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Michael Lee-Chin recognized as one of the top 10 most influential African Americans by Black Enterprise magazine


When Black Enterprise published its first issue four decades ago, the era was marked by promise but not prosperity. The economic evolution of the African American business class had not yet begun. A year earlier, President Richard Nixon had signed Executive Order 11458, directing the Commerce Department to coordinate the federal government’s programs “which affect or may contribute to the establishment, preservation, and strengthening of minority business enterprise.” The directive gave birth to federal set-aside programs and public financing. The dawning of a new business era always begins with the audacious and the resolute—relentless innovators and industrial disruptors who realized that industries, people, or nations could not advance by embracing the status quo.

A phalanx of entrepreneurs and executives knew that for African Americans to progress, less than full participation in the business mainstream could not be an option. They fought the odds, suffered setbacks, regrouped, and eventually emerged victorious. Through each decade they changed the paradigm—whether doing so required the political activism of the 1970s, financial engineering of the 1980s, adoption of new technology in the 1990s, or the creation of flexible business models over the past decade. Whether they conducted business from their own offices or the executive suite, their professional excellence, deal-making prowess, and unwavering advocacy converted promise into channels of prosperity and levers of power.

The 40 men and women on the following pages could easily be considered trailblazers. They are, however, more than pioneers who withstood the elements—institutional racism, resistance from the business establishment, and lack of resources—to plant a flag on their own patch of territory. They’re titans: bold leaders who shattered conventional modes of commerce. Because of their contributions over the past 40 years, the world of business has been transformed forever.

40. Eddie Brown – The Master of Mutual Funds

Brown, considered one of the world’s most renowned stock pickers, founded Brown Capital Management Inc. in 1983. Over the decades, he has grown his firm into one of the nation’s largest black asset managers and developed a series of mutual funds, giving a number of African Americans the opportunity to serve as portfolio managers.

39. Jesse Hill Jr. – The Insurance Impresario

As CEO of Atlanta Life from the 1970s to the early 1990s, Hill took the company to new heights by growing its assets and adding policyholders through mergers and acquisitions—even hostile takeovers. In addition to acquiring five insurers, he brought in more sophisticated insurance products and technology. The company capitalized on Hill’s strategy to become one of the few thriving black insurers.

38. Ernesta Procope – The First Lady of Wall Street

Procope is the founder and former CEO of E.G. Bowman Co. Inc., the first and largest minority-owned insurance brokerage firm in New York’s financial district. Her influence also extended throughout corporate America through board directorships with Avon Products and the Chubb Group. She is a recipient of the Black Enterprise Woman Of Power Legacy Award.

37. Comer Cottrell – The Trendsetter

With only $600, Cottrell launched Pro-Line Corp., which would become one of the nation’s largest black haircare manufacturers. He persuaded beauty and barber shops to use his products and increased sales through military bases overseas. In 1989, Cottrell bought an equity stake in the Texas Rangers and sought to increase minority involvement in Major League Baseball.

36. Janice Bryant Howroyd – The Job Czar

Launched in 1978 with a $1,500 family loan and a small office in Beverly Hills, Act-1 Group has grown into the largest business owned by a black woman. A proponent of global enterprise and information technology, Bryant Howroyd has provided staffing and HR solutions to some of the world’s largest corporations while serving as a mentor to legions of black entrepreneurs.

35. Travers Bell – The Father of Black Investment Banking

The late Bell co-founded investment bank Daniels & Bell, which in 1971 became the first black-owned investment bank on the New York Stock Exchange. In addition, Bell structured the first leveraged buyout completed by an African American when his DanBell subsidiary acquired Cocoline Chocolate, which was included among the largest black-owned companies.

34. Cathy Hughes – The Broadcasting Architect

Hughes made Radio One Inc. into a multimedia empire, acquiring more than 70 radio stations. In 1999, she took the company public, making it one of the few black-owned companies on the NASDAQ. In 2004, through an alliance with Comcast, she started TV One L.L.C., creating the nation’s largest black-owned cable television network.

