased a Schlitz distributorship in Los Angeles for $500,000 in 1970. Not padded with an astronomical athletic salary, Davis (whose earnings peaked at a grand $47,000) had to tap other resources for funding. After attaining a secured bank loan against personal property and $150,000 in personal savings, the former defensive end was determined to become the premier beer distributor.

By 1983, the Willie Davis Distributing Co., which distributed beer from the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. and Stroh Brewing Co., was the largest beer distributorship on the West Coast. (In 1982, Stroh bought out Schlitz.) With sales of $17.5 million and 180 employees, the firm ranked in at No. 35 on the list. In 1986, Davis' company peaked with sales of $25.2 million, 250 employees and a No. 37 berth on the list. In 1986, Davis teamed up with Tom Selleck to start a Coors distributorship in Los Angeles. The union became the West Coast Beverage Co., grossing $23 million and coming in at No. 57 on the 1987 list. By 1988, Davis sold it to an undisclosed majority-owned company.

By then Davis also owned 20% of Valley School and Office Supplies, a small firm based in Appleton, Wisc.; 28% of a bus shelter manufacturing firm Shelter Media Inc. in Los Angeles; and was a founder and major stockholder in Alliance Bank in Culver City, Calif. He continues to serve on numerous corporate boards.

Today, Davis is focused on his All-Pro Broadcasting empire, which includes partnership or full-ownership of five radio stations: KACE-FM in Los Angeles; KMVP-AM and KDHT-FM in Denver; and WLUM-FM and WMVP-AM in Milwaukee. As a partner in Memphis Pro Football Inc., Davis is seeking certification for a football expansion franchise from the National Football League. Though Davis was competing against eight other entities interested in owning an NFL team, Memphis Pro made the first cut in March 1992 and is confident they will be awarded a franchise by the fall. The team, tentatively called the Memphis Showboats, is expected to be playing on the 1994 season.

M&M Products Loses Its Sheen

After a brief hiatus from hair couture, Cornell McBride Sr., former president of M&M Products has jumped back into the hair care business reenergized and ready to recapture the industry where he reigned for 10 years. Fueled by the phenomenally successful hair sheen product, Sta-Sof-Fro Oil Sheen and Comb Out Conditioner, M&M Products d ebuted on the 1979 BE 100s list. Ten years later, McBride's honeymoon partnership with Therman McKenzie was over.

As co-founder of the extremely versatile Sta-Sof-Fro, a hair spray that moisturizes and softens dry, coarse hair, McBride is no stranger to the needs of the black hair care market. That's why he is pulling out all the stops with his recently launched product line, Wave By Design and Design Essentials. Developed by his 2-year-old firm, McBride Research Laboratories in Decatur, Ga., these products are sold exclusively in hair salons.

"The hair care product distribution process is archaic. Black-owned companies are not able to sell directly to the chain stores like Kmart or Woolworth's because these companies are purchasing the Revlon line for black consumers. The manufacturing and distribution of black products must be done by black companies," says McBride, whose complaint has always been the fact that majority-owned firms continue to dominate the black hair care market. Today the 48-year-old pharmacist is endeavoring to "take back the market."

After graduating in the early 1970s from the School of Pharmacy at Mercer University in Atlanta, McBride and schoolmate, Therman McKenzie, launched M&M Products in Forest Park, Ga., in 1973. With $500 in start-up capital, ingenuity and determination, the duo developed the product that became the backbone of their company. Sta-Sof-Fro soon became a brand leader among 88 competing labels. Though they were not the pioneers of the concept, it was innovative marketing that distinguished McBride's and McKenzie's (M&M) hair sheen from an already overcrowded market. The partners credited two specific reasons for their rapid success: 1) the introduction of men in their advertising campaigns and 2) the fact that the product could easily be used with straight or curly perms (additional products in the M&M lineup). Capitalizing on its strong sales in local ethnic areas, drug and discount store chains were willing to carry the M&M product line.

In 1979, M&M barely made the cutoff, as it debuted on the BE 100s in the 99th position with $4.2 million in gross sales. The following year, the firm leaped to 43rd place and doubled its revenues. By 1981, sales had tripled and M&M had anchored its position in the curly perm maintenance market as well. By 1983, M&M was No. 11 and grossing $43 million. That's when the problems began.

Despite a loyal and growing customer base, rumors of bankruptcy rocked the foundation of the company. McBride conceded that the profit margins were lean, and in 1985, M&M began losing money. Nevertheless the partners remained optimistic.

