Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The book is about Reginald F. Lewis, the legendary entrepreneur who rocked Wall Street when his firm, TLC Group, acquired Beatrice International Foods for $985 million. The purchase in 1987 helped Lewis build the first Black-owned business to exceed the billion-dollar revenue mark. At the time it was the was the largest-ever offshore leveraged buyout. It was gigantic as TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. became the nation’s largest snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate with a global presence.
And now, an audio version of the classic book was just released. Written by Lewis and co-author Blair S. Wall, the book was a New York Times best seller. The extraordinary exploits on the life and times of the astute, courageous, and bodacious Lewis still serve today as a source of inspiration to generations of Black entrepreneurs, including those in finance, technology, entertainment, and other fields.
Before his death in 1993, Lewis helped Black Americans gain access to financing for Blacks on Wall Street. His landmark endeavors encouraged Blacks to overcome barriers like race to become business owners, corporate executives, and major growth contributors to America’s economy. Lewis’ accomplishments remain momentous though they occurred over a quarter century ago. They shine like a beacon for African Americans to keep striving for, and potentially exceed, his success in their own business pursuits. The trailblazing work by Lewis is perhaps even more amazing in that it shows how a Black man pulled off acquiring a major international company with 64 companies in 31 countries. The name of Lewis became a sign of hope. That was especially true in the Black community as many African Americans were compelled to believe that if Lewis could score such a feat, then others could possibly play in the game as well.
Lewis left an enduring mark on business history. His actions permeated with many top Black business leaders, including the likes of real estate mogul Don Peebles and BET founder Bob Johnson.
“Reggie was not afraid of going beyond what Black business was, which was privately owned companies run by family members to be passed on to family members,” Johnson told Black Enterprise eight years ago. “He got access to public capital, which gives you leverage in deal making.” Johnson is founder and chairman of The RLJ Cos., a portfolio of companies with holdings in many industries.
Also a philanthropist, Lewis donated millions of dollars to empower and help others. The Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center was the first building at Harvard University named after an African American. The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, whose chairman is Loida Lewis, Reginald’s wife, is among the largest African American private foundations in the world. As of December 2019, the foundation had given $30 million in grants since starting, according to its website.
Black Enterprise connected with Black entrepreneurs by email to reflect on this: How did Lewis inspire them in business and how can future generations build on his legacy?
Reginald F. Lewis As Role Model
IMB Partners CEO Tarrus Richardson recalls that in July 1987, there was an article on “Mr. Lewis buying McCall Patterns for $27 million and selling it for $90 million. He had invested only $1 million and made $63 million. I was 17 years old. After reading the article I looked at my mom and said, ‘now that looks like a good job’ and from that time on I committed to getting a job in the leveraged buyout business.”
Richardson added, “You can’t be what you can’t see. Once I had the visual of a Black man making that kind of money buying and selling companies, it made it easier for me to believe I too could do it.”
Today, Richardson is founder and CEO of IMB Partners. The Bethesda, Maryland-based firm is a 100% Black private equity holding company (similar to TLC Beatrice) that makes control acquisitions and partners with management teams to grow lower middle-market companies serving government agencies and electric and gas utilities. IMB Partners has revenue of over $500 million, five portfolio companies, and more than 300 employees. It ranked No. 42 on BLACK ENTERPRISE’S Top 100 list, an annual ranking of the nation’s top Black-owned businesses.
When he started imbpartners.com in 2010, Richardson says, Loida was one of his earliest investors and has invested in all of IMB’s deals. Richardson says while his company has not made a 90-to-1 return, the company is making 5-to-1 returns on its investments and its goal is to get to over $1 billion in revenue in the next five years.
Outside of business, Richardson says he helped Christina Lewis, Reginald’s daughter, found All Star Code as its founding board chair. He reports he was the lead funder for the 2018 PBS documentary on Reginald Lewis that was a dream of Loida and the family. “I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration and role modeling both in business and in life Mr. Lewis and his family have played in my life since I was a teenager and continues to play in so many others.”