33. Maynard Jackson – The Great Equalizer

The first black mayor of Atlanta, the late Jackson launched the first minority business enterprise program. It mandated minority participation in government contracts and set a national standard. He also opened one of the largest black-owned investment banks, Jackson Securities, and founded the National Association of Securities Professionals.

32. R. Donahue Peebles – The Real Estate Groundbreaker

Peebles has been a game changer in the real estate industry. Building one of the largest black-owned real estate firms, he acquired the Royal Palm Resort in Miami Beach, Florida—the first black-owned and -developed resort in the nation—to add to The Peebles Corp.’s multibillion-dollar portfolio of properties.

31. Don Coleman – The Multicultural Marketing Maestro

Coleman is a revolutionary who has rejected the traditional approach of many black ad agencies. Over the past decade, he’s developed the largest multicultural agency by using a small collection of businesses targeting the “total market,” including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and young professionals. Coleman is the only CEO to receive be Ad Agency of the Year recognition three times.

30. Henry Parks – The Pioneer

Parks was the business mastermind who made Parks Sausage Co. into one of the nation’s leading food manufacturers. He also made history when the company went public, becoming the first black-owned business to do so, trading on the NASDAQ. An original black enterprise Advisory Board member, Parks mentored several leading black business owners before his death in the ’80s.

29. Tyler Perry – The Hollywood Hitmaker

One of the most powerful blacks in entertainment, Perry has developed a crop of plays, films, and TV shows that he owns and controls. He’s also made unprecedented multimillion-dollar production and distribution deals with Lionsgate and TBS. With the development of his 200,000-square-foot production facility in Atlanta, he provides work for African Americans in front of and behind the camera.

28. Al Johnson – The Auto Dealer Advocate

The first African American to be awarded Oldsmobile and Cadillac franchises from General Motors, the late Johnson was considered one of the top dealers in the country and a galvanizing force for African American auto dealers. He organized the first minority auto dealers association in 1970 and encouraged GM to start a training program for minority dealers, which eventually became the industry standard.

27. JoAnn Price – The Black Business Financier

For more than 30 years, Price has been at the forefront of gaining capital for minority business. As president of the National Association of Investment Cos., a trade association for minority-focused private equity firms, Price raised millions in capital for black entrepreneurs. Today she co-manages Fairview Capital Partners Inc., the largest African American private equity firm.

26. Edward Gardner – The Global Haircare Giant

As founder of Soft Sheen in 1964, Gardner took a single product and created the nation’s largest black haircare empire. At one point Soft Sheen was ranked the sixth largest black industrial/service company. With his son, Gary, he acquired a London distributor and set up a worldwide network for its line of 150 products to connect with customers in 66 countries.

25. J. Bruce Llewellyn – The Game Changer

The late Llewellyn was a catalyst for partnerships between black entrepreneurs and major corporations. He partnered with Julius Erving and Bill Cosby to launch Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., the first black-owned soft drink bottling franchise. With another group of black investors, he later started Queen City Broadcasting, one of the largest black-owned television networks in the nation.

24. Bill Mays – The King of Chemicals

A business pioneer, he launched Mays Chemical Co. Inc. in 1980, one of the nation’s largest chemical distributors. Mays’ empire includes media, restaurants, and real estate. The intrepid entrepreneur has also been a leading black angel investor, providing capital to a slew of minority businesses including Chemico Mays L.L.C., a newcomer to the be 100s.

23. Ann Fudge – The Barrier Breaker

Fudge rose to become president of the Maxwell House division of Kraft General Foods in 1994, making her the highest-ranking black woman in corporate America and one of the most powerful in the food industry. In 2003, she made history again when she was named Chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands and Y&R Advertising, the first African American to head a major ad agency.

22. Byron Lewis – The Image Maker

To attract advertisers to his UniWorld Group Inc., Lewis created innovative programs such as black radio soap operas and the nationally syndicated television program America’s Black Forum. UniWorld was one of the first agencies to focus on micro-segments, targeting the Latino and Caribbean communities.

