Richelieu Dennis Jr. ’91, a Liberian native, came to Babson College with big hopes and aspirations. He wanted to start a citrus business selling oranges, grapefruits, and pineapples. He observed, “When I attended university, 4,500 kilometres from my birthplace, an odd thing happened. I discovered a home “. By the time he graduated, his intentions had altered in part as a result of the information he learned and contacts he made while studying at Babson. But the circumstances also cast a shadow on his future. A civil war in Liberia started when he was a Babson student. Dennis’ mother, who had lost her home and everything she owned, applied for refuge in the US soon after Commencement.
What inspired him for his commencement speech?
His own graduation took place in a quite different setting than this one. But drawing a parallel between the disorder and unpredictability of today and Dennis’s own instability and unpredictability from thirty years ago would not be too far-fetched. As soon as he received his diploma, Dennis began to define his place in the world. Instead of returning to Liberia to start a citrus farming enterprise, Dennis founded Sundial Brands in Harlem, New York, to solve the issue of imbalance in the cosmetics aisle by creating high-quality items for Black women. A revolutionary $100 million New Voices Fund was launched in 2017 to aid and fund female entrepreneurs of colour. The following year, Dennis acquired Essence, bringing back its sole Black ownership. As the events in Dennis’ home country motivated him to make a difference, today’s challenges—the pandemic, social inequality—are top motivators for a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurial leaders who are trained to solve complicated societal problems.