Forgotten History: Businessman Reginald F Lewis

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NOV87-COVER-REGINALD-LEWISReginald F. Lewis, born December 7, 1942 in East Baltimore was the wealthiest black man in the United States during the 1980s. His business acumen began at the age of ten when Lewis set up a delivery route to sell the Afro American newspaper. He sold the business after building it from ten to more than a hundred customers in two years.

Lewis attended Oblate Sisters of Providence and Dunbar high School before attending Virginia State University in 1961 on a football scholarship. In 1965, the Rockefeller Foundation funded a summer school program at Harvard Law School to introduce a select number of black students to legal studies. Reginald lobbied for his acceptance and got in. He made such an impression that Lewis was invited to attend Harvard Law School that fall — the only person in the 148-year history of the school to be admitted before applying.

Two years after graduating from Law School, Lewis and his colleagues set up Wall Street’s first African American law firm. His firm focused on corporate law, structuring investments in minority owned businesses and became special counsel to major corporations. His first major business deal was the $22.5 million dollar leveraged buyout of the struggling McCall Pattern Company.

In 1987, he sold the company for $65 million, making a 90 to 1 return on his investment. Following that deal, Lewis purchased the international division of Beatrice Foods which was comprised of 64 companies in 31 countries in 1987. After purchasing the company, Lewis changed its name to TLC Beatrice International, Inc. The company’s revenues of $1.5 billion moved it to the Fortune’s 500 list and was first on the Black Enterprise List of Top 100 African American owned businesses. In the 1980s, he was worth approximately $400 million.

In January 1993, at age 50, Reginald F. Lewis died after a short illness. He was married to Loida Nicolas Lewis.

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