21. Don Barden – The Visionary

Barden entered uncharted territory for black entrepreneurs by developing the largest black cable television operator and managing the only black-owned gaming conglomerate with properties in Las Vegas. A mentor to generations of black professionals, Barden earned be Company of the Year honors in two industries: In 1992 for Barden Communications Inc. and in 2003 for Barden Cos. Inc.

20. Earvin “Magic” Johnson – The Business All-Star

The former basketball superstar scored in business, developing partnerships with Sony Corp. (Magic Johnson Theaters), TGI Friday’s Inc., and Starbucks Corp. to place mainstream brands in black communities. In the process, he employed thousands of African American workers and managers and became one of the nation’s leading advocates of black entrepreneurship.

19. Dave Bing – The Man of Steel

Retired NBA All-Star and current mayor of Detroit, Bing is a pioneer in the steel industry. During the 1990s, The Bing Group—which comprised five companies: Bing Steel, Superb Manufacturing, Bing Manufacturing, Detroit Automotive Interiors, and Trim Tech—had become one of the largest black suppliers to the then-Big Three auto manufacturers and one of the biggest employers on the be 100s.

18. John Rogers – The Investment Icon

In 1983, Rogers founded Ariel Capital Management, now Ariel Investments L.L.C., creating the first family of equity mutual funds managed by African Americans. For close to 30 years, he has promoted financial literacy and wealth-building through investing using the Ariel Education Initiative and advocates for diversity through the Black Corporate Directors Conference.

17. George Johnson – The King of Black Haircare

Johnson built one of the nation’s largest black-owned haircare companies, Johnson Products Co. in 1957, creating enduring brands such as Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen. In 1970, he made history when the Chicago-based business became the first publicly held black-owned company traded on the American Stock Exchange.

16. Berry Gordy – The Music Mogul

Music industry icon Gordy created America’s soundtrack with such hit makers as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also created a business model for entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry. In 1973, when be began its Top 100 rankings, he led the nation’s largest black-owned company, Motown, which would hold that position for more than a decade. Gordy sold Motown in 1988.

15. Arthur G. Gaston Sr. – The Trailblazer

Named black enterprise’s Entrepreneur of the Century in 1992, the late Gaston built a conglomerate in segregated Birmingham, becoming one of the nation’s first black multimillionaires and a financial supporter of the civil rights movement. In the 1980s, he was still a force to be reckoned with, operating several businesses including two be 100s financial services companies.

14. Ursula Burns – The Corporate Innovator

A 30-year veteran of Xerox Corp. who was named CEO in 2009—she assumed the role of chairman in May—Burns has become the first African American woman to lead one of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. She’s now taking the $22 billion company to the next level by integrating its largest acquisition, Affiliated Computer Services, into the Xerox fold.

13. Ed Lewis/Clarence Smith/Susan Taylor – The Voice of Black Women

For 40 years, Essence has celebrated the beauty and potential of African American women. Lewis and Smith, among the original founders, handled finance and operations and generated sales while Taylor, the face of the publication, maintained the editorial direction after becoming editor-in-chief in 1981. It was a perennial on the be 100s until Time Inc. acquired a majority interest in 2005.

12. Thomas Burrell – The Dean of Black Advertising

Burrell broke barriers in the media industry when he launched his Chicago-based ad agency in 1971. For decades, he fought for industry diversification and the opportunity for black agencies to gain general market accounts. When he left the firm, 49% owned by French agency Publicis Groupe, he sold the majority stake to his managers, retaining its African American ownership.

11. Herman Russell – The Master Builder

As Chairman of H. J. Russell & Co., he has changed the skylines of American cities and international hubs, developed business and political opportunities for African Americans, and broken barriers in the construction industry. One of the largest minority contractors, Russell has served as an advocate of and mentor to legions of black business owners nationwide.

