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  •   Top 15 Private Companies
    From the April 26, 1999 Washington Post:
    By Sandra Evans
    Special to The Washington Post

    1. Mars Inc.
    2. Hechinger Co.
    3. Brown Automotive
    4. Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc.
    5. Clark Enterprises Inc.
    6. MedStar Health
    7. DynCorp
    8. United Defense LP
    9. Discovery
    10. SatoTravel
    11. Inova Health System
    12. Rosenthal Automotive Group Inc.
    13. Watson Wyatt Worldwide
    14. Ritz Camera Centers Inc.
    15. Feld Entertainment Inc.

    1 Mars Inc.

    Description: Mars is one of the largest candy-makers and food-processing companies in the world. The grandparents of today's co-presidents started making candy in 1911, and the company remains tightly controlled by the Mars family. It produces top-selling M&M's and Snickers bars, as well as Milky Way and 3 Musketeers. The company also makes pet food, such as Wiskas for cats and Pedigree for dogs, prepared foods such as Uncle Ben's Rice, and Flavia coffees and teas. Mars Electronics International makes vending machine change-givers and other products for the cash-machine industry.

    Developments: In January, Mars kicked off its new M&M's Crispy Chocolate Candies with a $50 million advertising campaign, which the company said would be the biggest candy launch ever. Its promotions feature a new character named Crispy, described by the company as "neurotic and paranoid." The candy contains a crisped rice center and comes in traditional M&M's colors.

    The company also expanded marketing of M&M's brand products through its Web site (, offering online shopping for shirts, mugs and golf club covers featuring the M&M's logo. Customers also can use the Web site to order M&M's Colorworks – plain M&M's in 21 specialty colors such as teal green, dark pink and silver – at $195 plus $25 shipping for a 40-pound batch.

    The Mars Electronics division announced the opening of a new plant in Mexico in 1998.

    The notoriously secretive Mars company and the family that owns it were the subjects of "The Emperors of Chocolate," a new book by Joel Glenn Brenner, a former Washington Post reporter, who detailed the firm's inner workings and its rivalry with candy giant Hershey Foods.

    2 Hechinger Co.

    Description: The country's third-largest home-improvement retailer was created in 1997 when Leonard Green & Partners, a Los Angeles investment firm, bought the publicly traded Hechinger Co. and the Builders Square division of Kmart Corp. and merged them into one privately held company. Before the acquisition, the Hechinger family had controlled the chain that carried its name throughout the company's 88-year history. The company operates 240 home improvement stores under the Hechinger, Home Quarters Warehouse and Builders Square names.

    Developments: Despite large infusions of cash from its Los Angeles owner, Hechinger continued a financial slide, losing $93 million last year and reporting a $76.2 million first-quarter loss this year.

    In the past year, the home-improvement retailer has worked on reorganizing, remodeling and overhauling itself, including a plan to change the name of the chain to Home Quarters. The company said it would improve its restocking system, standardize store layouts and expand its merchandise to add items such as large household appliances, automotive products and pet food.

    In February, the company announced it would close 34 of its stores, most of them Builders Square outlets in the Midwest. Officials said the proceeds from the closings will be used to remodel and improve the remaining stores.

    3 Brown Automotive

    Description: Formerly Mid-Atlantic Cars Inc., Brown Automotive Group is the management company for the Brown automobile dealerships, the largest dealer organization in the mid-Atlantic region. It also owns Brown's Mega II Used Car Center in Manassas.

    Developments: Deciding that the name Mid-Atlantic Cars was confusing, officials changed it to Brown Automotive Group.

    The company plans to break ground in August on its Dulles International Autopark, with a capacity of 12 dealerships and a body shop with more than a hundred stalls. The autopark will represent a $150 million investment, and will have its own management and staff. Frank Cuteri, previously Mid-Atlantic's president, was named president of Dulles International Autopark Inc.

    Brown also plans to open two more used car centers in the Washington area soon.

    4 Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc.

    Description: Booz-Allen & Hamilton is an international management and technology consulting firm serving major corporations and government clients. In the Washington area, Booz-Allen focuses on information technology, defense, telecommunications, environment, transportation and restructuring for government agencies. It also serves large local corporate clients in the fields of oil, aerospace and communications.

    Developments: Major new government contracts included a $300 million project to design and develop a transportation command and control system for the Air Force, a $102 million contract for long-range strategic planning for the Air Force, and a $20 million award to help the U.S. Agency for International Development aid banking reform in the states of the former Soviet Union.

    Ongoing projects include advising the Internal Revenue Service on modernization and consulting on the Washington Metro, San Francisco and New Jersey transit systems.

    Earlier this month Ralph W. Shrader succeeded William Stasior as chief executive. Shrader will add the title of chairman in October when Stasior retires from that position.

    Construction began on a 180,000-square-foot building, the company's third, at its McLean headquarters complex.

