2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"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 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 gain education beyond high school. The times during Wright's childhood were difficult financially due to the Depression, but the family also had to deal with the obstacles that came as a result of living in the segregated South. Often, Wright's father earned less than his white counterparts doing the same job. His mother was often relegated to menial health care jobs far below her nursing skills. Work was scarce and Wright's father often traveled north to find jobs, which meant he was gone a great deal of the time. But in the weeks that he was away, Wright's mother took her children into town to the Western Union office each Friday to pick up wired money from her husband.
It was difficult in those days for a young African-American boy to dream big dreams. Segregation was pervasive, including doctor's office waiting rooms, water fountains, restrooms, and even the baseball stadium. It was a way of life that became dangerous if questioned. 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. He attended Ohio State University in 1955, and worked in a five-year program that made him a licensed optometrist by the time he graduated.
He tried to get a job as an optometrist at Ft. 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 to help him open a practice in Ohio. One year later he returned to Georgia to get involved in the civil rights movement and try to make a difference in his hometown.
In 1970 he was elected to the Columbus, Georgia City Council. In 1976 he established a consulting firm, Wright-McNeil & Associates, which worked in race relations, research, minority affairs, and policy. He developed a computerized polling system and designed computerized fundraising activities. In 1981 Wright was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to a position in charge of Minority Small Business at the Small Business Administration.
In 1983, Wright formed another consulting firm, Bob Wright & Associates, which later became Dimensions International (DI). DI became a leading logistics company in the government and private sector with more than 100 offices in 10 countries. He was serving as DI's chairman emeritus in 2007 when Honeywell purchased the company for more than $230 million. He purchased Flight Explorer (FE) from DI and served as chairman. FE is a global aircraft tracking, information technology, and communications solutions provider to the aviation industry. Under his leadership, the company developed FE Professional®, the world's leading aircraft situation display, which improves weather and airport situational awareness.
In September of 2008, he sold FE to Sabre Holdings, Inc. Today Wright is chairman of FE Holdings, Inc., which has interests in motorsports, gaming, entertainment and lighting.
Wright is the recipient of many awards, including the NAACP Achievement Award, the 2001 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the 2008 Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Community Leadership Award, he was inducted into the Small Business Association Hall of Fame in 2004, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Minorities in Business.