The New Millionaires: Emerging Generation of Supersuccessful African-Americans Redefine Wealth
Chappel, Kevin, Ebony
WANT to see a millionaire squirm? Ask how much he or she is worth. Better yet, ask if he or she is a millionaire. "Am-m-millionaire?" will be the apprehensive response. "If I had a million dollars, I'd be sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping one of those big drinks with the umbrella in it."
A level every red-blooded Americans strives to attain, but a name virtually no red-blooded capitalist ever wants to be called, the world "million aire" has always been one of the most "loaded" words in the English language. The love/hate relationship with money and those who have money has led many-a-millionaire to seek the pomp bestowed upon those who have eclipsed the seven-figure pinnacle, while at the same time hide from the circumstances that come with being the man (or the woman) of a million means. Admit to being a millionaire, and you become a walking dollar sign, a slow moving target that people want to borrow from, sue, rob, swindle and audit. Admit to being a millionaire and you will bombarded by charities, foundations, schools, friends, relatives and complete strangers, all asking, "Brother, can you spare a dime?"
But today a new breed of African-American millionaire has emerged, an assemblage of moneyed Blacks who do not broadcast their wealth, but do not run from it either. Not as flashy or as closefisted as some of their millionaire predecessors, this second generation of Black elite could more accurately be considered "millionaire lite," half the fat-(cat mentality), with none of the salt-(y stinginess). They not only give generously to worthwhile causes, but in many cases, have also create their own vehicles to deliver good works to the less fortunate.
Having earned their money in a relatively short period of time and at a relatively young age--many times through wise financial-market investments, the smart use of White capital or by being standouts in the wide-open technology, sports and entertainments fields--their numbers have skyrocketed into the thousands from only a handful 30 years ago. Add to that the increased number of Black women millionaires and the emergence of a "superrich" class of African-Americans --those with more than $50 million in assets--and the result has been a Black millionaire snowball effect that is quietly threatening to steamroll the country's social and economic hierarchy that, until now, has remained virtually unchanged for the last 200 years.
Boring by aristocratic standards, the new Black millionaires are not the topic of investigative newspaper articles or scandalous gossip columns. They have become a part of the exclusive, White-dominated world of fortune-making, not by backbiting, brown-nosing or tap dancing, but by living by one rule: "Be the best," says computer heavyweight Marc Hannah, co-founder of Silicon Graphics, which grossed an astounding $3 billion in sales last year, "and they won't care who you are or what color you are. Be the best, and you will do well."
Members of this millionaire "soul patrol" say they plan to stay on top by having the right attitude about their and CEO of Soul Circus Limited, believes learning about the good--and bad--aspects of money has been an evolutionary process for African-Americans. "I think we now realize that riches have the potential to enslave and bond you, and if not handled right, can be detrimental," says the 44-year-old who produces the critically acclaimed and highly successful Universoul Big Top Circus . "It traps you prevents you from moving forward. You start worrying about maintaining your wealth. Its like a good car--when you get out of it, you always look back at it. But if you have a raggedy car, you get out of it and keep the good-car-money while keeping the raggedy-car mentality."
Part of the makeup of that modest mentality is the development of a desire to reach back to help others. For people like Trish Millines, a 40-year-old Microsoft retiree who made a small fortune from deferred options of her employer's stock, reaching back meant starting a foundation that annually give more that $250,000 to provide computer training to people of color. And for hamburger mogul La-Van Hawkins it means giving away more than a million dollars to worthy causes each year. "I think the old Black guard had the attitude `I got mine, so you get yours,'" says Hawkins, whose company, UrbanCityFoods, owns 43 Burger Kings, which are expected to ring up more than $200 million in sales next year. "But the new Black millionaires understand that we have a fiduciary responsibility to give back."
However, Howard University business school Dean Barron Harvey says trailblazers--who were closed off from access to both capital and investments and subjected to the twin bears of unbridled racists and institutional racism--for their less civic-minded approach to their money. "The traditional millionaires toiled for decades on the street level, may have failed several times, and when they did succeed, most times, they had to re-invest their money into their business because they didn't have the access to capital that we have today," Harvey says. "As a result of their struggle, they may view the world a little differently and may reach the stage of giving back later that today's millionaires, who are much younger, have a long life ahead of them and want to make a significant contribution to society."
The altruistic nature of today's millionaires is already making a difference. Increasingly, Black organizations and causes are having to rely less on government assistance and White sponsorship to keep their doors open. Maybe the biggest beneficiaries are the country's African-American colleges and universities, Spurred by increased Black donorship, these schools are presently enjoying their greatest financial success ever, with a combined total of more than $800 million in endowments. Business shools, recognizing the giving trend, now include lessons on the philanthropic responsibility that comes along with financial success.
Millines, one of the famous "Microsoft Millionaires" who had the good sense to invest in Bill Gates on his way up, says giving back was a lesson she learned while growing up in New Jersey. "I'm my mother's child through and through. She taught me to always think about others, as did my (grade-school) teachers. I would have a very heavy conscious if I didn't use my good fortune to help others," says the former computer program manager who called it quits after shares of Microsoft stock skyrocketed 250-fold in less than 10 years and left her set for life. "My goal has never been to move up the corporate ladder. You have to sell your sould too much. We have all bought into this idea that you make your money, buy your big house and live extravagantly, but my goal always has been to help others and to be happy in whatever I'm doing."