    5 Clark Enterprises Inc.

    Description: Clark Enterprises is a holding company for commercial and residential construction companies and real estate investments. CEI is the parent company of the Clark Construction Group Inc., one of the country's largest general contractors. Clark has built several major sports facilities in the Washington area, including the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, the MCI Center and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

    Developments: Clark Construction and its joint venture partner, the Sherman R. Smoot Corp., are the construction managers for the $500 million, 2.3 million-square-foot Washington Convention Center, scheduled to open in 2003. The company also won a contract to build a $125 million headquarters for Gannett and USA Today in Tysons Corner. A subsidiary was recently awarded a $90.3 million contract to work on reconstruction of the I-95/I-495 Springfield Interchange.

    Other major projects underway include convention centers in San Antonio, Memphis and Milwaukee; the $275 million Miller Park Stadium in Milwaukee; a $193 million expansion at Chicago's Midway Airport; and a $43 million Garden of Champions tennis facility in Indian Wells, Calif.

    Guy F. Atkinson Construction Corp., a subsidiary acquired in 1998, is building a shipbuilding facility for Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

    6 MedStar Health

    Description: The 1998 merger of Medlantic Healthcare Group and Helix Health created the largest health system in the Baltimore-Washington region. (Medlantic last year was the No. 13 private company on The Washington Post's annual listing, with $643.2 million in revenue.) The nonprofit company includes Washington Hospital Center and National Rehabilitation Hospital in Northwest Washington and five Baltimore hospitals. It also operates five nursing homes, a large home health agency, three ambulatory surgery centers, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, durable medical equipment companies and physician network organizations. It has a total of 2,586 licensed beds and 3,600 affiliated physicians.

    Developments: The merger was finalized in July, and the MedStar Health name went into effect Feb. 1. Industry experts predicted that other health care institutions would be prompted to merge to compete with the huge MedStar system.

    Executives from the former Helix and Medlantic companies moved the system into new corporate headquarters in Columbia and worked on integrating the two far-flung work forces. They also looked for medical care facilities to add to the MedStar group. Georgetown University Medical Center officials said in February that they had begun "serious discussions" about forming a partnership with MedStar.

    7 DynCorp

    Description: DynCorp is an employee-owned information technology and technical services company, servicing the U.S. and foreign governments and commercial clients. It has a large number of defense contracts, including awards to maintain U.S. Air Force weapons systems.

    Developments: DynCorp was one of eight companies to win part of a huge General Services Administration contract to provide information technology services to federal agencies that want to use an outside contractor for technical support.

    It also was awarded U.S. Postal Service contracts worth $243 million over five years to help create six USPS facilities to repair mail transport equipment.

    DynCorp entered into a joint venture with Virginia to develop and operate the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Center at Wallops Island, Va. The company is to create a state-of-the-art space launch facility that will attract launch customers to the site.

    The company, which has made a number of acquisitions in the information technology field in the past few years, continues to look for acquisitions as a way of achieving dramatic growth. It also is working on changing its image from that of a defense contractor to that of a high-tech firm.

    8 United Defense LP

    Description: United Defense is a leading manufacturer and systems integrator of tracked, armored combat vehicles such as the Bradley A3 Fighting vehicle, Navy guns and missile launching systems. It operates six major manufacturing and engineering sites, as well as several satellite facilities. The company is owned by the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based investment firm involving a number of prominent former government officials.

    Developments: United Defense is developing the Crusader field artillery system for the Army, a top priority for modernization. The company also is working on simulation and computer programs to train soldiers.

    In July, the Marine Corps Systems Command awarded the company a contract for technical, engineering and management services to modify the assault amphibious vehicle and to support foreign sales.

    In January, United Defense signed an agreement with Barnes & Reinecke to jointly market M-109 self-propelled howitzers and howitzer upgrades to foreign armies. United Defense has manufactured M-109s and Barnes & Reinecke has sold M-109 upgrade kits for about 15 years.

    9 Discovery

    Description: Discovery Communications is a diversified media company that operates four distinct businesses. Discovery Networks U.S. consists of 13 cable television channels, including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Travel Channel. Discovery Networks International reaches 144 countries in 24 languages. Discovery Enterprises Worldwide markets online, video, publishing and educational products and operates retail outlets, including 104 Nature Company stores and 18 Discovery Channel stores. Discovery Themed Entertainment develops out-of-home entertainment, such as large format films.

    Developments: DCI plans to invest up to $350 million in launching a new business called Discovery Health Media this year. It will include a revamped Discovery Health Channel, as well as an interactive online service and other health-related products and media.

    Last year, DCI and the British Broadcasting Corp. signed a $600 million venture to produce programs and a BBC cable channel in the United States. In January, DCI and CBS Corp. finalized an agreement for Discovery's purchase of CBS Eye on People, renamed Discovery People. The new network will focus on reality-based programming about people.

    Discovery's revenue increased significantly in the past year, from $860 million to $1.1 billion.

    10 SatoTravel

    Description: SatoTravel provides travel services to the federal government and Fortune 500 companies through locations in all 50 states and 18 foreign countries. It also runs two call centers in Sterling and Seattle.

    Developments: In January, after nearly half a century of being owned by a consortium of U.S. airlines, SatoTravel was acquired by an investment group comprised of Stuart Mill Capital, Ambassadors International and GE Pension Trust. The Northern Virginia-based Stuart Mill Capital is headed by Lawrence Hough, former chief executive of SLM Holdings (Sallie Mae) and now a co-chair of SatoTravel. The other SatoTravel co-chair, John Ueberroth, also is president and chief executive of Ambassadors International, a specialized travel service company that caters to corporations.

