James Rhee is an impact investor, founder, CEO and educator who empowers people, brands and organizations to fulfill their true potential by marrying capital with purpose and truth across multiple systems. The acclaimed story of the remarkable transformation and re-imagination of Ashley Stewart, one of the country’s largest brands serving Black women, under his leadership as chairman, CEO and investor (2013-2020) has served as proof to millions of people, as well as the world’s leading businesses and organizations, that one can do better by being better. The reinvention of Ashley Stewart, which was facing almost certain liquidation in 2013, is proof of how trust and joy, grounded in math and amplified through digital excellence, can overcome impossible odds and fuel individual and enterprise-wide innovation. It is a tangible example of the power of diverse ecosystems, as well as a commentary on a potential way forward for achieving multi-stakeholder goals. At its core, it is also the story of an unlikely friendship between a son of Korean immigrants (who raised his hand to become the self-described “least qualified CEO”) and a predominantly Black female employee group who placed their mutual trust in each other, learned from one another, and then proceeded to quietly shock the world.
As a client of United Talent Agency, he is a frequent speaker on impact and ESG investing, multidimensional transformation, DEI operationalization through Kindness & Math™, principled leadership and the future co-existence of capitalism, humanism and technology. As a senior leader of two Boston-based private equity firms, Rhee helped manage billions of dollars of growth and distressed capital before ultimately founding FirePine Group, a platform that has stewarded the capital of some of the world’s most sophisticated investors.
Rhee is at the vanguard of making knowledge, opportunity and capital accessible to all. He holds appointments at both MIT Sloan School of Management and Duke Law School as a senior lecturer, where he teaches future leaders about organizational systems and deconstructed investment principles relating to money, life and joy. On March 31, 2021, Howard University announced that James would serve a three-year term as the Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship, a Professor of Entrepreneurship and senior adviser to the newly endowed Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership, beginning with the 2021-22 academic year. Rhee is exploring the intersection of impact investing, ESG and financial literacy through a new venture called Red Helicopter.
Rhee connects seemingly disparate leaders and organizations that are unified in their goal to make investments and forge relationships that catalyze purposeful growth. He serves alongside global difference makers as an Advisory Council member of JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways, a member of the Governing Committee of the CEO Action for Racial Equity and a Board Director of Conscious Capitalism. He is also a former member of the board of the National Retail Federation, where he served as chairman of the Innovation Advisory Committee.
His inspirational story has been featured in media outlets such as the Good Business Issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Thrive Global, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Women’s Wear Daily, Morgan Stanley’s Access and Opportunity Podcast, ABC News, National Urban League’s State of Black America, and the Huffington Post.
Rhee is a regional winner of the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the winner of one of five 2016 Power Player Awards granted by the National Retail Federation, and the recipient of the 2017 Black Retail Action Group Business Achievement Award, the 2018 Temple Fox School of Business Information Technology Innovator Award, the 2018 Essex County Urban League Centennial William M. Ashby Award for community building and a 2019 One To World Fulbright Award.
Rhee received his A.B. with honors from Harvard College and his J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He lives outside Boston with his wife and three children. He is a former high school teacher. He is working on a book.