Mark Richards ’88 thought he was getting a deal. The owner of a plastics-improvement company had to get to a client in Cincinnati fast to fix an equipment problem in 2013. Problem was, his private plane was in the shop, so he called a local charter company at Charleston International Airport. As luck would have it, there was a flight headed to Cincinnati first thing in the morning. All he had to do was fork over $500.
“It was a real bargain,” he says. That’s what he thought, anyway.
Dressed in steel-toe shoes, blue jeans and a hard hat, Richards was sitting in the back of the single-engine Pilatus that morning when a tall, lanky gentleman boarded the six-seater with an assistant. He had no idea that the man was then-College of Charleston President George Benson.
“That’s interesting,” Richards said when he found out who his charterer was. “I’m an alumnus of the College.”
And with that, Benson’s eyes lit up.
“I call it the world’s most expensive airplane ride,” says Richards with a big laugh.
Since then, Richards has become a loyal donor to the College, particularly the School of Business, where he’s helped raised more than $750,000 to fund experiential education in entrepreneurship and the ImpactX program, where students create ideas for technology-focused companies to improve people’s lives and the planet. He’s also made a $50,000 pledge to the Center for Entrepreneurship and $10,000 gift to the School of Business Dean’s Excellence Fund.
Equally as important as the money he’s donated, though, is his time.
“Mark is an inspirational leader with a knack for connecting with and befriending everyone from top business leaders to students,” says David Wyman, director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and an associate professor in the School of Business. “He is especially valued by our students as a guest speaker, where he has covered a wide variety of topics from starting up your new venture to introducing technology trends that will shape our entrepreneurial future.”
Richards has also hired a number of students at Alphidia, a product development and manufacturing company, and one of the two Charleston companies he owns.
“Entrepreneurs are always paying it forward by creating something, using local suppliers and hiring local people,” says Richards, whose other business, PolyClean USA, is a plastics company that supports the world’s largest petrochemical companies by optically scanning and sifting out defective resin pellets used to make plastic products. “I want to help other entrepreneurs because we never know the impact we’re going to have on another human being. The tiniest thing we do can send them off in a whole new direction.”
And he should know: His current companies are just two of the dozen he has started since graduating from the College – with a philosophy degree, of all things.
“There’s no better place than at the College to put it in a young student’s mind to start his or her own business and grow well beyond what they would ever do as just an employee, both in terms of serving the community because entrepreneurs have to create value before they can ask for anything in return, and because they can hire more employees,” says Richards, who is encouraged by the fact that more than 40 percent of incoming freshmen in 2019 said they would like to start their own business. He wants to make sure that those students – and all CofC students, regardless of their major – are exposed to the opportunity of entrepreneurship, the impact of which is exponential. “My gifts given to the school have the highest amount of leverage for future generations and for the future of the school and for anybody else who follows in my footsteps and donates to the School of Business.”
Yep, that plane ride was a heck of a deal all right.