Though he has reaped enormous financial rewards building a publishing company and serving as a director of some of the nation's biggest corporations, Earl G. Graves is a man who appears to have remained loyal to his roots.
Today, Graves is coming to Washington to announce a new business venture: the purchase of a stake in the Washington area Pepsi-Cola bottling franchise. His purchase, in partnership with Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, is expected to create the largest minority-operated Pepsi franchise in the country.
"Earl has been the primary educator in the country on black business -- on trends and opportunities and the like," Jesse L. Jackson said yesterday. "He has done the most work in communicating about blacks and franchises. He is very knowledgeable ... . He has a sterling reputation, and he'll be good for the D.C. community."
While most people during a long business career develop some detractors, those interviewed yesterday had only good things to say about Graves, 55, who is publisher of New York-based Black Enterprise magazine. The magazine, which caters to the upscale African-American market, will celebrate its 20th anniversary next month. It has annual revenue of more than $15 million and circulation of 230,000.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Graves is the son of a shipping clerk in New York's garment district who constantly reminded him that education was the key to success, and Graves's success extends beyond the pages of his magazine.
In addition to his responsibilities at Black Enterprise magazine, Graves is on the board of directors of Chrysler Corp. and Rohm & Haas Corp. He also serves as chairman of the Black Business Council, a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees and national commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America.
Graves attended Morgan State University in Baltimore and got a bachelor's in economics, after which he entered the Army, leaving as a captain. He moved back to New York, where he worked in real estate and as a commissioner for the Bedford-Stuyvesant office of the Boy Scouts of America -- an organization to which he has dedicated himself since he was a Boy Scout.
While at that Boy Scouts job, Graves became friends with another scout executive, Johnny Ford, now mayor of Tuskegee, Ala., and one of many prominent black leaders who refer to him as a close friend.
Graves left New York to become administrative assistant to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy from 1965 to 1968. When Kennedy announced he was going to run for president, Graves asked Ford to come to work as his assistant on the campaign.
"I'll never forget this one day, after the assassination, we were driving down Madison Avenue in New York in a limousine, and Earl looked up at the skyscrapers and he said, 'That's where I'm going, are you going with me?' And I said, 'No, Earl, I'm going back down South to become mayor of Tuskegee.'"
In 1970, Graves started Black Enterprise.
In his publisher's page essay in last month's issue of the magazine, Graves expressed his concern for minority businesses threatened by a sluggish economy and "the Reagan administration's legacy of exclusion ... realized with the subsequent retrenchment of affirmative action plans and minority business set-aside programs."
He said black businesses will survive this period if they get "leaner, stronger, better." After censuring Japanese automobile and electronics manufacturers for a "lack of commitment" to minority issues, Graves cautioned his readers to "be selective where we spend our money and do business with companies that do business with us."