James Rhee, entrepreneur, impact investor and CEO, explains how and why he transformed Ashley Stewart from a neglected retailer into a thriving brand and powerful platform that supports a community of women.

I’ve always been a voracious learner.
James Rhee CEO of Ashely Stewart, founder of FirePine Group

James Rhee may be a surprising CEO for a company whose core clientele are plus-sized women of color, but Rhee sees his mother and a greater humanity in the Ashley Stewart brand. 

As a child of Korean immigrant parents, Rhee attributes much of his success to his drive to evolve, transform, and adapt. It is also how he developed his career from high school teacher to lawyer to institutional investor to successful corporate CEO. These experiences may seem unconnected, but for Rhee, this path has helped him see potential where others have not. 

When Ashley Stewart was twice near bankruptcy, Rhee saw an opportunity and a responsibility where others did not. Within a few years, the struggling plus-sized women’s retail company has earned a powerful voice in retail, and made inroads into technology and media . He attributes the accomplishment not just to strategy or marketing, but to something far more valuable: math and kindness. Listening carefully, with empathy, and ultimately advocacy, he says, is how you lead and lift others along. 

But that’s just the beginning. For Rhee, entrepreneurship isn’t about making money. “I am an entrepreneur in life,” says Rhee. In this episode of Access & Opportunity, Carla Harris speaks to Rhee about how he transforms businesses and people, the intersection between social good and commercial success, and how entrepreneurship is really a frame of mind.

 

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