From Cadet to Entrepreneur

 

An Unquenchable Fire
Jim Carreras ’58 Still Burning with Benedictine Drive

Just as the business he grew has stayed in the family, so has his love for Benedictine been passed down through generations of the Carreras family.

Jim Carreras graduated from our school in 1958 and spent some time on Wall Street before leveraging that business savvy into his own empire, based in Richmond.  Along the way, he’s led a full and fascinating life, one which now includes keeping an eye on a pair of grandsons who don the Cadet green these days.  “Benedictine was the start,” said Carreras.  “It was the first of a series of motivations for me.”

A member of the first graduating class of Saint Bridget, Carreras was a member of the first integrated class of Benedictine, though fairness wasn’t a foreign concept to the young man.  Carreras tells of a time when a bus driver had informed him that he didn’t have to give up his seat for an African-American woman after he’d done so.  “I told him, ‘I did it because I wanted to’.”

Carreras also wanted to find success in this world.  Under the tutelage of such Benedictine legends as Father Donald, Father Christopher, Father Leo and a youngish Father Adrian, he thrived.  “Benedictine set a fire under me,” he shared.  “It gave me direction and showed me I can compete.”

It also showed him the path to college.  With Father Adrian’s encouragement, Carreras headed off to Latrobe, Pennsylvania and Saint Vincent College, the home of the Benedictine’s arch-abbey with 240 monks in residence at that time.  (It remains the largest Catholic monastery in the world.)  Carreras really hit his stride in college as shown by the fact that, upon graduation from Saint Vincent, he was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, one of the most prestigious in the world, to pursue his MBA.

From there, he continued his northerly journey as he hit New York City’s Wall Street, working at Loeb Rhoades & Co., an investment bank.  But the bustle of the world’s financial center and the lifestyle that comes with a place on East 88th Street couldn’t outmatch the allure of a farmgirl from Hanover County.  Carreras returned home in 1967 to begin a still-going, 51-year venture by marrying Margaret, a graduate of Saint Patrick’s High School.

But being away from a business epicenter did not keep Carreras from commercial success.  On the contrary, he was scooped up by Anderson & Strudwick and, later, the still-extant Scott & Stringfellow, both in downtown Richmond.  The investing game was in his blood, after all.  Even during his high school days, he was playing the market.  “Every time I earned a couple of hundred dollars, I’d buy stock,” he recalled.

On top of that, nearly all his college and post-grad education had been in the areas of finance and economics.  With the experience he’d gained on Wall Street and in Richmond, Carreras had punched all the right buttons.  So, he did what just about anyone with such a pedigree would do, right?  Wrong.  In a bold move, Carreras turned his back on the investing world to buy his own company, one that dealt with the logistics, finances, contracts, care and maintenance of washing machines.  He bought the company that, today, bears the name of Automatic Leasing Service, Inc. in 1973.

He couldn’t have made the purchase from a better source:  his father, J. Phillip Carreras.  Himself a Benedictine man (Class of ’34), the senior Carreras was a savvy captain of commerce, with a hand in many businesses, including family laundry, a window washing service, a rag business, a linen service and a real estate arm.  “He was a worker and a doer,” recalled Jim.  “He taught me to work hard from the age of 10.”  He laughingly remembered working at his father’s laundry—wrapping packages and keeping records—for the princely wage of one dollar, plus lunch, for a 10-hour shift.

With the purchase, Jim Carreras also purchased all the long hours, sleepless nights, headaches, heartaches and sweat that comes with ownership.  But, he also purchased the opportunity to grow a thriving business—and seized that opportunity with gusto.  Carreras oversaw the expansion of the company from a focus on Richmond to a footprint that covered seven states.

In retrospect, the move was prescient.  The investment banking market would soon hit rock bottom, with many brokerages going out of business.  Meanwhile, major growth in the construction of large apartment and rental communities (particularly those with nicer amenities) proved to be a boon for the leasing business.

Soon after graduating Benedictine, son Scott showed an interest in the business.  More importantly, he showed an acumen for it.  “Scott started bringing us big accounts,” said Carreras.  “I’m so proud of him.”

The feeling seems to be mutual.  “My father was a great mentor in my life, especially when it came to business,” Scott shared. “He was fair but very tough and wanted you to learn the hard way, in order to make you a better man.  The opportunity to work with my father is priceless.  I realize, I am a better man from his teachings.”

Over time the business grew from having 4,000 machines in the field to today’s tally of 50,000.  Carreras realized he could leave his beloved business in even more beloved hands.  He began to ease Scott into the lead in 1994.  By the early 2000s, he’d fully eased out of the business.  But don’t confuse “eased out” with “eased up.”

Pat Keith is a dear friend of Carreras.  The two attended Benedictine together before both headed to St. Vincent.  If anyone has an insight into Carreras, it is his long-time compadre.  “He’s very loyal,” noted Keith, who is still a hard-charger himself.  “He’s very generous.  He’s very determined and he works very hard.”

Today, Carreras is still a restless soul.  He volunteers at Westover Hills Elementary School and at the Anna Julia Cooper School.  He is co-chairman of the Benedictine gym campaign’s alumni group and he keeps his hand in commerce as the president of P&J Properties, Inc., which leases (mostly retail) properties.  He stays in touch with Benedictine classmates. “I talk to some of them every week,” he noted.

But his closest connection to Benedictine is one of blood.  Scott, Class of ‘88, serves the school in a number of key areas (with his wife, Maria, serving on the Board).  More to the point, grandson John is a member of the Class of ‘21 and Philip is a rising senior (and sponsoring officer), giving the patriarch even more reasons to visit the school.  And he’s spending time with the other wing of his family, including daughter Beth and her husband, Rod (an IT manager at Capital One) and his grandkids, Marshall (Radford ’22) and Margaret (Virginia Tech ’20).  As busy as he is, it’s surprising that has any time to do all of that. 

But, as he has throughout his entire life, Jim Carreras finds a way.

Article Written by Mike Forster, Communications Director, BCP