“Up Close” with Dr. Leroy Nunery | President, Evolution Advisors (Part 1)
Black History is American History. Acrisure proudly celebrates Black History Month, and throughout February will be publishing content from Dr. Leroy (Lee) Nunery II, President of Evolution Advisors. Evolution Advisors is a joint venture whose Founding Partners include Acrisure, Russell Wilson and Ciara, and Russell Westbrook. The group is focused on the financial services needs of minority-owned businesses and diverse communities. Lee is an important voice in the overall financial DEI conversation and brings over 40 years of experience across corporate banking and capital markets, higher education, professional sports, charter school management and public education.
In part one, below, Lee shares his personal background and how it has impacted him to this day.
The “accident” on October 9, 1969, changed my whole life.
Early that morning, there was an explosion at Publishers Printing in Long Island City, New York, when fumes from cleaning solvents ignited with an unextinguished pilot light on a boiler. The ensuing fire consumed the lives of 2 men on the overnight work crew, and severely injured 3 others, including my father, Leroy. About 40% of his body was third-degree burned. The survivors were sent to a burn unit at a Long Island hospital, and after learning about the “accident”, my mother and I rushed from our New Jersey home to see him, wrapped head to toe in gauze. That moment and the explosion – and his painful months-long recovery – became a defining factor for our family, and a motivating influence for me personally.
In 1950, my father migrated to Jersey City, New Jersey from a tiny central Virginian town, as did thousands of African Americans, exquisitely described in the New York Times bestselling book by Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns. Always mechanically inclined, he chose the electrical field because it was a way to achieving a “station in life”, one of his oft-stated exhortations to me and my brother. There was a $10,000 workers’ compensation settlement from the “accident”, which became the monetary equity for the launch of Leroy Nunery & Sons Electrical Contractors, Inc. New Jersey Electrical License #4566. Combined with his “sweat equity”, the family business reflected the type of work ethic, spirit, drive, and ambition that entrepreneurs should have. He became recognized as a Master Electrician because of his craftsmanship and technical acumen. He persevered, despite contracting type 2 diabetes, getting up at the crack of dawn, and working sometimes until late at night. He was – and still is – my hero and my model.
The “accident” also became a handicap, limiting his ability to grow the enterprise. For prolonged periods of time, my father battled physical and post-traumatic psychological pain. Even more devastating was outright racism and bias which impeded his capacity to expand his base of business. Without possessing a full understanding of accounting or business management, it was difficult for him to navigate downturns in the early 1980’s. The business grew to about $250,000 in revenues in the mid 1980’s, based predominantly on residential and some commercial business, but undercollateralized and overleveraged, constrained access to surety bond coverage and insurances limited the access to bigger jobs, better trained personnel, and greater financial flexibility. There were a series of second mortgages, borrowings from family members, and a lot of prayer. Truly a vicious cycle.
Eventually, Leroy Nunery & Sons filed Chapter 11 (Voluntary Bankruptcy) and in 1998, I handed a $53,000 check to the bankruptcy trustee to rescue our family name. Since then, my brother Ellis has picked up the mantle and continues our family’s 53-year-old electrical contracting legacy under the name LSP Electrical Services LLC. Those personal historical events marked us and shaped us, and although not everything was rosy, they influenced the way that I think and conduct business.
In part two, I’ll share more about my journey to Acrisure and Evolution Advisors, which is an ambitious mission to become the nation’s most significant MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) financial services enterprise.
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