10 Successful Black Owned Businesses
October is Black History Month so let’s celebrate by looking at some examples of successful black-owned businesses.
This list of black-owned businesses will showcase the contributions of the black community in the business world, and the stories of the black entrepreneurs featured here may also give you some inspiration to start a business of your own.
1. World Wide Technology
If we’re talking successful black-owned businesses, it makes sense to start with the IT behemoth World Wide Technology. With more than $10 billion in annual revenue and over 5,000 employees, WWT is one of the largest private companies in the U.S.
David L.Steward founded the company in St Louis, Missouri, back in 1990, and he’s still its chairman today. The company’s success is a long way from the poverty and discrimination he grew up with:
“I vividly remember segregation—separate schools, sitting in the balcony at the movie theater, being barred from the public swimming pool.”
Today, his net worth is estimated at almost $4 billion, and his company topped this year’s BE 100s list of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses.
OK, let’s switch gears again and go to a recent startup that’s been making waves in the media world since its founding in 2014. Its rapid growth has attracted the attention of venture capital firms, who have invested almost $10 million in the company.
Here’s Blavity’s mission statement:
“Our vision is to economically and creatively support Black millennials across the African diaspora, so they can pursue the work they love, and change the world in the process.”
3. Dangote Group
As promised, we’re not sticking to the U.S. for this list. So let’s head to Nigeria, where industrial conglomerate Dangote Group pulls in over $4 billion in annual revenue and employs 30,000 people.
Company founder and CEO, Aliko Dangote, was recently ranked by Forbes as the richest person of African descent in the world. His entrepreneurship started young:
“I can remember when I was in primary school, I would go and buy cartons of sweets [candy] and I would start selling them just to make money. I was so interested in business, even at that time."
4. Gardner Rich & Co
If you’ve watched the 2006 Will Smith movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, you know about Chris Gardner, founder of brokerage firm Gardner Rich. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you should definitely watch it!)
The movie tells the true (well, only slightly adapted) story of Gardner’s struggles to become a stockbroker while battling homelessness and taking care of his young son. Having achieved great success with his firm, Gardner has since sold his stake to concentrate on philanthropy.
5. Millennium Steel Service
With more than $250 million in annual revenue, Indiana-based Millennium Steel Service is a worthy entrant on this list of black-owned business.
The company was founded in 2001 by husband-and-wife team Henry and Andrea Jackson, and Andrea is now running it alone since Henry’s death in 2007. In 2014, Barack Obama paid a visit, a sign of the firm’s success. Jackson also runs another thriving industrial firm, Millennium Steel of Texas (MST) in San Antonio, TX.
6. Johnson Publishing Company
Ebony and Jet are two of the most famous magazines for the African-American market, and both were created and published by the Johnson Publishing Company.
John H. Johnson founded the firm in 1942, after working his way out of poverty via a stint as an office boy at an insurance firm. Johnson’s first publication, a magazine called Negro Digest, was an unexpected hit. According to Wikipedia:
“He remained enthusiastic even though he was discouraged on all sides from doing so. Only his mother, a woman with biblical faith and deep religious convictions, as well as a powerful belief in her son, supported his vision and allowed him to use her furniture as collateral for a $500 loan.”
We all know that Oprah Winfrey is a popular media personality, but what made her into a billionaire was her business savvy and her company, Harpo Inc.
It was through Harpo that Winfrey managed to take control of her own show instead of having it owned by the network. Instead of being paid talent like most TV personalities, she was getting a large slice of the show’s considerable profits.
Harpo has since branched out into other media such as magazines and its own network, and although the Oprah Winfrey Show is a thing of the past, the business success of Winfrey and Harpo continues stronger than ever.
As the company website puts it:
“Daymond John has come a long way from turning a $40 budget into FUBU, a $6 billion fashion game-changer. “
He achieved that, in part, by mortgaging his house in Queens to raise the money to make and sell his own tie-top hats with a group of friends. FUBU is now a global hip hop apparel brand, and its founder has expanded into consulting, speaking, a TV role on the business show Shark Tank, while still remaining as CEO of FUBU.
9. Salamander Hotels & Resorts
No, Oprah Winfrey wasn’t the first African-American woman to be a billionaire. That distinction belongs to Sheila Johnson, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts.
She made much of her fortune as cofounder of cable TV network BET, and used some of it in 2005 to found Salamander, which runs not just the luxury Salamander Resort & Spa in Virginia but also a whole range of hotels and resorts.
If you want some inspiration combined with solid business advice, check out Rebecca Enonchong’s Medium article, "How I built a global tech business with no funding".
In it, she talks about how she set up AppsTech in 1999 to provide enterprise software solutions, going up against some huge, powerful competitors:
“I started with literally no money and despite my best efforts, never raised any funding. I was a woman tech founder. I was a Black woman tech founder. I was a Black African woman tech founder.”
The article lays out some of the obstacles she faced and how she overcame them to build a company that, 20 years later, has offices in three continents and a client list that includes some of the biggest corporations in the world.