LIVE: Rhode Island’s Emerging Leaders: Richard Norris

Saturday, August 19, 2017


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Norris Smith

United Way of Rhode Island and GoLocalProv have teamed up identifying some of the emerging leaders in Rhode Island.

Richard Norris is a Providence Public School guidance counselor at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School and the vice president of 300 Men, a local men’s group whose aim is to provide mentorship for young boys of color within the city. 

Norris has been an advocate for youth development and works tirelessly to provide opportunities for the advancement of young people.

 A native of Liberia, Norris came to the United States in 1999 to escape a civil war. Prior to coming to the United States, he lived in a refugee camp in Ghana for about three years. 

Who has been your most important mentor and why?

My most important mentors have been my parents because they have modeled hard-work, honesty, and relentless pursuit of their goals.

As an emerging leader, what have you learned from success and failure?

Success is a broad term, but however you define it, it takes true dedication to achieving it. Failure is humbling and can provide clarity in moving forward. You can’t really succeed or do better without having to fall flat on your face sometimes.

How are you helping to make Rhode Island better?

I work with a men’s group called 300 Men, that Wole Akinbi, a former GoLocal LIVE guest, also works with.

Our goal is to intervene in the lives of young men and their families to provide opportunities for them to prosper. For example, we have three boys’ leadership groups in Providence public school at West Broadway Middle School, Gilbert Stuart Middle School, and Dr. Jorge Alvarez Middle School.

We work with our young men on soft skills, provide college visits, after-school programming with a focus on financial literacy, Saturday School for extra academic support, leadership building programs, as well providing opportunities for employment.

Personally, I have been able to hire some of our guys to help with various odd jobs that I may get involved with. So far this summer, I have been able to pay our young men up to $1,000 for their work.

What is one thing you feel everyone can do to help move our state forward?

Contribute to the education of our youth. For instance, provide internships, day shadowing, go to schools to speak to students, become a one-on-one mentor for a student, or financially contribute to programs that empower youth in a way that actually prepares them to be able to compete in the local and global economy.

What inspires you in your day-to-day life and work?

I am inspired to do better because I feel it is part of my obligation to leave my community better than it was left to me.

I came from a war torn nation in Liberia and was granted an opportunity here to change my life, and I plan on being someone who has the ability to open doors for others, especially young men of color, so they may do better with their lives.


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Big Bankers

Kevin Tracy and Oliver Bennett— There are deals and there are BIG DEALS. In Rhode Island, with all of the changing players and banking relationships, one reality is pretty much the same. If you have a big deal that needs sophisticated financing, the community banks may not be able to handle it.

Bank of America may have abandoned the Superman Building, but they are still in Rhode Island and still doing big deals. Kevin Tracy, the former Brown golfer and Oliver Bennett — long ago Fleet Bank trainees — are now the guys you bring in for a $50 million deal.  The more things change - the more they stay the same.

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John Hazen White, Jr. — White has taken Taco to new levels as he has made a series of strategic acquisitions to bolster the Rhode Island manufacturing company into a global firm.

He continues to be a leader in American manufacturing investing in worker retention and employee training.

Behind the scenes, White is a combination of an adviser and moral compass to many in Rhode Island. Despite taking a lower profile than his Lookout RI days, White is still a force pushing for ethics reform. 

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Joe Paolino — Once the young Mayor who took over in the 1980s when Buddy Cianci was forced to resign (the first time), now the leading corporate voice in Providence if not Rhode Island.

While others complain at lunches at the Hope Club and University Club about the plight of the Capital City, Paolino has rolled up his sleeves and taken on issues like panhandling and homelessness.

With a real estate empire that includes much of downtown, some of the top properties in Newport and Hasbro’s campus in Pawtucket to name a few, Paolino has close ties to Governor Gina Raimondo and even closer ties to the Clintons - could a federal appointment be in the works in 2017?

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Steve Kirby — No one dominates commercial real estate in Rhode Island like Kirby does on Aquidneck Island. His red “Kirby Commercial” signs are literally everywhere across the island and in Newport proper -- they are more frequent than street signs.

Want to open a clothing store in Newport? Go see Steve Kirby. Looking to launch a startup tech firm? Call Kirby. Developed cool technology and want to start producing for the Navy? Email Kirby.

Kirby maybe the most influential in business on Aquidniick Island. (PS He will tell you which bankers to talk to).

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Labor Boss

George Nee — President of the AFL-CIO, Nee is one of the most influential players in business in Rhode Island. 

He is Vice Chair of the Convention Center Authority Board, on the Commerce Corp board, the most influential voice for labor at the State House, and involved one way or another in just about every negotiation on constructing public buildings or issuing a tax stabilization agreement in Providence.

For the most part his public persona has been more muted recently, but that has not impacted his private influence. If it happens in Rhode Island, Nee has probably touched it.

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Sally Lapides — If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today and saw the number of Residential Properties’ real estate signs on the East Side he would call it a monopoly and want to break up the company. Lapides not only dominates one of the most affluent sections of Rhode Island, but she also delves into the arts, education and politics.

When you sell the wealthiest and most influential their homes, you make a lot of friends.

Lapides is a force in residential real estate and it will be interesting to see what she does next.

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Helena Foulkes — Two of the biggest decisions CVS ever made were the brain children of Foulkes. The Extracare card and the removal of tobacco from its stores were both influenced by Foulkes.

She has emerged as a national power in business and makes all the business lists for top women, but make no mistake - she is wildly influential in Rhode Island. 

She is close to Raimondo and she may decide to jump into political waters in the future - or may decide if she can snag the CEO spot at CVS.

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Visionary or Free Rider

Buff Chace — One of downtown Providence's biggest real estate magnates is a lightning rod in the Capital City. Widely considered to be one of the prime catalysts of Downcity's resurgence, Chace's accumulation of properties on Westminster Street is straight out of a Monopoly playbook. 

His recent acquisition of the ProJo building has further solidified his dominance, which has not been without intense scrutiny, given his ability to continually secure -- and extend -- tax stabilization agreements at a time when the city's dire financial straits are close to reaching a head. 

Wealthy, influential, and active in the community, Chace has chaired  the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy and has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Providence Foundation, and is a director emeritus for GrowSmart RI and a trustee emeritus of Trinity Repertory Theatre.

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Big Time

Richard Baccari — One of the biggest real estate developers in New England. For decades he has been a major player in Providence, Rhode Island and the northeast.

During that span, he has been the driving and innovative force behind some of the region's most significant residential and commercial development endeavors. 

See a Stop and Shop development and Baccari probably built it. Has fought back business challenges and much more.


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