June 3, 2023 – Reginald Lewis, An Example of Black Excellence

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From Baltimore, Maryland, Reginald Lewis became one of the richest Black men in America.  He was the first African American to build a billion-dollar company: TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc.

In 1993, Forbes named Lewis among the 400 richest Americans with a net worth of $400 million.  Reginald Lewis’ book, Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?, should be read by every want-to-be entrepreneur.

Reginald Lewis went to Virginia State University on a football scholarship. In the summer of 1965, he took part in a Rockefeller-sponsored summer program to encourage African Americans to go to law school.  He became the only person in the 148-year-old history of Harvard Law School’s to be accepted before even applying!

Lewis was recruited to worked at Paul Weiss, a prestigious New York City law firm. He worked on mergers and acquisitions. A few years later, he bucked conventional wisdom and with a few others, set up his own law firm. After 15 years he created his own private equity firm, TLC Group LP.

Lewis purchased McCall Patterns Company (now McCall’s), a struggling business in a declining industry, for $22.5 million. Lewis turned the company around with some astute business moves and sold it for  $65 million.

Just months after his sale of McCall Patterns, Lewis outbid huge firms like Citicorp, and pulled off the biggest leveraged buyout in history when he bought Beatrice International Foods for $985 million. The snack food, beverage and grocery store conglomerate, TLC Beatrice reported revenue of $1.8 billion in 1987. At its peak in 1996, Beatrice International had sales of $2.2 billion.

Reginald Lewis was a major philanthropist. In 1987, he gave an unsolicited $1 million to Howard University. In 1988, the federal government matched the grant of $1 million. The money was used to fund scholarships, fellowships and faculty sabbaticals.

Reginald Lewis donated $3 million to Harvard Law School for which the institution renamed its International Law Center The Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center. It was the first major facility at Harvard named in honor of an African American.

After his death, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture opened at 830 Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 with the support of a grant from The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation.  The facility occupies 82,000 square feet and highlights the history and accomplishments of African Americans with a special focus on Maryland’s Black community. 

Reginald Lewis died in 1993 at 50 years of age from brain cancer.  His wife, Loida Nicolas Lewis, took over the company a year after his death and sold it in 1999. Her book, Why Should Guys Have All The Fun: An Asian American Story of Love, Marriage, Motherhood and Running a Billion Dollar Empire 1st Edition, can be purchased on Amazon.

150 150 Ethel Mitchell

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