Six things you should know about Henry G. Parks, Jr., founder of the first Black-owned company on NASDAQ

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 21, 2024 9:14 AM EDT
Henry G. Parks, Jr. Photo credit: Public Domian

A trailblazer on all fronts, Henry G. Parks, Jr. is considered one of America’s most brilliant businessmen. He took on an unlikely project and transformed it one of the most profitable food manufacturers. Parks made history in 1970 when H.G. Parks, Inc. became the first Black-owned company to trade on NASDAQ, the most active stock trading venue in the US by volume.

He was born on September 29, 1916, in Atlanta, Georgia. His family moved to Dayton, Ohio where he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1934. Parks was a mastermind at marketing, corporate strategy and mentored several prominent black business owners in his time. Contemporary entrepreneurs can learn a lot from his inspiring career trajectory.

Here are six things you should know about Henry Parks, founder of the first Black-owned company to trade on NASDAQ.

1. He was the first African American on the Ohio State University swim team
Through a combination of savings and scholarships, Parks enrolled at Ohio State University. He pursued as B.S. degree in Marketing and was a member of the National Urban League and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Parks made history as the first African American on Ohio State University’s swim team. After graduation, he worked at Pabst Brewing Company as a sales representative targeting the African American market. He resigned when management denied him a promotion and joined W. B. Graham, a public relations business New York City.

2. His initial attempts at business were unsuccessful
Parks attempted to launch various business enterprises, albeit unsuccessfully. One of such endeavors was Joe Louis Punch, a beverage named after the heavyweight boxing champion. He left his job in 1949 and bought shares in Crayton’s Southern Sausage Company of Cleveland. Parks tried to sell the idea of producing sausage marketed to a southern taste but failed. He eventually sold his interests in Crayton’s and went into debt.

3. Parks executed one of the greatest turnaround jobs in American business history
Previous failures didn’t deter Parks’ entrepreneurial spirit. He used old recipes he had learned to found Parks Sausage Company in 1951. In one of the greatest turnaround jobs in American business history, Parks acquired an abandoned dairy plant in Baltimore and transformed it into one of America’s most profitable food manufacturers. The United States Department of Agriculture soon agreed to regular inspection of the premises and guaranteed the quality products produced. He built the company from two employees to a multi-million dollar enterprise with over 200 employees, a modern processing plant and sales of exceeding $14 million annually.

4. He was at the forefront of a powerful marketing campaign
Parks leveraged his marketing and public relations background to propel his company’s growth. He crafted a radio commercial which featured a little boy saying, “More Parks Sausage, Mom, please.” The iconic tagline became a routine on Saturday morning radio and television commercials and helped the company grow into a multimillion dollar business. Additionally, Parks Sausage became the first African American firm to advertise in a World Series when its adverts appeared at one of the seven games between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees in 1955.

5. Parks’ firm never posted a loss in a year
In January 1969, Parks took Parks Sausage public, making it the first black-owned business to raise money by selling stock to the public. It became the first African American firm listed on the on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and to trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Under Parks’ tenure as CEO, Parks Sausage Company never posted a losing year, with sales reaching a record $14 million in 1976. He sold his interest in the company to the Norin Corporation in 1977 and stayed on as consultant and director of the company until his death.
“I think that I proved that black businessmen not only can be successful but that they can be successful on the same terms as anybody else,” Parks said about his legacy.

6. He was committed to civic engagement
From 1963 to 1969, Parks served on the Baltimore City Council. He advocated for laws opening public accommodations to African Americans and easing bail requirements. He campaigned for social justice and worked with organizations such as the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and the National Urban League. His business success earned him positions on the boards of various leading entities such as Magnavox, W. R. Grace, the First Pennsylvania Bank Corporation, the Opportunities Industrial Center Inc. and the National Interracial Council for Business Opportunity.

In 1989, Parks died of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He left behind an indelible legacy as a pioneering African American entrepreneur. His business success remains an inspiration for generations to come.