REGINALD LEWIS – BLACK HISTORY MONTH ROLE MODELS – FEBRUARY 22, 2022
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We must show our youth there are black role models other than Entertainers. Role Models who can teach how to achieve your FINANCIAL FREEDOM .
The First Black Business Titan
Reginald Lewis blazed a trail for future African- American executives.
By Butch Meily
Reginald Lewis was the first black businessman to pull off a billion-dollar leveraged buyout. He ran the largest black-owned U.S. company, the first to generate sales of more than a billion dollars a year. A building at Harvard Law School, his alma mater, is the Reginald FB. Lewis International Law Center.
Yet today the public hardly knows his name, and that’s a shame. Lewis broke racial barriers. Ken Frazier, executive chairman of Merck, said, “Reg Lewis opened up a world of possibilities for an entire generation of black business leaders.” Financier and philanthropist Michael Milken called Lewis “the Jackie Robinson of American business.”
Lewis was born in Baltimore and grew up in a tough neighborhood. He practiced at a blue-chip Wall Street law firm, was told he would never make partner there, and left to begin his own law firm. He overcame racial discrimination and bought a condominium on Fifth Avenue in New York, becoming the first African-American to own a unit in the luxury building.
In 1984 a $22.5 million leveraged buyout brought him the McCall Pattern Co. Within three years the home-sewing pattern maker was so profitable that Lewis sold it for a total gain of $90 million. To take over Beatrice International, a conglomerate with 64 operations in 31 countries, he outwitted Citicorp and others with a $985 million bid.
I worked as one of his advisers. He demanded the best from everyone around him and would shout in your face at the top of his lungs if you came up short.
I saw, as a Filipino immigrant, what it meant to be black in America in the late 20th century. Any perceived slight on the basis of race enraged him. If a
white executive patted him on the back in a gesture he considered patronizing, he sometimes would slap the executive on the back hard enough to leave him gasping for breath.
Lewis attributed his success to his country. “I’m not a black business story,” he once told me. “I’m an American business story.”
He even contemplated a run for public office. “Once I’m in the Senate,” he told me with characteristic bravado, “lightning could strike.”
Shortly before Lewis turned 50, he began an autobiography, mischievously titled “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” Sadly, he died of a brain tumor a few months later. The book was published posthumously.
Race is no longer as much a factor in U.S. business. Lewis proved that people of color can launch, lead and own businesses. Blacks have been the CEOs of Time Warner, American Express, Kaiser Permanente and other global companies. Lewis deserves credit for blazing the trail.
Mr. Meily is president of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation. He is at work on a memoir about his experiences with Reginald Lewis.
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