A strong economy depends on great education
"Jobs are going to be lost faster than people think, unless we actually achieve a better level of education in this country.”
Even as playing basketball gave way to other passions, he continued to think about how he could make a difference in the lives of those with fewer opportunities. Today, he manages more than $2.1 trillion in assets for BlackRock Financial, the world’s largest money manager. You may have seen him on CNBC, Bloomberg or Fox Business News, sharing his wisdom about market forces. He turns observations into insights, while spotting opportunities for direct action that can make a difference not only to his investors, but also to the community as a whole.
This passion started while he was a student at Emory. While most of his classmates spent their weekends sleeping late and relaxing, Rieder took on the responsibility of becoming a Big Brother through the Big Brothers of Atlanta program. This decision would shape many of his goals and pet projects for the next 30 years. He would continue to support the Emory/Atlanta community with the goal of improving students’ chances of succeeding in the classroom. At stake is the national economy’s future.
“Our kids are not educated to where they need to be for the next 10 -20 years,” Rieder said. “Artificial intelligence will grow exponentially going forward. Our kids have to be trained and taught and operate in that environment. Jobs are going to be lost faster than people think, unless we actually achieve a better level of education in this country.”
“We have the opportunity to unlock and develop the talent of so many of our kids who otherwise may not have been given a fighting chance to succeed."
Rieder sees educational inequality everywhere and has taken direct action by partnering with Emory to develop and fund the Graduation Generation Program for the Atlanta Public Schools. This program is pushing to increase the academic success rates of students by getting more of them to and through high school, equipped with a diploma and the skills and knowledge necessary for college or career.
“We have the opportunity to unlock and develop the talent of so many of our kids who otherwise may not have been given a fighting chance to succeed,” Rieder said.
By linking Emory and his strongest Atlanta connections, Rieder created Graduation Generation, a partnership between Emory, community partners and Maynard Jackson High School and its feeder schools. This collaboration addresses what happens in school as a symptom of the community. Housing quality and affordability, safety and crime, availability of affordable and nutritious food, environmental toxins and healthcare access affect a child’s well-being and academic achievement.
Rieder insisted that it be an evidence-based program. “I’m a devout believer in data,” he said. “We look at where our kids are performing or not, what classes they are doing well in, what schools are working, and analyze data and where that's working or not.”
Some proof of success: GradGen has helped boost Jackson High School’s graduation rate from 77% in 2016 to 85% in 2018. This improvement is part of the 85% national high school graduation rate, the highest measurement in a decade.
GradGen works because Emory students and others support the intensive work of helping kids stay in school and graduate. This can mean tutoring, reading and creating extracurricular programs that reinforce class instruction. When the kids face hunger and other crises, GradGen helps connect their families with community services. Older students come to Woodruff Library to work on research papers, and for some, it is their first exposure to college.
Almost 1,000 Emory students, faculty, staff and alumni have participated in GradGen and made a difference to more than 5,000 public school children. When Emory President Claire Sterk promotes Emory’s deepening engagement with Atlanta, GradGen is part of the proof.
“Rick sees both the impact of historical and current racial injustices visited on people of color and the vital need for the best in educational opportunities to help overcome negative impacts.
“A numbers genius,” is how Neil Shorthouse of Atlanta describes Rieder. They met when Rieder was a Goizueta finance major and remain close. Shorthouse co-founded Communities in Schools (CIS) four decades ago in Atlanta. It is the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, and partners with Graduation Generation.
“Rick sees both the impact of historical and current racial injustices visited on people of color and the vital need for the best in educational opportunities to help overcome negative impacts,” Shorthouse said. “He clearly sees educational success is essential.”
His dedication to helping to educate those with fewer opportunities extends past Atlanta. Rieder is also chairman of the board for a group of charter schools in Newark called Northstar Academy. Under his leadership, they have expanded from one school to 14, educate 12% of the school children in Newark and have a 100% graduation to college rate (versus a single digit graduation rate for their peer schools). Rieder spends most of his very limited free time insuring that as many kids as possible get the opportunity to improve their lives through a good education.
Unlike many economic factors that can be quantified, Rieder sees education’s intrinsic value beyond market price. If everyone believed this, the resulting educational system would respond to society’s needs and the marketplace.
In addition to GradGen, Rieder invested in promoting Goizueta students’ financial savvy. He founded, and still supports, the BBA Investment Fund. That money is managed by students in the Goizueta Investment Management Group (GIMG), and they give back in kind through GradGen, teaching financial literacy to older schoolchildren. Rieder received the Goizueta Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.
The value that Rieder places on education is also reflected in his own. After his Emory graduation, Rieder got his MBA degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His undergraduate and graduate education, as well as challenging experiences in his personal life, informed his future thinking. As the personal computer became part of daily life in the 1980s, Rieder watched his father’s office products store in suburban New York City go out of business. “A great business can be made obsolete instantaneously by new technology,” Rieder told Forbes.
Having witnessed firsthand the impact of technology on existing businesses, Rieder keeps a close watch. He believes strongly that the students in GradGen (and their peers everywhere) will be competing for jobs that remain after technology develops a cheaper, more efficient solution.
For example, truck driving is the most common job in the United States. Professional drivers will lose jobs as self-driving vehicles take over. With access to educational opportunities, and the ability to acquire a different skill set, they will have a better chance of finding another job.
“If we don't have in this country the best education system, it’s very, very difficult to compete worldwide,” Rieder said. “I’m a devout believer that if we don't improve the educational system in this country and particularly in urban centers, it’s a big problem.”
“I believe there’s a need for creative and thoughtful fiscal policies that seek to relieve at least some of the student loan debt burden."
With critical thinking honed by his liberal arts classes, finance classes and life experiences, Rieder became an obsessive collector of economic data. Within those puzzle pieces, he discovers patterns that inform his financial strategies and advice. He is known for insights that challenge conventional wisdom.
Goizueta gave him the opportunity for group work with international students who helped teach him to think from different perspectives and points of view to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex problems.
For instance, Rieder advocates major policy changes such as helping students manage their embedded student loan debt more efficiently through a partnership with the public sector. As he sees it, the debt load on current students is so great that after graduation, they postpone major purchases like homes. This weakens the housing market, construction and the overall economy. If student loans were repurposed and transitioned into mortgage debt, the government would lose the student debt repayments, but that loss would be more than offset by the surge in spending and related jobs in the housing sector, as well as alleviate the low available housing inventory on the market today. Alongside of it, with a less daunting debt burden, more students would attend college and use education to advance in a career.
“I believe there’s a need for creative and thoughtful fiscal policies that seek to relieve at least some of the student loan debt burden,” Rieder wrote on the BlackRock blog. The most effective policies will increase “the number of first-time home buyers, creating jobs for those in need and building a better savings future for young people, all while drawing on minimal taxpayer dollars.”
Innovation in education is Rieder’s growing legacy. He sees Graduation Generation scaling, possibly nationally.
“Rick sees the advantages to creative structural alignments, and specifically between major universities and strong not-for-profits,” Shorthouse said. “Graduation Generation links Emory University and Communities In Schools to improve instructional and noninstructional supports to children from very low-income situations in the Atlanta Public Schools. It’s a blueprint for institutions in our major cities throughout the nation.”
Today as BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income, Rieder is more than loyal to Goizueta; it’s part of his lifeline. His wife is Debra Lieb Rieder 85B and his daughters are Melanie Rieder 15B and Danielle Rieder 18B. A Goizueta family.