The Canonization Of Reginald Lewis

THE LATE REGINALD LEWIS IS getting the full icon treatment. One of America's most celebrated black businessmen, Lewis, the subject of a recently issued biography, Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?, had a building at alma mater Harvard Law School named after him, and a wax figure of him is on museum display in his hometown, Baltimore. Then there's his office at TLC Beatrice, the food outfit he bought in 1987. The room has been preserved as he left it, and schoolchildren tour it.

The commemoration of Lewis, who died at 50 in 1993 of brain cancer, has the altruistic purpose of inspiring young blacks. But it also is a powerful image-making tool for Beatrice, which needs one. It has stumbled badly since the well-regarded Lewis' death, say analysts. Last year, investor pressure led to the resignation of Lewis' successor as chairman, his brother Jean Fugett, who couldn't be reached for comment. Minority shareholders--the Lewis family owns 55%--have sued to recover what they see as excessive compensation for Lewis. The new chairman, widow Loida Lewis, has been selling off some company units. While Beatrice, its business mainly in Europe, reported a strong third quarter (up 29% over the year-prior period), Wall Street is still skeptical.

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