Lyneir Richardson wears two hats, as an entrepreneur and an academic. Since 2014, he’s been executive director of Rutgers Business School’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, a program that supports women and people of color who are starting their own ventures. He’s also CEO of Chicago TREND, which offers financing and consulting to retail developers in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. Richardson’s career has been marked by highs and lows. Early on, he ran his own Chicago real estate firm that first prospered and then crashed. Next, he worked for one of America’s most prosperous REITs, but lost his job when the financial crisis battered the firm. Then came a stint as head of economic development for the city of Newark, NJ. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Richardson, 51, talks about what he learned from failure and why he believes African-American entrepreneurs should always make profits a priority.
Susan Adams: Tell me about your background.
Lyneir Richardson: I grew up on the west side of Chicago. My parents owned a bar. Neither of them went to college but they made sure I did. I went to Bradley University, a small liberal arts school in Peoria. I applied to every law school in Illinois and I got into the University of Chicago, where I learned the power of an elite school. I remember the first trimester feeling like I was in the club when they called on the person next to me and it was a Scalia, the Supreme Court Justice’s son.
Adams: What did you do after law school?
Richardson: I had worked summers at a big firm, Mayer, Brown & Platt, where I learned early on that if you could generate business, you could make partner. Most of the minority lawyers didn’t have access to the right people, they didn’t vacation with them, they didn’t have the deep family connections. I did not have those connections, period. So after law school I went to a bank where I would be closer to capital.
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