Dave Bing was one of the most successful black business owners in the United States. After completing a career as a superstar in the National Basketball Association, Bing started a steel service company in 1980. The Bing Group is one of the largest African American–owned businesses in the United States. Bing is dedicated to improving the city of Detroit and to providing job opportunities for its citizens.
As a youth growing up in Washington, D.C., Bing developed an interest in business. His father, a building contractor, often took his son to construction sites. Bing decided early that he wanted one day to own his own company. An outstanding high school basketball player, he was recruited by Syracuse University. He was named All-American at Syracuse before graduating in 1966 with a degree in economics and marketing. Business was to be his second career.
Bing was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1966 and played professional basketball for twelve years, at a time when salaries were modest. To earn extra money during the off-season and prepare for his business career, he worked as a bank management trainee for seven years and participated in an auto dealer–training program for two years. After retiring from basketball in 1978, Bing was offered a public relations
job at Paragon Steel in Detroit, but he declined the job when he realized the company wanted to hire him simply because of his fame. Instead, he entered a management-training program at Paragon. After two years he started his own steel service company, Bing Steel, which cut steel to size for the auto industry.
BATTLED RECESSION AND PREJUDICE
Bing started his company in the middle of one of the worst recessions in the steel industry. He battled not only the economy but also prejudice from people who did not believe that a black athlete could succeed in business. He told Black Enterprise magazine, "As a black with the stigma of being an ex-jock, the toughest thing for me was getting people to realize I had the intellect to get things done and that I was serious about making the leap from athletics to business" (June 1998).
Bing Steel lost $90,000 in its first six months, but after landing a contract with General Motors, the business turned around. It became profitable within two years, and by 1990 sales had reached $61 million. In order to insulate his company from the ups and downs of the steel industry, Bing diversified by starting four other automotive supply companies. Collectively, the five companies are known as the Bing Group. Four of the five companies are headquartered on a 30-acre campus in Detroit's empowerment zone, where property was inexpensive. In the early years Bing did a lot of the building renovation himself, to help contain costs.
LESSONS FROM THE BASKETBALL COURT
The soft-spoken Bing credited basketball for teaching him the discipline and competitiveness that helped him succeed in business. Teamwork was another aspect of Bing's management style that carried over from athletics. He had a reputation for taking good care of his employees. As he once put it, "It doesn't matter if you're the executive vice-president of Bing Steel or one of my hourly workers, you're going to get respect from me. Team effort is important here. We all work together to get the job done" ( Black Enterprise , January 1985).
Lear's CEO, Kenneth Way, who entered into a joint venture with the Bing Group to produce auto seating, praised Bing's character. Bing has "always been an individual of very high integrity and character," he said. "You can trust him and trust that he has the business experience and track record to make an operation work" ( Black Enterprise , June 1998).
Bing also earned the respect of General Motors, which named the Bing Group Supplier of the Year in 1997, 2002, and 2003. When the auto supplier's quality declined during the late 1990s, GM suggested improvements. The Bing Group rose to the challenge, and defects per million parts dropped from 1,200 to 17 in just two years.
DEDICATED TO DETROIT
Giving back was an important principle of Dave Bing's. He served on the boards
of several civic and charitable organizations and was a benefactor of Detroit schools. He felt strongly about improving the city of Detroit and creating employment opportunities for African Americans. Frustrated at not being able to find qualified employees, Bing could have moved his company out of Detroit. Instead, he partnered with Ford (his biggest customer) to build a $4 million training facility for minority workers in Detroit in 1999. Eighty percent of the Bing Group's workforce was African American in the early 2000s.
The center taught workers the technology they needed to work in a manufacturing facility and the importance of good work habits. During their first three months, workers who missed work without calling in or who were late four times were fired. Those who met Bing's high standards were rewarded. Bing always paid his workers above the minimum wage, and managers received equity in as little as three years. Bing told Forbes , "It's a very strong feeling walking around the plant and seeing the faces of people everybody else quit on" (September 18, 2000).
In 2002 the Bing Group's sales totaled $344 million, and the company had a staff of 1,120. It was ranked seventh on Black Enterprise 's list of the top black-owned businesses. In 2003 Bing announced a plan to buy additional companies as a way to triple sales to $1 billion by 2008. A key to that growth, Bing told the Detroit News , is to change automaker's attitudes toward minority suppliers. "There was a small slice of the pie designated for minority businesses and that's not what we want. We want to compete for the whole pie," he said (August 26, 2003).