Johnson, Ford, Ash Cited As Greatest Entrepreneurs In U.S. History

February 2004
Copyright 2004 Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.

FEW histories give proper attention to Black businessmen, who were in the mainstream of money in George Washington's day and who have made major contributions for more than four centuries. A recent and telling reminder of this unsung tradition was a Baylor University poll which honored EBONY Publisher John H. Johnson, along with Henry Ford and Mary Kay Ash, as one of the greatest entrepreneurs in American history.

The poll was conducted by Baylor University professor Blaine McCormick, who asked management scholars, business historians and economic historians to determine the top 10 entrepreneurs, the top female entrepreneur and the top minority entrepreneur in American history.

Henry Ford, Bill Gates and John D. Rockefeller led the list. Mary Kay founder, Mary Kay Ash, was named the greatest female entrepreneur, and Johnson was named "the greatest minority entrepreneur or businessperson in American history." The publisher was selected over Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Among other leaders who received votes in the balloting for greatest minority entrepreneur were BET's Robert L. Johnson, Roberto Goizueta and Madame C. J. Walker. Professor McCormick said women and minorities deserved distinct winners because they are at a historical disadvantage and have succeeded, as Johnson noted in his biography, against the odds.

"The Greatest Entrepreneurs in American History" were honored at a luncheon at Dallas' Inter-Continental Hotel, attended by business and civic leaders. Edsel B. Ford II accepted for his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, who founded Ford Motor Company some 100 years ago and "who made America a nation of drivers." Mary Kay Ash's grandson, Ryan Rogers, accepted for the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics. Johnson, the only living recipient of one of the greatest entrepreneurs awards, was introduced by Dr. McCormick, who called him "the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history," noting that he "topped a competitive field, including the likes of Berry Gordy . . . and Oprah Winfrey." Johnson, who started his publishing and cosmetics empire in 1942 by borrowing $ 500 on his mother's furniture, paid tribute to his mother, Gertrude Johnson Williams, and great entrepreneurs like Ford, Rockefeller, Sam Walton and Madame Walker.

"I always say," the entrepreneur added, "that failure is a word I don't recognize. You have to keep trying. You can't give up."