Monday, April 9, 2012

Ish You Should Know - The Billion Dollar Man

by Seymour Monet

African-American history lessons are far too often reduced to the same laundry list of black “firsts” only taught in February. Even more often as of late, it seems the accomplishments in the fields of sports and entertainment are given more light. Today black judges, politicians, and CEO’s don’t get much press until it turns bad. This has got to change. Those who follow me know I loves me some money, so naturally I’m all over anybody gaining wealth. We all know the billionaires Bob and Oprah, but I would like to introduce you all to Reginald F. Lewis, the first black billion dollar businessman.

Being born in 1942 and growing up in East Maryland definitely didn’t afford Reginald any of the opportunities that most of us have taken for granted. Yet at age ten he set up his own newspaper route to deliver a local African-American newspaper. He started with ten stops and flipped it to over a hundred in two years and then sold the route for a profit. I don’t know about you but at 12 I was flipping off of mattresses not flipping a profit on a business. Sounds like a bad mo fo right? You don’t know the half.

Never out of work Reginald took a standard job at the time washing dishes at a local country club. There he worked with his grandfather who spoke to him the simple words, “know your job and do it well.” So often in life we tend to over complicate things. These seven words are ones you can live your entire life by. After beasting in high school to the tune of being the starting quarterback, shortstop, small forward, (oh yeah…captain of all three!) and student body vice president the real fun began.

College was at Virginia State on a football scholarship that got cut short by an injury. But an ACL can’t stop your grind! Reginald generated so much business as a photographer’s sales assistant he was offered a partnership. He turned that down and went on to become a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and graduated on the dean’s list.

Reginald F. Lewis knew he wanted to be a lawyer but little did he know he would be much more.

Out of all of his accomplishments this is the one that continues to blow me away. The summer after graduation, the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a program at Harvard Law School in an attempt to introduce some black students to the fine art of law. After lobbying for and gaining acceptance, Reginald was invited to attend Harvard Law School in the fall. BEFORE he applied! I repeat. A black man in 1965 was admitted to Harvard Law School before applying. The only man at the time to hold that distinction. Think about that for a moment…


Some people were still sharecropping in the South. And he’s talking his way into Harvard!


This is where things get big. Two years after graduation and working with a prestigious law firm in corporate law, he and a few others set up Wall Street’s first African-American law firm. Being a NC boy it warmed my heart to see that he represented the Wilmington Ten and was instrumental in getting them more of the money they were owed.

He sure is racking up a lot of “firsts” considering most people never heard his name.

His next move was to establish an investment firm whose first move was a 22.5 million dollar buyout of a struggling textile company. Using the same acumen that flipped that newspaper route, he led the company to it’s two most profitable years ever. Selling the company in 1987 for $65 mil, making a 90 to 1 return on his own investment. Guys on Wall Street would slap their grandma for a return like that now.

Before 87 was done, Reginald added another first to his list. But not just an African-American first this time. The $985 million buyout of Beatrice Foods (renamed TLC Beatrice Int’l) was the largest offshore buyout by an American company...ever. Just as steadily as he worked his way into Harvard, he worked down the company’s debt and brought the company’s revenues to $1.5 billion.

And there it is folks… The first black owned billion dollar business.

TLC Beatrice made it’s way up the Forbe’s 1000 and was the largest African-American owned company in the U.S. The richest black man of the 80’s (estimated net worth was $400 million) was not Michael Jackson or Jordan.

He was a hard working businessman who needs his own shoe, shirt, or line of something so more kids can want to be like Reggie.

–Seymour Monet

No comments:

Post a Comment