James Reynolds '82
Financial expert James Reynolds '82 is changing some bleak numbers to offer a better life for Chicago's poor
By Matt Golosinski
The figures are striking: Only 38 percent of black males in Chicago graduated high school between 1995 and 2005. Some 53 percent of Chicago's black men between the ages of 25 and 34 are either unemployed or else earn too little to support a family of four. More than 60 percent of inmates in Illinois prisons are African-American, despite comprising just 13 percent of the state's overall population.
"Every time I see those statistics, I continue to be amazed," says James Reynolds '82, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Loop Capital Markets, an investment firm with nearly a dozen offices and 100 employees across the U.S. "Those statistics are mind-boggling in this day and time."
Behind those numbers, he says, is a sobering reality about disparity in educational and employment opportunities. The Kellogg MBA finance graduate is doing something to change reality for the better.
Born in Chicago's rough Englewood neighborhood, Reynolds, 53, understands the devastating effects that joblessness has when it breeds crime and addiction. He also knows that transforming this situation requires strengthening the community's economic foundation. This is why Reynolds, in addition to running the firm he co-founded in 1997 after serving as director at Merrill Lynch, is throwing his enthusiasm and more than two decades of business acumen into an effort to make a broad difference.
As chairman of the Chicago Urban League, a storied organization founded in 1916, Reynolds helps guide efforts to promote social and economic advancement for the city's black citizens. Traditionally regarded as a social services entity, the Urban League in 2007 shifted its focus with the appointment of Cheryle Jackson (NU '88) as its new president and CEO — the first woman to hold the roles. Reynolds says the Urban League now focuses on economic development.
"You have to pick your spots in terms of the things that are most critical and where your resources can make the most difference," he says. "There are a lot of organizations doing social service, but there really weren't any doing the economic piece we're trying to do. Others really weren't looking at certain crises, such as with the African-American male, the way we are."
The revamped Urban League is addressing underlying economic issues related to a host of social ills. By applying remedy at the roots, the group hopes to provide the tools to lift people out of poverty. Reynolds says the Urban League is examining big challenges and seeking big answers.
"How can we put together programs to understand what drives the despair in a young person at age 14 or 15, that really makes them feel it's a viable option to drop out of school?" says Reynolds, who recalls the importance of setting goals for himself as a child. "I don't think that at any point in my life did I ever feel there was a low ceiling, that there were things I couldn't accomplish if I worked hard."
Besides generating policy and research papers, Urban League initiatives like "projectnext" offer an array of educational tools, such as scholarships, career development, financial literacy, leadership training, college application assistance and service learning. Programs like "I Am" are designed to empower black males, and with "nextMOVE.jobs" the Urban League is strategically placing African-American talent with employers. Through a collaboration with the Kellogg School announced in July 2007, the Urban League's Entrepreneurship Center will provide support and resources to minority business owners, helping them expand their ventures and gain access to capital and contracts.
Playing a key part in this center is Professor Steven Rogers, director of the Kellogg School's Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice. He also grew up in Englewood and is a longtime Reynolds friend.
"Jim is a wonderful businessman, civic leader and Kellogg alum," Rogers says. "He has a brilliant mind and a huge heart that is committed to helping others." Rogers notes Reynolds' contributions to the school, including his financial support for Kellogg entrepreneurial programs and his participation as a speaker at conferences and other events. "He truly embodies everything that Kellogg stands for — leadership that makes a difference!"
In addition to his Kellogg participation, Reynolds serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Chicago Historical Society, University of Chicago Hospitals and the Chicago Zoological Society. He finds that his Loop Capital role matches well with his civic efforts, especially at the Urban League.
"It's a tremendous intersection because I'm a businessman and an entrepreneur," he says. "I'm a big believer in economic development. I believe that folks, by and large, do want to work and if they have an opportunity to work they will choose that." He says that creating more minority entrepreneurs will ultimately create more jobs for those who need them most, since "minorities tend to hire other minorities."
"As we grow that class, we'll put a big dent in some of these issues we're facing," Reynolds says, sounding both realistic and confident.
"I'm striving to be relevant, involved in my community, to never get detached from the folks who come from a very tough environment, like my own."
Posted May 2008