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Taken from D Magazine,”Three CEOs Reinvent Themselves with Second Careers”, July-August 2010, By Jay D. Johnson
Making a difference
At first blush, 59-year-old Richard Wright’s career seems like a series of U-turns.
He went to college at Louisiana Tech and nursing school at Northwestern State with the intention of becoming a nurse anesthetist, but never took his state boards after graduation. He found a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep in Houston and became the top salesman in less than a year. But he quit the business four years later, courtesy of almost annual cuts in his commissions and territory.
He returned to his hometown of Shreveport, La., and spent a decade or so in the direct sales business building a profitable network of distributors, only to jump into a telecom IT start-up with two partners in the mid-’80s. While the business venture went well, the partnership gradually went south, and Wright sold his shares to his partners in 2004.
After 30-plus years of dynamic change, Wright was at a loss as to what would come next. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he admits. “I was only 54, and you can only play so much golf.”
For Wright, the light came on when he realized that his next move would not be about making money. Rather, he “wanted to do something to make a difference in people’s lives.” He had always enjoyed politics, and the local congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, was an old friend from their Louisiana Tech days. Learning that McCrery planned to retire in two to four years, Wright felt that fate was steering him in that direction.
He took a job as the congressman’s senior staffer in Louisiana, representing him at speaking engagements, ribbon cuttings, and fundraisers all across the 4th Congressional District. As Wright learned the ropes and made the rounds of rubber-chicken dinners, it became common knowledge in Shreveport that he would make a run for the seat once McCrery vacated it.
But fate had played a trick on Richard Wright. He would never make it to Washington, because another old friend who had lived a few blocks away steered him toward Dallas instead.
Charlie Ragus had founded AdvoCare in Dallas in 1993 and, not long before his untimely death in 2001, had recommended Wright serve on the privately held company’s three-person board of directors. Once a rising star in the direct-marketing industry, AdvoCare, which sells health and nutrition products directly to consumers through independent distributors, stumbled and went through a series of CEOs after its founder’s death. Desperate for new direction, the Ragus family trust, which owns the company, asked Wright to take over as president and CEO.
“No, I’m running for Congress,” he said.
“Pray about it,” they replied.
To his surprise, the more he thought about it, the less appealing that life as a freshman Republican in a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats began to look. Wright decided that he could make more of a difference in people’s lives, specifically in the lives of AdvoCare’s thousands of distributors, by turning that company around.
As a result Wright moved to Dallas and revived a company, rebuilding relationships with AdvoCare’s network of independent distributors and boosting revenues 12 percent, to just under $100 million for 2009, despite the struggling economy. In the process, Wright believes he learned a few lessons that might benefit other CEOs as well.
“Make sure that you’re doing something you enjoy,” he says. “Don’t ‘tread water’ just to get through the day. From my perspective, now is a great time for CEOs to ask themselves, ‘What mark am I going to leave?’ If you’re going to invest yourself, invest in something that will be around down the road.”
His final word of advice? “Make it about more than just making a living.”