Do you know who the late Reginald F. Lewis is? Well, he was the first Black man behind a billion-dollar company.
Raised in a “semi-tough” household, Lewis was taught to “be the best that you can be,” according to his website. Upholding the statement, at just 10 years old, the East Baltimore native laid the groundwork for his life as an entrepreneur, per CBS.
Lewis had established a delivery service for the Afro-American Newspaper that reached over 100 customers in just two years. A couple years later, he sold the route.
If it wasn’t already evident, the future would be promising for Lewis, he would go on to pursue higher learning at Virginia State University in 1961 on a football scholarship. After becoming injured, forcing him to exit the team, he committed his studies to economics and secured a position as a photographer’s sales assistant. He was successful in his role, which led to an offer for a partnership. However, Lewis declined, as he had his eyes set on becoming a lawyer.
In 1965, he was officially a student at Harvard Law School. CBS reports Lewis was the only student to be admitted without having to submit an application in the school’s 148-year history.
His senior thesis was centered on mergers and acquisitions, which he was given an honors grade.
Following his time at the college, he would take on a job at a New York law firm before creating the first Black law firm on Wall Street. His priority, at the time, was corporate laws and investments in minority-owned businesses. He served on the counsel to General Foods and AXA Equitable Life, which now operates under the name Equitable, according a news release.
What would follow would be the most profitable years in McCall’s history, which positioned Lewis to sell the company for $65 million. He earned an impressive 90-to-1 return on his investment, per The New York Times.
By this time, TLC Group, L.P. was already considered one of the largest Black-owned companies.
Soon after, Lewis acquired Beatrice Foods, which operated 64 companies across 31 countries, and the deal was valued at $985 million, “the largest leveraged buyout of overseas assets by an American company at that time.”
What’s more, he disrupted TLC Beatrice International as chairman and CEO by repositioning the company, minimizing debt, and increasing its value.
“By 1992, the company had sales of over $1.8 billion annually, making it the first black-owned business to generate a billion dollars in annual sales,” according to his bio.
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Today, his impact is still recognized.
“[He] had the work ethic, the skills, and the know-how. Beyond that, he had the temperament, the self assurance, and the confidence that he belonged there. Being the first of anything requires a certain mindset. Reginald Lewis had it,” former President Barack Obama said, according to Hudson Valley Press.
Lewis passed away in January 1993, and was survived by wife, Loida Nicolas-Lewis and his two daughters, Leslie M Lewis and Christina S N Lewis Halpern. He also leaves behind The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, created to address “the consequences and legacy of institutional discrimination by investing in youth and moving America towards a state where opportunity comes more equally,” per its website.
As a part of his legacy, Christina established All Star Code in 2013, a nonprofit dedicated to young men of color looking to enter the tech industry.