James Rhee

Ashley Stewart Executive Chairman & CEO

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What’s the Smartest Way to Cut Costs?

I monetized the balance sheet by selling scrap metal to help fund payroll. That was kind of where things were. So, I just said to everyone, we're not firing anybody. This is why I love…

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What’s the Hardest Part About Being a CEO?

You have to remind yourself this isn't your company. The term servant CEO gets overused, but I don't think it's as appreciated as it should be. You are a fiduciary to people and there are…

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What Is Your Must-Ask Job Interview Question?

I say tell me about your life. And that's it, and I just listen. And it's very interesting to see where people start and where they take you. Do they take you to where they…

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What Is the Most Important Soft Skill for a Manager?

What I look for in great managers is humility. My view is that if you have humility, and you have the ability to be self-effacing, and laugh at yourself, and make people at ease, I…

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How Do You Celebrate Success?

You always feel like you should do better, and you self-flagellate, and that's okay if you are managing a team of one, meaning yourself. But we celebrate success, again, just like the performance reviews every…

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How Do You Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes?

I think our customer she's an underdog. And I think that's one of the reasons why I gravitated toward this brand. I just wanted her to have a chance and when I looked at the…

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How Open Should You Be at Work About Your Personal Life?

Society's becoming a blur. It's being accelerated with the use of technology and constant connectivity. There is no work and personal life divide anymore. But I think one of the things that has resonated with…

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How Hands-On Are You With New Projects?

I just analogize it to a football field, so that maybe you should talk to me, we're backed up at the one yard line, our own one yard line. Maybe we should script out the…

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How Do You Give Critical Feedback?

Every second, every hour, there are no annual performance reviews formalized like this. The feedback is quick, blunt, and to the point. What you're doing, it's not good. I'm holding a mirror up, do you…

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How Do You Strike a Balance Between Speed and Accuracy in Your Company?

The pace of the inventory is extremely fast, right? And the operations are very fast. Paradoxically, the culture and I think what I think my general demeanor is it's very flat-lined. So the culture, if…

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How Much of Your Career Has Been Planned and How Much Has It Been Left up to Chance?

My career path has been completely left up to chance. So I graduated from college, taught high school, went to law school, thought I'd do a JD-MBA. Never practiced law. Went into banking. Spent most…

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What’s an Effective Perk to Attract Top Talent?

In the beginning it was very difficult to recruit. No one really wanted to join a twice bankrupt business with a really bad reputation, didn't make money. There's momentum. I think particularly in this day…

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What Keeps You up at Night?

I think in a lot of ways my brain is barbell. It's one part math, the other part music. It's one part high school teacher, one part I'm paid by people to manage their money,…

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What Rituals Do You Perform Before a Stressful Task?

I listen to a lot of music. I find music to be both calming and motivational, but it's really transcendent. And I listen to opera, I listen to Bruce Springsteen. This morning, I listened to…

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Describe the Internet to Someone Who Just Woke up From a 30-Year Coma.

The internet is newspapers gone wild with the ability to write your own newspapers. That's how I would describe it to somebody, and to be able to distribute it seamlessly. That's 300 years instead of…

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How Much Money Does Your Local Movie Theatre Make?

My local movie theater, West Newton Cinema, I'm pretty sure loses money. And that's why we go, and that's why I buy extra popcorn, and if we have the choice between supporting the fancy, dinner-serving…

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"Visiting professor at Duke Law School"

James Rhee is an entrepreneur, investor and operator. As both CEO and investment firm founder, James has generated market-leading returns by creating bespoke capital and operational solutions through the contemporaneous application of algorithmic, technologic and cultural change. He has a uniquely diverse network and knowledge base spanning the private equity, retail/consumer, venture and media/technology communities. At Ashley Stewart, as Chairman and CEO, James has authored and executed upon an innovative complement of CRM, digital and organizational changes that have transformed a twice bankrupt, unprofitable brick-and-mortar retailer with decades of operating losses into an industry leader founded upon a values-based, social commerce paradigm. FirePine Group, the investment firm he founded in 2009, has successfully fueled transformative change in multiple enterprises, including Ashley Stewart.

Prior to this, James was a senior investment professional at two leading, Boston-based investment firms, one specializing in growth and the other focused on distress. James has played a leadership role in multiple platforms, including the carve-out of the Meow Mix brand from Ralston Purina, the purchase and then turnaround of Murray's Discount Auto Stores from a bank group, the growth catalyst investment in Mattress Firm and the turnaround of Ultra Diamonds.

James is a visiting professor at Duke Law School and lectures frequently at leading educational institutions and professional organizations across the country. He is a regional winner of the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the recipient of one of five 2016 Power Player Awards granted by the National Retail Federation.

James received his AB with honors from Harvard College and his JD with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He lives outside Boston with his wife and three daughters. He is a former high school teacher.