Reginald F. Lewis

Reginald F. Lewis

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Reginald Francis Lewis was born in (East) Baltimore, Maryland on December 7, 1942. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, black people weren’t allowed to shop at many of the stores and they had designated restaurants and movie theaters they were able to attend. At the age of 6, Reginald decided things would be different for him and stated "why should white guys have all the fun?"

Lewis graduated from Virginia State University with a degree in Economics and later graduated from Harvard Law School with his law degree. Upon graduation, Reginald accepted a position with the prestigious law firm Park, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City. His position in the corporate law department only held his interest for 2 years (1968-1970)…Lewis wanted to be on his own.

Wallace, Murphy, Thorpe & Lewis was the first Black law firm on Wall Street. The firm specialized primarily in the growing market of Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Companies (MESBIC’s). Lewis brought in most of firms business making him the “rainmaker” in the firm and he often used his savings so others would have a paycheck. He did MESBIC transactions for 14 years. Although these transactions were worth million of dollars, Lewis felt they were second class; he wanted to be handle the big transactions alongside the white attorneys.

Again restless, he began to seek his next business venture…corporate acquisitions.

Reginald’s first target was Park Sausage. Unfortunately, the deal was lost to another buyer and he was devastated. Two years later (1977), the Almet acquisition fell through. The seller backed out of the deal on the day of closing. After threatening to sue the owner for breach of contract, Lewis was paid $250,000 to drop the suit (all fees and expenses were reimbursed). Determined not to display his disappointment, he came to the conclusion he wasn’t ready. Reginald took a long vacation and began to study every successful takeover he could find. He would be ready to take on his next corporate acquisition with a vengeance…and that he did.

In 1982, he purchased an FM radio station in St. Thomas. Due to the station being broadcasted from a trailer located in the mountains, unclear reception and damaged equipment Lewis decided to cut his losses and sold the station in 1986.

Lewis’ 2nd successful acquisition was in 1984 for $22.5 million. The McCall Pattern Company designed and manufactured sewing patterns. Before the sell of McCall in June 1987, Reginald Lewis was responsible for the companies two most profitable years in history.

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The incomes doubled $12 million in 1985 and $14 million in 1986, making Reginald Lewis a very wealthy man. He sold McCall for $65 million. Between the proceeds from the sell, real estate, and dividends he walked away with $90 million…a 90-to-one gain.
The return investment on the McCall deal left Reginald feeling good.

TLC, The Lewis Company, finally made the deal of all deals: the purchase of Beatrice International Foods for $985 million, on August 6, 1987. Reginald used high yield debt to acquire Beatrice International beating out Pillsbury, Citicorp, and Shearson Lehman Brothers. He wanted his success to be “measured by his performance, not race.”

Renamed TLC Beatrice International, Reginald Lewis was named president and CEO. The international food conglomerate operated in food distribution and grocery products mostly in Europe (64 food processing and distribution companies, 31 operations in other countries). TLC Beatrice was a major seller and manufacturer of ice cream in Europe, the #1 maker of snacks and potato chips in Ireland, operated beverage bottling plants in Netherlands, Belgium and Thailand, and was the largest wholesale distributor of food and grocery products to grocery stores/supermarkets in the Paris metro area. It was the largest black-owned and black managed business in the U.S.

A year after the acquisition, TLC Beatrice reported revenue totaling $1.8 billion in 1987 becoming the first black owned enterprise to report more than a billion dollars in gross sales (p.120, Black Enterprise, 1999). Reginald’s peak year in leadership was in 1990; they had a 31 percent increase from the previous year…$1.49 billion.

It was normal for Reginald’s business demands and international social activities to leave him feeling fatigued, but during the summer of 1992 he began to feel even more debilitated. It wasn’t normal for Lewis to voice how tired he was with his colleagues. He no longer could sit through lengthy meetings without breaks or interruptions. Thinking he needed to shed a few pounds, he went on a diet but the fatigue remained.

During early Fall he became allergic to ice cream and much loved champagne, Cristal.
His family, friends, and business associates began to notice some weight loss but Reginald attributed to the lack of meat and alcohol in his diet. By late November, he was having vision problems in his left eye. At their home in Paris, Reginald told his wife Loida of 23 years, he would fly to the States and undergo a physical examination. Ironically scheduled for his 50th birthday, the test revealed a growth within his brain.
A biopsy confirmed the worst: Reginald Lewis had brain cancer.

Forgoing radiation treatment to avoid his memory and reasoning skills being impaired, Reginald decided to live his remaining days with his faculties intact. The chances of the treatment obliterating the cancer were nominal.

After hosting a New Year’s Eve party, Lewis decided to travel to Canada where an experimental drug was being offered that might dissolve the tumor; it had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Before leaving for Canada, less than a week before his death, the CEO was still focused and lucid. He had his secretary draft what would be his last memo to the shareholders, on January 13, 1993.

Surrounded by his wife, two daughters, mother, two brothers, and uncle, Reginald F. Lewis died on January 19, 1993 at the age of 50.

