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The Man Behind America’s First Billion Dollar Deal

The Man Behind America’s First Billion Dollar Deal

By Ryan Velez

You may not have heard of the name of Reginald Lewis, as he passed away back in 1993, however, Bossip notes that this year marks the 30th anniversary of one of his greatest accomplishments, being the man behind America’s first billion-dollar deal.

Lewis’s success started right away within two years after graduating law school. He owned his own law firm, the first African American law firm on Wall Street. He focused on corporate law, and he also helped many minority-owned businesses secure badly needed capital using Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Companies (venture capital firms formed by corporations or foundations, operating under the aegis of the Small Business Administration).

For Lewis, it was a matter of great importance to “do the deals himself.” This led him to establish the TLC Group L.P. in 1983. His first major deal involved the $22.5-million leveraged buyout of the McCall Pattern Company. Reginald nursed the struggling company back to health and, despite a declining market, led the company to enjoy the two most profitable years in its 113-year history. In the summer of 1987, he sold it for $90 million, making $50 million in profit.

1987 would also hold the deal that made him a Black business legend, the purchasing of Beatrice Foods. At $985 million, the deal was the largest leveraged buyout at the time of overseas assets by an American company. By 1992, he had paid down its debt and increased the value of the company, with sales of over $1.6 billion annually.

Lewis was also a great philanthropist. In 1987, he established The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, which funded grants of approximately $10 million to various non-profit programs and organizations while Reginald was alive. He also made a $3 million donation to Harvard Law School, at the time, the largest grant made in the history of the school.

In January 1993, Lewis’s remarkable career was cut short by his untimely death at the age of 50 after a short illness. At his funeral, a letter from his longtime friend, David N. Dinkins, former mayor of New York, was read. In the letter, Dinkins wrote “Reginald Lewis accomplished more in half a century than most of us could ever deem imaginable. And his brilliant career was matched always by a warm and generous heart.” Dinkins added, “It is said that service to others is the rent we pay on earth. Reg Lewis departed us paid in full.”


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