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Reginald F. Lewis

Reginald F. Lewis photo

Reginald F. Lewis (December 7, 1942 – January 19, 1993), was an American businessman. He was the richest African-American man in the 1980s. Forbes listed Lewis among the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $400 million. He also was the first African-American business owner to build a billion dollar company.

Lewis was born into a middle-class family, his father was a postal worker and his mother a teacher. He graduated from Virginia State University before entering Harvard Law School. After graduating he joined the New York law firm of Paul Weiss Rifkin Wharton & Garrison. In the early 1970's, he opened his own law firm, Lewis & Clarkson, which specialized in venture capital projects.

A desire to "do the deals myself" led Lewis to establish TLC Group, L.P. in 1983. His first successful venture was the 22 million dollar leveraged buyout of McCall Pattern Company. It was a struggling business in a declining industry. Lewis streamlined operations increased marketing and led the company to two of the most profitable years in McCall’s 113-year history. In the summer of 1987, he sold the company for $65 million, making a 90 to 1 return on his investment.

Fresh on the heels of the McCall deal, Lewis purchased the international division of Beatrice Foods (64 companies in 31 countries) in August 1987. The deal was supported by the most powerful investment banker then, Drexel Burnham Lambert, and led by high yield bond king Michael Robert Milken. Lewis, after closing the deal in December 1987, re-branded the corporation as TLC Beatrice International, Inc. At 985 million dollars, the deal was the largest offshore leveraged buyout ever by an American company. As Chair and CEO, Lewis moved quickly to reposition the company, pay down the debt, and vastly increase the company’s worth. With revenues of $1.5 billion, TLC Beatrice made it to Fortune’s 500 and was first on the Black Enterprise List of Top 100 African American owned businesses.

Reginald Lewis died on January 19, 1993, from brain cancer, he 50 years old.

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