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2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Robert L. Wright, Jr.

Chairman and CEO

FE Holdings, Inc.

“If you run a race on a track, you can’t cut across the infield to get to the finish line. Life is like that and so is success. You must run the entire race.”

Robert Wright was born during the Great Depression in 1937 in Columbus, Georgia. His father had only a sixth-grade education and worked as a brick mason. His mother, a nurse, was the first member of her family to advance beyond a high school education. Economic times were tough during Wright’s childhood, but his family also had to overcome the difficulties of living in the segregated South. Often, Wright’s father earned less than his white counterparts doing the same job, and his mother was relegated to menial healthcare jobs far below her nursing skills. Work was scarce, and Wright’s father often traveled north to find jobs, which meant he was usually gone. Every Friday, he would wire money to his wife, who would pick up the cash from the Western Union office in town, children in tow.

It was difficult in those days for a young African American boy to dream big dreams. Segregation was everywhere—doctors’ waiting rooms, water fountains, restrooms, and even the baseball stadium. It was a way of life that became dangerous for those who questioned it. Wright remembers the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses in his neighbor’s front yard. Wright’s parents encouraged their children to believe that through education they could create a better life for themselves. He worked hard in school and received good grades. In high school, an aunt suggested he go into optometry. In 1955, he entered Ohio State University; upon graduating five years later, he was a licensed optometrist.

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Wright applied to be an optometrist at Fort Benning, Georgia, but when he showed up for an interview, the job was suddenly no longer open. Feeling his only option was to practice in the North, Wright’s parents mortgaged their home for $2,000 so he could move to Ohio. One year later, he returned to Georgia to join the civil rights movement and make a difference in his hometown.

In 1970, Wright was elected into the Columbus City Council. In 1976, he established a consulting firm, Wright-McNeil & Associates, which was devoted to race relations, research, minority affairs, and policy. He developed a computerized polling system and designed computerized fundraising activities. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan put Wright in charge of minority small business at the Small Business Administration.

In 1983, Wright formed Bob Wright & Associates, which later became Dimensions International (DI)—a leading logistics company in the government and private sector. Wright was chairman emeritus in 2007 when DI was acquired by Honeywell for more than $230 million. Wright then bought Flight Explorer (FE)—a global aircraft tracking, information technology, and communications solutions provider to the aviation industry—from DI and became chairman. That company developed FE Professional, which became the world’s leading provider of weather and airport situational awareness programs. In 2008, Wright sold FE to Sabre Holdings, Inc. and became chairman of FE Holdings, Inc.

Wright has won many accolades, including the NAACP Achievement Award, the 2001 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the 2008 Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Community Leadership Award. Wright was inducted into the Small Business Association Hall of Fame in 2004 and was ranked among the 50 Most Influential Minorities in Business.

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