Executive and civic leader Richard Lipsey — a speaker at TEDxLSU 2018 — has built a remarkable career in business and philanthropy over the course of six decades.
The Baton Rouge resident is the owner of Lipsey’s, one of the nation’s largest firearm distributors, as well as Haspel, a line of men’s tailored clothing and originator of the iconic southern searsucker suit. He has served in leadership positions on numerous public bodies, and his philanthropic work has earned him multiple accolades, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Humanitarian Award for leadership after Hurricane Katrina and the Baton Rouge Golden Deeds Award.
During a “fireside chat” at this year’s TEDxLSU event, political scientist Stacia Haynie, a scholar of judicial politics who also serves as the dean of LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, will engage Lipsey in a lively talk about his life and work, including his experience witnessing the autopsy of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 as a young aide to a top U.S. Army general.
We recently chatted with Lipsey and Haynie about their lives and work. Read some highlights of the conversation below.
Did your JFK experience shake or reinforce your faith in American institutions?
Lipsey: Seeing how the government responded and continued to run, it gave me faith. It was very disappointing that we lost probably the smartest president in the last century. But witnessing the way the government remained organized, and knowing the things that we can truly accomplish moving forward, gives me every faith in the world in our federalist form of government. We have a great democracy.
How did your time in the military impact your business career?
Lipsey: My time in the military was incredible. I started in ROTC at LSU, and that’s the biggest leadership academy in the world. It’s the biggest character builder there is, and I’m so happy I was able to experience that through ROTC and the Army. That’s why I still work with cadets at the Ole War Skule and ROTC at LSU. I don’t regret one minute of my time in the service.
Haynie: The Army and Air Force ROTC are under the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and every one of those students, to Richard’s point, are there to become leaders. You hope to see great leaders in the military, obviously, but those traits they’re building are universally applicable.
How has Baton Rouge changed over the course of your business career?
Lipsey: When I grew up, there was a real downtown Baton Rouge. You had three movie theaters downtown. You’d go to the Piccadilly, which was right across the street from the Paramount Theater, and for under a dollar a person you could have dinner. For 50 cents you could go to a movie. But then with the move to the suburbs, Baton Rouge became a place of strip centers for years. But now it’s just wonderful to see people moving back downtown, to see all the condos and apartments being built, to see all the restaurants, bars and hotels that have shot up downtown. It’s come full circle and I really enjoy seeing that.
What do you enjoy most about studying legal systems?
Haynie: I am fortunate to be studying not just the U.S. judicial system, but to study legal systems much more broadly. The ability to travel to South Africa or to India or to the Philippines, and to appreciate the politics of those legal systems, and then share that knowledge with our amazing students is so rewarding.
Where do you go in Baton Rouge to relax and unplug from the daily grind?
Haynie: I love Digiulio Brothers Italian restaurant and I am in a committed relationship with their red velvet cake. There’s also something happening on the LSU campus every single night. I’m personally a baseball fanatic, so I can’t wait for baseball to start.
Lipsey: Our favorite thing is to go to an LSU baseball game. We’re fanatical LSU sports fans. (My wife) Susan and I go to over 100 LSU sporting events a year.
Have you ever been harassed by Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists?
Lipsey: I would say more challenged than harassed. I get emails and letters telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I went to one minor conspiracy theorist group gathering — that I was led to believe was not — and it was very uncomfortable because they just don’t want to hear the truth. A half of dozen times a month I get letters with cards or a photo asking me to sign it and send it back. I haven’t done it since about October. My assistant just keeps them for me and I’ve got a whole stack. I get as many from foreign countries as I do from the United States. And emails challenging what I know to be facts.
What advice would you give to a young person interested in starting a business?
Lipsey: Focus. I made a lot of mistakes in my life and they were usually because a lack of focus and deciding what I really wanted to do. If you want to go into business you have to find what you do the best, you have to find a niche that everybody needs and you have to stick to it. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on what you want to do, find your niche and be the best at it.
To learn more about TEDxLSU 2018, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to listen to the fireside chat, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2018 speakers.