By 1988, M&M was back in shape and revenues peaked at slightly more than $45 million, but the company had certainly lost its sheen. In 1989, M&M plummeted to No. 36, grossing barely $20 million.

Citing severe management problems and a saturated market, the partners decided to sell out. After spending 11 years on the BE 100s, McBride described his partnership with Therman McKenzie as a "bad marriage." The products were excellent, the employees were good, but a divorce was needed in order for the products to survive." In March of 1990, M&M sold all four of its product lines, including Sta-Sof-Fro, to Chicago hair care giant, Johnson Products Co. (another BE 100s company), for approximately $5 million.

The Shattered Dreams Of Lawson

National Distributing Co.

Daniel Lawson was a young man with big dreams. But when his first dream of having a highly successful football career as a defensive back for the Washington Redskins was shattered by a knee injury, Lawson set his sights on business. After earning an MBA in marketing from Oklahoma State in 1982, Lawson found his niche in the transportation business. In 1979, Lawson parlayed a $10,000 loan from his mother into The Lawson National Distributing Co. Specializing in the assembly, servicing and marketing of transit vehicles paid off and Lawson zoomed onto the 1986 BE 100s list at No. 32, with sales of $26.5 million. By 1987, the company started losing contracts and running out of gas. By the 1989 list, sales were down to a scant $16 million, and the company dropped to No. 45. The following year, Lawson closed shop.

Building his reputation as a premier marketer, Lawson worked for several companies before Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz persuaded his current employer, Gulf Oil Co., to loan him to the city's transportation department. Accepting the opportunity, Lawson quickly learned the transportation business and worked his way up the agency to become the transit administrator for the city of Houston in 1975. By then Lawson was ready to venture off on his own. Unable to acquire capital from financial institutions, Lawson turned to his family for help. After several months of looking for business, Lawson finally landed a $51 million contract with the Chicago Transit Authority. Leveraging his firm's capabilities and the belief that since African-Americans have always been the backbone of the nation's transportation industry, black people should share in the profits, Lawson's firm began to prosper.

In its heyday, Lawson National acquired over $110 millin in municipal contracts, providing over 1,300 mid- and standard-size transit vehicles to major cities such as Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, by 1987 Lawson was in trouble. After losing a $70 million government contract to distribute 449 buses for Chicago, his gross sales plummeted from $52.1 million to $19.1 million. He was left with bills and without sufficient capital to cover them. After a failed attempt to go public, revenues continued to head south until he suspended operations later that year.

Lawson now works as a consultant for Stewart & Stevenson, a Houston-based firm that specializes in the manufacturing and

The BE 100s Energy Crisis: Wallace & Wallace and G&M Oil

Fueled by the allure of lucrative Small Business Administration (SBA) set-aside contracts, many African-American entrepreneurs struck out in the oil business to make their fortune. But as two special reports featured in this issue set out to prove, building a business on government contracts can be rough going. Although by June 1982, 14 black-owned oil companies graced the BE 100s listing, only one still remains on the roster.

New York lost a true business pioneer when Charles Wallace, founder of Wallace & Wallace Fuel Oil Co. and Wallace & Wallace Chemical & Oil Corp. passed away in 1986. Starting his fuel and chemical empire with one delivery truck and seveal residential and commercial companies, Wallace built his companies through hard work and highly sought out government 8(a) minority set-aside contracts. With two St. Albans, N.Y.-based companies coming on the BE 100s list in 1975, Wallace was considered by many a true rising star in black business.

In 1975, the three-year-old W&W Chemical, a wholesale and import crude oil refinery, pipeline construction and operation firm occupied the No. 8 position with sales of $14 million. Started in 1968, W&W Fuel Oil, a home-heating oil distributor, held the 36th spot with sles of $6 million.

But despite the spectacular start, things did not quite got according to plan. The very next year, W&W Chemical posted a $5.5 million drop in sales pushing it to the 14th spot on the 1976 BE 100s. On the bright side, however, W&W Fuel Oil showed a lsight uptick reporting $8.79 million in sales catapulting the company to the 13 slot on the list.

By 1977, both companies were coming on strong and business looked better than ever. Government contracts were pouring in and the oil flow seemed as if it would never end. By the 1980 list, Wallace combined the two companies under the name Wallace & Wallace Enterprises. With revenues of $25.9 million, the wholesale/retail fuel oil company ranked No. 10 on the 1980 list. Two years later, the company's gross sales peaked at $81.9 million zooming to the No. 2 position on the 1982 list. But then the company crashed. By 1983, W&W sales sunk to $32 million, and the company moved down to the 16th spot.

