Reginald Lewis was born to a working-class family in Baltimore in 1942. A successful athlete in high school, Lewis earned a total of nine varsity letters during those four years for baseball, football, and basketball. Lewis would go on to graduate from Virginia State College for his undergraduate degree, then move onto graduating from Harvard Law School three years later.
From 1973 to 1989, after several years building a law career, Lewis became a successful and prominent corporate lawyer in private practice on Wall Street, becoming a partner at the first black law firm there. By 1983, Lewis had entered Wall Street and New York finance circles’ elite group. Lewis became known as the “Jackie Robinson of dealmaking” for his brinksmanship in financial litigation and mediation. Building on this reputation, Lewis began his own company — the TLC Group — which quickly turned a profit of more than $50 million for Lewis.
In 1987, Lewis bought Beatrice International Foods from Beatrice Companies for $985 million, renaming it TLC Beatrice International, a snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate that was the largest African-American owned and managed business in the U.S. When TLC Beatrice reported revenue of $1.8 billion in 1987, it became the first black-owned company to have more than $1 billion in annual sales. At its peak in 1996, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. had sales of $2.2 billion and was number 512 on Fortune magazine’s list of 1,000 largest companies.
With his net worth approaching $400 million and his name high atop the Forbes Magazine list of wealthiest Americans, Lewis became the wealthiest black man in the history of the country. Realizing this wealth, Lewis became a philanthropist and founded the Reginald Lewis Foundation in 1987. The foundation quickly became one of his life’s most important priorities and donated millions of dollars to various non-profits including Howard University, and Harvard Law School.
Reginald Lewis succumbed unexpectedly to brain cancer in 1993 at the young age of 53.