Reginald Lewis extraordinary business skills made him the legendary man that he was: handling of security filings, setting up corporations, preparations of joint venture agreements and transactions involving mergers, venture capital deals, and IPO’s. Specializing in MESBIC’s, he gained a great deal of experience structuring acquisitions through debt financing; Lewis drew heavily on this experience for his LBO’s

Reginald Lewis was a businessman in every sense of the word. He was known to use various business tactics to improve company operations…

• Established a 401K program, making over $600,000 available to pay down debts

• Free up capital tied in fixed assets

• Exporting (China)

• By improving quality and introducing new products led to profitable years

• IPO to pay down debts (a prospectus was filed with the SEC in 1989 IPO sell of 35% common shares)

• Beatrice Canada division was sold for $235 million to a Toronto based buyout firm

• Cadbury Schweppes Australia purchased the Australian operating unit of TLC Beatrice for $105 million

• The Ballve family of Spain purchased the Spanish meat packing facility for $90 million

• Sold an additional $438 million in TLC Beatrice assets by year end 1989

• Slashed operating costs to produce higher margin

Published: February 8, 1991 The New York Times
*3*TLC Beatrice International Holdings
Qtr to Dec 31 1990 1989

Sales 376,418,000 278,090,000
Net inc 4,477,000 bc14,990,000
Share earns .17 --
Shares outstanding 9,718,000 9,727,000
Yr sales 1,496,034,000 1,140,656,000
Net inc 45,572,000 87,873,000
Share earns 3.62 8.10
Shares outstanding 9,718,000 9,737,000

Published: March 13, 1992
The New York Times
*3*TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc.
Qtr to Dec 31 1991 1990

Sales 342,142,000 376,418,000
Net inc b10,377,000 4,477,000
Share earns .80 .17
Yr sales 1,542,212,000 1,496,034,000
Net inc b51,445,000 45,572,000
Share earns 4.03 3.62

Reginald Lewis capitalized on his businesses in the European countries: ice cream (Italy & Canary Islands), snack foods (Britain), and potato chips (Dublin).

Others thought marketing was a nuance and a relative distraction to Reginald Lewis; his primary function was making billion dollar deals to secure the TLC Empire. Lewis was often shopping for acquisitions, specifically a U.S company, to serve as a secure investment against economic and currency fluctuations in the European.

Lewis made an attempt to purchase the domestic operations of Beatrice Company in June 1990. The acquisition would have added brand names such as Tropicana O.J., Peter Pan peanut butter, and Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn under the TLC Beatrice family tree. Unfortunately, the company was sold to ConAgra for $1.3 billion. Although, Reginald Lewis’ placed a higher bid, it was never acknowledged or taken seriously.

Planning – Being a philanthropist, Reginald Lewis was always thinking of ways to maximize his influence and power. This was his mindset in business and philanthropy. Lewis strategically planned each LBO (Almet and Parks Sausage). His failed acquisitions were definitely not due to lack of planning…his business ventures fed his hunger for wealth and personal achievement. As a teen, he once told his mother he wanted a pair of very expensive shoes. Reginald felt since he had earned the money, he should be able to spend it as he chose. The shoes he purchased lasted from the 11th grade throughout law school. Reginald Lewis always had a plan.

Organizing – and planning worked hand and hand for Lewis. After leaving Paul, Weiss in 1970, he organized with other attorneys to start a Black-run law firm. Their primary focus was handling matters in New York City’s black community. “That is not acceptable” was one of his favorite phrases. To build a legacy, his employees could not view their responsibilities as a “mere job”. When Reginald Lewis had an objective to pursue, he kept his eye on the ball no matter what. His organizational skills consisted of a clear mind, with well defined priorities.

Leading – Lewis visited his operating units regularly because it was important that management shared his vision. He set higher performance standards than they were accustomed to and gave more autonomy to his local managers.

Being a leader was undeniably Reginald Lewis’ outstanding management function. Discipline and responsibility was prevalent at the age of 10. He increased his customer base from 10 to 100 during his first job: selling the Baltimore Afro-American local newspaper. He left the task of handling delinquent accounts to his mother. Lewis moved on to a more profitable paper route and eventually sold it to a friend (Dan Henson) for $30…his first LBO!

Reginald Lewis was a businessman known for setting high goals not only for himself, but also for his business partners and employees. He wanted to be the richest black man in America and this line of thought often made him a very difficult person to deal with. Reginald always thought ahead of everyone else. He was a self assured, articulate leader that accepted no less than 110% from his workers. Iron willed characteristics and brilliant business strategies made Reginald Lewis the successful chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and principal shareholder of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc.

Controlling – Lewis was orderly when communicating his vision to his management personnel. He calculated a yearly plan prior to motivating or inspiring his troops. The plan had to be aggressive, yet realistic before he would sign off on it. Monthly management meetings were held to insure objectives were being met. Operating results, capital expenditures, and operating profit were left in the hands of operating management.

Johnson, R., & Maroney, T. (1999, July 5). Why TLC Beatrice Mattered. Fortune, 140(1), 32-34. Retrieved April 17, 2008, from Business Source Premier database.

Lewis, R.F., & Walker, B.S. (1995). "Why should white guys have all the fun?".New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Reginald Lewis. (2008, April 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:23, April 18, 2008, from

Smith, D. (1999, December). Surveying the top. Black Enterprise, 30(5), 191. Retrieved April 16, 2008, from Business Source Premier database.

TLC beatrice international holdings reports earnings for qtr to dec 31 . (1991, February 8). The New York Times, p. B1.

TLC beatrice international holdings reports earnings for qtr to dec 31 . (1992, March 13). The New York Times, p. B1.
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