And the descent continued. Wallace & Wallace dropped to the 84th slot on the 1984 BE 100s list with gross sales at $10 million. Plagued by a lingering 1978 Federal government investigation into the possibility of misappropriated funds and defaulted SBA loans, Wallace's business suffered inthe early 1980s. Although the oil entrepreneur was fully exonerated of the charges, the investigation knocked out Wallace's plans to build a $660 million refinery in Tuskegee, Ala. By 1986 Wallace was off the list, and the firm with the meteoric climb up the BE 100s ranks lost is 54-year-old CEO in June of that year. The business now under the name Wallace & Wallace Fuel Oil Co. is run today by his wife, Juanita. Although Mrs. Wallace has managed to keep the firm's client base in three New York boroughs, she told BE last February that the firm is "just hanging on."

Another oil company drowned by the industry was G&M Oil Co., a Baltimore-based company headed by Rudolph Gustus. G&M celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1983 at the No. 7 position with gross sales of $62 million. By the 1984 list, G&M reported that it had dropped 50%, and the company slid into the 16th slot with $31.2 million. Unfortunately Gustus was hit with a mighty one-two punch: a national oil glut lowered fair market prices and intensified consumer energy conservation efforts.

But the 1985 list, G&M seemed to recvoer despite the blows, with revenues of $56.4 million pushing the company back up to the No. 7 spot. Gustus pointed a diverse offering of petroleum products and the purchase of a new $25 million gallon offshore terminal from Texaco for the company's quick comeback. The next year's list showed revenues of $61.8 million. By 1987, the bottom dropped out. With a $24 million loss in sales, the firm plummeted from No. 6 to No. 24. Despite such a dramatic drop in gross sales, Gustus was quick to point out that volume was up. After two more years of dropping revenues, Gustus stopped reproting to the BE 100s, claiming that revenues were no longer competitive. Nevertheless, the company is still in business in Baltimore.

Smooth Sailign Ahead For Bay City Marine?

After six years of clear sailing on the BE 100s and two years of struggling to keep his shipbuilding and repair company afloat, David Lloyd is looking to set out his sails once again. As president of the San Diego-based Bay City Marine Inc., Lloyd first steered his company onto the BE 100s list in 1983 with sales of $10.6 million. The next year, sales increased more than 100%, moving the firm to No. 24 with sales of $23 million. Sales peaked in 1986 at the $28 million mark. By 1987, revenues began to go the way of the stock market. That year, Lloyd reported a $7 million loss moving him to No. 68 on the list. Lloyd's last year before he capsized off the list was in 1990 with $12.5 million. A victim of a tight economy and high luxury taxes on the boat business. Bay City has posted revenues of below $10 million for the past two years.

Despite the rough sailing, Lloyd is very optimistic. With contracts from General Dynamics Space Systems Division for $431,000, a potential partnership with Trinity Marine Group on the horizon and a high-profile job to resurrect the infamous EXXON Valdez (the ship that caused the billion-dollar oil slick damage in Alaska), Lloyd has reason to smile. Speaking of his rocky times, Lloyd says that even when the economy seemed to hit rock bottom, he wa always looking for a way to bounce back. "Over the last few years things have been tough, but I was never shipwrecked. I just kept on cruising."

High Prices For High-Tech

One of the most exciting developments of the BE 100s over the past 20 years was the introduction of the fast-growing high-tech and computer-integration companies in the early 1980s. Fueled by lucrative government contracts, these firms couldn't get up to speed fast enough as computers replaced paper in federal government offices throughout the Washington, D.C., area. But as these companies quickly grew and graduated from the 8 (a) program or were gobbled up by larger companies, several promising up-starts disappeared from the BE 100s list.

Take Systems & Applied Sciences Corp. (SAS), the 1973 brainchild of Porter Bankhead. In 1980, the computer and electronic data systems development company barely made the BE 100s list at No. 91, grossing $5.7 million. In 1981, SAS won a four-year $50 million contract from the Defens Department to crate a tactical communications system. Three years later, SAS held the 14th position in 1984 with revenues of $37 million. By this time SAS was the largest black-owned high-tech firm with 14 offices nationwide. In 1986, Bankhead told BE that it was going to get roughter because while SAS 's revenues held the top spot of high-tech firms on the year's list (No. 9) grossing $58 million, his firm was no longer eligible for minority set-aside contracts.

