A true story of triumph by award-winning business leader, impact investor, and educator James Rhee that will inspire and empower us to transform our lives and our businesses with the simple and yet powerful combination of kindness and math.
RED HELICOPTER —A PARABLE FOR OUR TIMES
lead change with kindness (plus a little math)
by James Rhee
HarperOne, April 2024
In kindergarten, James Rhee received a toy red helicopter in gratitude for a simple act of kindness—the innocent generosity of sharing his lunch. Nearly four decades later, the true meaning and lesson from this memory helped him overcome indescribable hurdles as both a first time CEO and son to a dying father. Combining the radical common sense of a child with the knowledge of an experienced private equity investor and law school graduate, James led one of the most dramatic reinventions in business history. Partnering with Black women across America, James led Ashley Stewart, a twice-bankrupt retailer with no WiFi, from the jaws of liquidation to a transcendent success that inspired a world seeking a different way. And, in the process, he was able to reconcile his own complicated past and see his mom for who she truly was.
Combining the clarity and imagination we had as children with some basic business metrics, Rhee composed a system he calls “Kindness and Math.” It’s a simple solution to the dissatisfaction and worry so many of us feel, an intuitive response to the gnawing uncertainty we face daily as we meander through our lives and struggle to understand why we might feel so out of control in our professional and personal lives. red helicopter—a parable for our times exposes the root cause for these feelings and encourages us to embrace a few key principles to reorient our lives, organizations, and the world to reflect the best in us. In this remarkable book, Rhee provides the tools we can use to:
• Embrace agency by identifying the obstacles quietly holding us back
• Construct a balance sheet of our true assets and liabilities
• Create and measure “goodwill,” the ultimate collective good
• Lead systems transformation with a framework comprised of small, scalable acts
• Drive financial profitability with little to no investment of money
• Unlock the value of difference and the unpredictable
• and more
Rhee’s fresh thinking emerged from an emotional journey in which both the professional and personal intersected and became one. The financial uncertainty, family tragedy, and soul-searching he endured, after the whole world left him and Ashley Stewart for dead, led him to create a simple and scalable solution to the struggles that ail us all. This quiet and powerful ode to humanity is sorely needed in today’s troubled world.
James Rhee is an acclaimed impact investor, founder, CEO, goodwill strategist, thought leader, and educator, who empowers people, brands, and organizations by marrying capital with purpose. He bridges the emotional with the mathematical, and gives permission for us to be human. A long-time private equity investor, James also serves as a founding member of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways, a charter member of Ashoka’s Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network, and former Chair of the Innovation Committee of the National Retail Federation. In addition to his private sector endeavors, Rhee teaches at Howard University (where he serves as the Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship), MIT Sloan School of Management, and Duke School of Law. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.