When TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. reported revenues in excess of $1 billion in 1987, the world witnessed a milestone. This was the first time a Black owned company reported more than $1 billion in annual sales. TLC Beatrice was a snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate, which also happened to be the largest Black owned and managed business in the country. The man behind the brand was the late Reginald F. Lewis, a native of Baltimore who was one of the most wealthy and impactful men in America.
At its peak in 1996, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. was number 512 on Fortune magazine’s list of 1,000 largest companies, with sales of $2.2 billion. Lewis started life in Baltimore, before attending Virginia State University on a football scholarship. Lewis earned a degree from VSU in political science in 1965, then went on to Harvard Law School — he was admitted to Harvard without even applying. After earning his law degree in 1968, Lewis was recruited to a top firm as a corporate attorney. Two years later, however, Lewis started his own firm — Lewis is thought to be the first Black person to open a Wall Street law firm. In 1983 Lewis created TLC Group L.P., a venture capital firm.
Lewis’ biggest move in business came in 1987 when he acquired Beatrice International Foods from Beatrice Companies for $985 million, which he renamed TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. With his success Lewis invested in Black institutions, including a $1 million gift to Howard University and $5 million from his foundation to help launch the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, in Baltimore. The museum highlights the history and accomplishments of Black people with a particular focus on Maryland’s Black community.