Born on December 7, 1942, in Baltimore, Maryland, Reginald F. Lewis pursued a successful career in finance after taking a securities law course at Harvard Law. He started his own Wall Street law firm and later his own investment firm TLC Group. The two defining deals of his career involved the purchase and takeover of McCall Pattern Company and the international food division of conglomerate Beatrice Foods. Lewis died in 1993 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 50.
Early Life and Education
Reginald F. Lewis was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 7, 1942. His mother, Carolyn Fugett, was a mail carrier; his stepfather, Jean S. Fugett, a teacher. He grew up with three brothers and two sisters and began working and dealing with money at an early age, developing a good head for figures. At age 8, he began delivering newspapers and taking his grandmother’s advice to always save some of his earning’s for a “rainy day.” Hearing his grandfather’s World War I stories of France made Lewis curious to learn more about the country to which he would eventually travel often, establishing a home there and becoming a widely regarded Francophile.
Lewis did well in academics and sports, moving easily between football, baseball and basketball. (He was named captain in all three sports.) After high school, he attended Virginia State University on a football scholarship, but later lost the scholarship due to injury. He continued to excel at his studies and graduated with honors in 1965, with a degree in economics.
Harvard Law School was the next step. Though he struggled somewhat academically, a course in securities law heightened Lewis’ interest in a career in finance. Upon graduation in 1968, he went to work for the prestigious New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Career and Historical Deal
TLC Group’s first buyout target was McCall Pattern Company, a publishing and home-sewing products entity that was having financial trouble. Lewis spent $1 million of his own money and $24 million on loan from First Boston Corp to purchase the company in a 1984 leveraged buyout. The following year, he sold the company for $95 million, an astounding 90-to-1 return on TLC’s initial investment, which drew wide notice on Wall Street and in other business circles.
His next target was international conglomerate Beatrice Foods, which Lewis acquired for $985 million, making it the largest African-American owned and managed business in the U.S.—and the largest leveraged buyout of offshore assets in history at that time. The transaction brought wide media attention, and Lewis became the first African-American businessman to be included in Forbes magazine’s list of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people.
Personal Life and Philanthropy
Lewis and his wife Loida Nicolas went on to have two daughters. He had also co-authored with Blair S. Walker the book Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Empire, published in 1995. Philanthropy was a major part of his personal agenda as well, including a $3 million grant to Harvard Law School to establish the Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center, the first Harvard building named after an African-American citizen.
Lewis died on January 19, 1993, at the age of 50 of a cerebral hemorrhage after a brief battle with brain cancer. One of his children, journalist Christina Lewis Halpern, later published online via Amazon the short memoir Lonely at the Top, focusing on her time with her father. His widow Loida founded Lewis College, a school hosting a range of educational facilities, in her native province of Sorsogon in the Philippines.
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