10. Percy Sutton – The Godfather of Black Radio

The late politician, Tuskegee Airman, and civil rights activist purchased a single radio station in New York City in 1972 for $1.9 million and grew it into media conglomerate Inner City Broadcasting. His model of R&B, talk radio, and community service would be replicated nationwide. After saving the famed Apollo Theater in 1981, his company produced the hit, Showtime at the Apollo.

9. Russell Simmons – The Man Who Took Hip-Hop Mainstream

Simmons didn’t just open a business when he created Rush Communications, he gave birth to the multibillion-dollar hip-hop economy. Through his Def Jam unit, he produced music, comedy shows, and motion pictures while Phat Fashions L.L.C. ignited the billion-dollar urban attire industry. He served as mentor to a generation of entrepreneurs in the entertainment and fashion industries.

8. Michael Lee-Chin – The Billionaire Investor

Founder and chairman of Portland Holdings Inc., a privately held investment company in Burlington, Ontario, Jamaican-born Lee-Chin started investing at age 32 and used the proceeds to acquire AIC Limited, which he grew from $1 million in assets to $15 billion. The billionaire has shared his value-investing principles with investors around the globe.

7. Richard Parsons – The Chief Strategist

Parsons has been a transformative figure in corporate America. As CEO of Dime Savings Bank in the 1990s, he turned the thrift into the nation’s fourth largest. By 1995 he was tapped to become president of Time Warner and six years later became CEO of AOL Time Warner. He continues to wield global influence as chairman of Citigroup.

6. Oprah Winfrey – The Media Powerhouse

Winfrey is among the shrewdest of entrepreneurs as well as one of the most ubiquitous brands, influencing the buying decisions of millions worldwide. Since 1986, she has transformed Harpo Inc. into a multimedia conglomerate that has footprints in television, print, radio, and film. As a result, this dynamo represents one of the few black billionaires in America.

5. Earl G. Graves Sr. – The Champion of Black Business

As founder and publisher of black enterprise, this quintessential entrepreneur created a vehicle to provide information and advocacy that has enabled three generations of African Americans to build wealth through business ownership, career advancement, and money management. Through his media company, he opened the door for the best and brightest in the global business arena.

4. Kenneth Chenault – The Consummate Leader

Chenault is not just the CEO of American Express; he is the face of global corporate leadership. Chairman and chief executive since 2001—one of only six African Americans to hold that dual position at a major publicly traded company—he is one of the most admired executives for his cool, Socratic approach, successfully steering Amex and serving as a presidential advisor during crises such as 9/11.

3. Reginald F. Lewis – The Global Dealmaker

With his historic $985 million leveraged buyout of TLC Beatrice International Foods Cos.—the largest offshore transaction at the time—the late financier created the first black-owned global enterprise to surpass the billion-dollar revenue mark. Throughout his business career, he helped black businesses gain access to financing and became the standard bearer for African Americans on Wall Street.

2. Robert L. Johnson – The Power Player

Johnson made business history when he took BET public in 1991, the first time a black-owned company was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2000, he sold the cable network to Viacom for $3.2 billion, making him the first African American billionaire. He acquired the Charlotte Bobcats in 2003, creating the first black-owned NBA franchise and launched four other be 100s companies.

1. John H. Johnson – The Legend

The late business icon built his publishing and cosmetics empire into an international powerhouse, distributing name brands such as Ebony, Jet, and Fashion Fair. For 60 years, he touched the lives of millions of African Americans in every facet of life, sharing with the world their talents and potential, exposing injustice and racism, and shattering social and commercial barriers.


For more information visit www.portlandpe.com or contact Douglas Hewson at dhewson@portlandpe.com.

About Portland Private Equity:

Based in Barbados, Portland Private Equity is a private equity fund management company currently focused on opportunities in the Caribbean region through its management of the AIC Caribbean Fund (ACF). Building on Portland’s track record of successful investments throughout the Caribbean region, ACF is a ~$230M fund focused on medium-sized businesses. Companies in Portland’s portfolio do business in over 20 countries throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Latin America.