The name Reginald Lewis (1942-1993), is widely unrecognized today, but he stands as a titan of business as formidable as Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller. Born and raised in the neighborhood of East Baltimore, Maryland, one he describes as “semi-tough,” Lewis developed his fierce and determined, yet loyal personality from his tight-knit family.
Lewis’ family always encouraged him to be the best he could be. At a young age, you could see the seeds being planted of a business magnate. Smart and a hard worker, he sold his paper route at a profit at age 10. Very athletic and a leader, he would become captain of his baseball, football, and basketball team, while also serving as vice president of his high school. In college, he graduated on the Dean’s list from Virginia State University and from Harvard Law School without formally applying.
The accomplishments continued as he established a successful law firm helping companies perform leveraged buyouts (LBO). He, in turn, decided to put his hat into the ring. The first time, successfully buying and making a 90 to one investment in a struggling fabric company, McCall Pattern Co.
Subsequently, he became the richest Black man in America when he orchestrated the biggest leveraged offshore buyout of its time, Beatrice Foods, generating a record-breaking $1.8 bllion dollars in sales under his leadership. This milestone signified the first Black-owned company to ever pass the billion-dollar mark dominating the Black Enterprise list in the 1990s.
Lewis was also a passionate philanthropist. He donated $1 million to Howard University and $5 million to support the creation of The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore. Though Reginald Lewis did not dwell on race, he is a remarkable example of a Black man who has succeeded well beyond his era.