    Sato for most of its existence had a virtual monopoly on providing airline tickets to the military and government agencies. After the government opened up its travel business to competitive bidding in 1984, Sato began a shift toward more corporate clients and providing other travel services, including hotel rooms and rental cars. Sato's new owners plan to further expand its target markets, including aiming more efforts toward smaller companies.

    11 Inova Health System

    Description: Inova Health System is a nonprofit health care system in Northern Virginia with five hospitals and a variety of health services such as home care, nursing homes, assisted living, mental health services, physician practices and freestanding emergency and urgent care centers. Its hospitals are its flagship Inova Fairfax Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.

    Developments: In August, Inova formed a partnership with Sunrise Assisted Living to build up to 10 new assisted living facilities in the Washington area. Under the agreement, Sunrise will manage assisted living facilities already owned by Inova as well as those developed jointly by the two companies. Inova will conduct wellness and other health seminars at Sunrise communities and give Sunrise residents priority access to Inova medical services.

    Inova plans to break ground this year on construction of a new outpatient medical center in Springfield. It provided land in Springfield at below-market cost to Northern Virginia Community College for a medical education campus.

    12 Rosenthal Automotive Group Inc.

    Description: Rosenthal has 19 dealerships in the Washington area, selling foreign and domestic vehicles. These include Acura, Chevrolet, Honda, Infiniti, Isuzu, Jaguar, Jeep, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Volvo.

    Developments: Rosenthal sales declined in 1998 from $851 million in 1997.

    Capital Automotive Real Estate Investment Trust, formed by Rosenthal and Jack Pohanka and other Washington dealers at the end of 1997 as the first automotive-only REIT, grew through acquisitions to include about 200 franchises and 135 properties nationwide. The REIT went public in February 1998.

    13 Watson Wyatt Worldwide

    Description: Watson Wyatt Worldwide is an international consulting firm specializing in workplace issues for major corporations around the world. The company, with offices in 36 countries, offers consulting on employee benefits and compensation, work force management and human resources technologies.

    Developments: In the past year, the company focused more of its consulting on work-force management, designing strategies for hiring, developing and retiring employees in the face of an aging work force and shortage of younger workers. Another specialty is workplace issues connected with mergers and acquisitions.

    The company moved its U.S. consulting headquarters into an expansive new office on H Street in July, while keeping its corporate headquarters in Bethesda.

    In August 1998, Watson Wyatt bought KPMG Peat Marwick's benefits consulting business in the Northeast, with revenue of about $15 million.

    John Haley was named Watson Wyatt president and CEO last fall.

    14 Ritz Camera Centers Inc.

    Description: Ritz Camera is the nation's largest specialty photo retail chain with more than 900 camera stores in 47 states. It offers one-hour photo processing services as well as sales of cameras, camcorders and cellular phones. It also operates Boater's World Marine Center, with more than 90 stores selling boating and fishing accessories.

    Developments: The company, which began as a single portrait studio in Atlantic City, has grown rapidly in the past several years through acquisitions and new store openings. Its biggest single boost came in late 1997 when it purchased Kits Camera Inc., a 140-store chain based in Seattle that was the nation's third-largest specialty photo chain. Last October, Ritz acquired 83 retail photographic stores from affiliates of Fuji Photo Film USA Inc.

    In December, Ritz announced the opening of a Web site ( offering online photo services and sales. Customers having 35 mm or Advanced Photo System film developed at many Ritz outlets also may have their photos returned on floppy disk, CD or uploaded to the Internet. When put on the new Ritz Big Print Net – Photos Online, customers can e-mail the photos to friends or use them for online orders of reprints, enlargements or T-shirts and mugs bearing the photo. The company also sells cameras, video cameras, pagers and other products through its Web site.

    15 Feld Entertainment Inc.

    Description: Feld Entertainment owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and is one of the world's largest producers of live entertainment, including "Disney on Ice" and the Las Vegas show of illusionists Siegfried & Roy.

    Developments: In 1998, Feld Entertainment productions appeared in 21 countries with more than 3,000 performances, the largest number of shows in a year in the company's history.

    The company produced "Grease on Ice," featuring Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, in a joint venture with Troika Entertainment. Feld expanded into Russia with performances of "Disney on Ice presents Beauty and the Beast" at the Moscow Children's Festival.

    The company faced an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture into the death of a three-year-old Asian elephant named Kenny. Ringling Bros., which denied any negligence, said Kenny died of a fast-acting infection. The case was closed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey agreeing to make two donations of $10,000 each to organizations for the protection of the Asian elephant, including the Kumari Fund of the Friends of the National Zoo.

    In 1999, Feld Entertainment is premiering "Barnum's Kaleidoscape," a two-hour tented circus in which the audience interacts with the performers. The first Ringling Bros. production in a tent since 1956, the performance will be able to go into areas without a major arena. The company plans a 50-week tour in the United States, followed by an international tour.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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