Larry Huggins, who owns Chicago-based Riteway Constructions Services, one of the country's largest Black general contracting companies, agrees. He did $14 million in business last year, but says he also refuses to fall into the trappings of wealth. The 47-year-old executive came from a single-parent home in the city's rough-and-tumble Englewood community and continues to live in a modest neighborhood on the city's majority-Black South Side. He hasn't distanced himself from the 'hoodd, partly because he believes he has `moral and social obligations as an African-American man to be a role model" and an example of the good money can do. He annually gives thousands of dollars in scholarships to students who come from single-parent homes, and last Christmas even bought $7,000 worth of toys for Englewood children.
"You should have seen the look on those kids' faces," says Chicago Alderman Terry Peterson, who represents the Englewood community. "We are always talking about the negative, but there are also positives out there, and Larry in one of them. He doesn't toot his own horn. He doesn't seek recognition. He simply looks to help wherever he can. That is so important to Black communities. I think more and more of our successful Black Brothers and Sisters are realizing that God blesses a person not for keeping others, helping those less fortunate."
For Peterson and others who know a member of the new Black millionaires, it's hard not to root for them. Successful in carving out a niche for themeselves, while at the same staying true to themeselves, these young guns to prove that, as millionaire Ruthless Records CEO Tomica Woods-Wright puts it, more," Woods-Wright, whose business savvy has nearly doubled her record company's bottom line in less than two years, concludes, saying, "It's a new day."
La-Van Hawkins chairman of the Baltimore-based Urban City Fppds, powns 43 Burger Kings that are expected to ring up more than $200 million in sales next year. He recently formed a partnership with Burger King Corporation to build and operate 125 additional restaurants in nine cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, Raised in poverty in Chicago's Cabrini-Green Public Housing Development. Hawkins, who believes it is his responsibility to give back, recently donated $500,000 over 10 years to the Baltimore school system to build a La-Van Hawkins Entrepreneur Center. Hawkins is joined (above) by Deflan recording artist Redman in the promotions of a new advertising capaign for his restaurant.
Tomica Woods-Wright president and CEO of Ruthless, took the helm of the multimillion-dollar company after her husband, Eric (Easy E) Wright, died in 1995. Only 28 years old, Woods-Wright is already thinking about the legacy she wants to leave behind. "I want to devote my energy to AIDS-related issues," she says. "I feel motivated enough to know that I want to make a change, and that I can make a change."
Trish Millines, one of the "Microsoft Millionaires," made so much money from Microsoft stock that she, at 40 years old, will never have to work again. She is now spending her days working at her newly created Technology Access Foundation, which, in the coming years, will provide millions of dollars of computer training and equipment to children in underprivileged areas. She says the foundation is her way of giving back.
Larry Huggins, president of Riteway Constructions Services Inc., is one of the largest Black general constructions company employs more than 200 workers (70 percent minority) and provides contracting opportunities for African-American subcontractors. His efforts result in an estimated $6 million being put back into the Black community every year.
David Robinson, the dynamic All-Star center for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, recently contributed $5 million toward the construction of a community complex in one of San Antonio's roughest neighborhoods. He also has "adopted" 93 students from San Antonio, promising to give them $2,000 scholarships if they graduate from high school and attend college. The foundation that he started in 1992 gives $1,200 each month to a different non-profit organization that helps feed homeless or hungry individuals.
Valerie Daniels-Carter, president and CEo of Milwaukee-based V&J Foods, owns 36 Burger Kings and 61 Pizza Huts, which recorded $70 million in sales last year. Her company awards scholarships, allows schools to use restaurants for fund-raisers and gives to area agencies that feed the hungry. She says today's successful African-Americans are a caring group. "You can't be afraid to reach back and pull someone up," she says.
Marc Hannah (left0 co-founded the California-based Silicon Graphics in 1982, at the age of 25. Today, the company is a $3-billion-a-year operation, leading the world in the production of high-performance visual computing solutions. Hannah recently left Silicon Graphics to join Myra Peterson (above0 at the newly formed Omniverse Digital Solutions. Peterson is president of the Virginia-based company, which will work primarily with actor Tim Reid's new multimillion-dollar film studio, New Millennium Studios, in producing cutting-edge computer special effects for film and television. "It's critical to reach back," says the 35-year-old, who, with Hannah, has worked to provide Black students, "reach back to those who want to be helped--help those with their hands up, not their hands out."
Cedric Ricky Walker is the founder and CEO of Soul Circus Limited, the parent company of the Universoul Big Top Circus, the first nationally touring Black circus in more than 100 years. The 44-year-old entrepreneur has gained a reputation for putting on shows in inner-city neighborhoods, giving away free tickets to underprivileged youth and for employing African-Americans in all aspects of the show's multimillion-dollar, high-tech production. He's even hired men from homeless shelters, some of whom are now managers. He says about 60 percent of the company's budget goes back to the Black community.
Munson Steed's company, BG Swing, took in $2.9 million as the official City of Atlanta marketer for last year's Summer moting and several marketing ventures. Steed is a lifetime donor to his alma mater, Morehouse College, and gives financially to the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and several churches in the Atlanta area.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The New Millionaires: Emerging Generation of Supersuccessful African-Americans Redefine Wealth. Contributors: Chappel, Kevin - Author. Magazine title: Ebony. Volume: 53. Issue: 2 Publication date: December 1997. Page number: 124+. © 1999 Johnson Publishing Co. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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