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James Rhee Photo / Credit Eardog Photos

James Rhee

Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship

  • Communication Studies
  • School of Communications


James Rhee is an acclaimed impact investor, founder, CEO, goodwill strategist, community connector, and educator. He empowers people, brands, and organizations by marrying capital and creativity through operationalized  purpose. He is an award-winning thought leader on topics such as multidimensional transformation, the intersection of capital, race, and gender, the future of capitalism, and values-based investing and leadership. His newest venture, red helicopter, is forging systemic alliances through the principles of kindness and math to shape a more sustainable form of capitalism. His work has been featured on by TED Conference, Brene Brown, and the leading global media outlets and platforms. He is a soon-to-be-published author. 

Through business, James has created impact across multiple industries and peoples. As an investor, chairman, and first-time CEO (from 2013-2020), James & the female leaders of Ashley Stewart led the reinvention of a company, which was facing almost certain liquidation in 2013, to a place of unprecedented success. The story of the remarkable transformation and re-imagination of Ashley Stewart, one of America’s largest clothing brands serving plus-sized Black women, offers a glimpse into the future of organizations and ecosystem behavior. The story is proof of how trust and joy, grounded in math and amplified by authentic voices and 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 the story of an unlikely friendship between the son of Korean immigrants, who had previously spent his career managing billions of dollars of private equity capital, 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.

Through red helicopter, James’ philosophies and methodologies are connecting entrepreneurs with civic leaders, students with CEOs, investors with professors. James serves as the Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship, Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Senior Adviser to the Center for Women, Gender, and Global Leadership, at Howard University. He is also Executive-in-Residence and Strategic Advisor at the MIT Leadership Center and Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also teaches a class at Duke Law School entitled, “The Way It All Works: Investing, Negotiating, and Operating in the Real World” a course that teaches the systems of money, life, and joy. Before all of this, James was a high school teacher and an editor of the Harvard Law Review

James serves as a founding member of the Advisory Council of JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways and a member of the Governing Committee of the CEO Action for Racial Equity. He is a newly elected charter member of Ashoka’s Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network, which brings together high-impact entrepreneurs from the business sector with the world’s most powerful social entrepreneurs at Ashoka. James formerly served on the Board of Directors of National Retail Federation, where he served as Chair of the Innovation Committee and earned their Power Player Award, given to the industry’s most influential CEOs. For his life work, the New York Urban League awarded him its Frederick Douglass Award.

He works with the most forward-thinking leaders and organizations on creating sustainable and systemic change during inflection points. He is an honors graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.