Despite its graduation, the company continued to leverage its experience in creating systems and software for battlefield management techniques and communication networks. By September 1986, CEO Bankhead sold SAS to Atlantic Research Corp., a $235 million, diversified computer firm based in Alexandria, Va. Operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlantic, Porter Bankhead was replaced by Ray Olsen who had been the chief operating officer for SAS.

Another firm sold after graduating from the 8(a) program was Raven Systems & Research Co. headquartered in Washington, D.C. In 1980, the firm, which was started by Raymond A. Mott, just made the list at the 95th position grossing $5.5 million. Armed with two consecutive three-year contracts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency worth $12 million each, Raven moved up 10 notches in three years, with revenues of $8.8 million reported on the 1983 list. Mott, who learned the industry serving as the former general manager for Automation Information Data System, a Washington, D.C., data processing firm, sold his firm in 1986 to his general manager, John Rulison.

The Barfield Cos. Sell Manufacturing Unit

In 1985, Jon E. Barfield, predicted that The Barfield Cos., a $17.5 million auto parts supplier and engineering services firm, would top the $50 million mark in five years. "We're not bigheaded," Jon said at the time. "We're just proud of where we are going." Unfortunately for Barfield, the company wound up going in a totally different direction. The Ypsilanti, Mich.-based holding company was a staple on the BE 100s for a decade (1980-1990). When the family-owned business made its debut on the list in 1980, it had $7 million in sales and a staff of 300. (Jon was president of Bartech Inc., a personnel placement subsidiary and John W. Barfield was founder and CEO of the parent company.) Nine years later, those revenues shot up to $38 million and the number of employees ballooned to 780. The company looked like it would easily make good on Jon's bold prediction. Then came the recession and arguably the worst auto slump ever. The result: In November 1991 Anthony Snoddy, a former General Motors Corp. executive, acquired Barfield Manufacturing Co., the main division of The Barfield Cos. Thanks to the auto industry slump, sales for Barfield Manufacturing fell to $9.3 million in 1991 from $12.4 million the year before. Jon says the family plans to concentrate more on its service businesses. The Barfields still own personnel placement and utility support service companies in Ypsilanti.

Liberating Prose: The Afro-American And Sengstacke Enterprises

It has been said that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. Although no longer represented on the BE 100s list, two of America's premier black newspaper chains are still publishing and thriving against all odds.

The Baltimore-based Afro-American Newspaper chain was first published in 1892 by John H. Murphy. Upon his death in 1922 The Afro-American had the largest circulation of any black periodical in the country. With regional editions in Washington and Richmond, Va., Publisher John Murphy II reported sales of $3 million on the first BE 100s list in 1973. The Afro-American peaked in 1979 when it hit the 92nd position with $4.2 million in sales. While its circulation remained tops among its competitors, its revenues (which have remained steady over the years) were unable to compete with the other high-tech, construction and entertainment moguls gracing the BE 100s. Under Publisher John Oliver Jr., the great-grandson of the founder, The Afro boasts a circulation of 110,000. The Afro also publishes two magazines, DAWN and Every Wednesday, which have more than 40,000 readers.

Sengstacke Enterprise, which started operations in 1936, has reigned supreme among black newspaper publishers throughout the Midwest. Founder of the Chicago Defender, the only black daily newspaper still publishing today, John Sengstacke reported sales of $6 million on the 1975 list, holding the No 33 spot. The company's year on the list was 1980 giving it a No. 72 position with sales of $7 million.

The Chicago Defender's current circulation is 22,346 and the weekend edition has 27,044 readers. Sengstacke Enterprises publishes three other weeklies, including the Tri-State Defender, the Michigan Chronicle with 23,669 readers and the Pittsburgh Courier, which has the largest circulation--80,000 readers.

Despite his advanced age, founder John Sengstacke still runs a very tight ship, one that will hopefully attract yet anther generation of African-American readers. In a recent interview with BE, Sengstacke warned black entrepreneurs across the country about what is necessary to keep your business going: "If you have a good product, a good audience and some good sense, your business may outlive you."

For some former BE 100s entrepreneurs, this is a lesson that may have come a little too late. For those still on the list, take heed.
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:B.E. 100s Profiles; former B.E. 100 firms
Author:Reynolds, Rhonda
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:5266
Previous Article:Overview: a tale of two decades.
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