"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
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
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
"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."