By Sharon Longo
BRIDGEWATER – When Louis Ricciardi landed a paper route at the age of nine, he never dreamed that one day the College of Business at Bridgewater State University would bear his name.
Ricciardi, President and CEO of Bristol Wealth Group/Raymond James Financial in Taunton, is the son of working-class parents, his paternal grandparents settling here from Italy. He mentions how his father worked hard, fought in the war and gave him his work ethic. “My dad worked three jobs and managed to somehow do what he had to do before he passed,” he recalled. “It’s been 37 years since he passed, but he continues to be an inspiration. He died with two years’ worth of vacation.”
“Some of my dad’s examples were very simple, but I remember them to this day,” said Ricciardi. “He always said if you had something to say, you needed to be able to also roll up your sleeves and work to make it better. If you weren’t going to roll up your sleeves, keep your mouth shut.” He added with a grin, “So I open my mouth, and I roll up my sleeves.”
How it all started
He began saving and investing everything he earned as soon as he was legally able to do so at age 18. When he got accepted to Boston College and Bridgewater State University, it was an easy choice. “I insisted on paying my own way. Boston College was $6200 a year, and Bridgewater State was $250 per year.” Between the cost, the opportunities afforded him at Bridgewater, and the fact that he could commute, he continued his lifetime love of learning.
“I liked the very cosmopolitan, diverse background that Bridgewater provided,” he said. “I wanted to learn more formally about economic principles. I wanted to hone my writing skills.” Starting out with a humanities background, majoring in English and economics, he was able to combine the two by writing a column for the college newspaper on the stock market. That led to writing a column a week for 21 years at The Enterprise, the city of Brockton’s daily newspaper. “Whether it’s poetry, journalism or lyrics―that’s always fascinated me,” Ricciardi observed.
Music soothes the soul
Ricciardi not only dabbles in writing lyrics, but as someone who has enjoyed music his entire life, he plays the piano and guitar, as well. “I played at some restaurants, once upon a time, when I had the time, and it’s a great stress reliever and a great way to meet people,” he said. “To this day, that’s my release from the craziness of the stock market.” Whether he was playing for friends or jumping in with the band at an event he attended during his stint as the chairman of the board of trustees at Bridgewater State University (BSU), people would be surprised to see him in that capacity.
“I was blessed to be able to play varsity baseball and run cross country at a competitive level but playing music, at this point in my life, is the one thing I’m so glad I stayed with all these years.”
Ricciardi has a vibrant personality, speaking with zeal about the many undertakings in his life, but when he is asked about his years at BSU, his passion comes through even more. “I felt so prepared for life, having the confidence to start my own business in the 1981 recession,” he explained. “There weren’t a lot of young people doing that, at that age, at that time.” He wants to be sure that students going forward also have those same opportunities or have opportunities that he didn’t have. He has been formally involved with the college for 30-plus years, his first time as chairman of the board of trustees, from 1990 to 1994. “The first thing we did in ’90 and ‘91 was add an economics major and a music major,” he noted. “Over the years, I have funded a student investment fund at Bridgewater State, as well as at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.”
He also helped raise money for the new baseball and softball fields back in the 1990s. “The field that we played on was… pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he remembered. “Home plate faced into the sun; there was a dip in the outfield. We got people on board, and we raised funds. I’ve been blessed to have invested well, from the start, and that I could put up matching funds on a regular basis to get some of these projects done.”
“Bridgewater State had a profound effect on me,” he affirmed. “My advisor from 1977 is still a dear friend of mine. He just turned 80.”
“It really is that sense of whatever you’re doing in life, at the end of the day, you’re really just passing it to the next group,” he mused. “Whether it’s succession planning in my own business today, where I’ve been actively training some folks in their twenties and thirties for down the line, or at the university to better prepare our students.”
His goal has been to take the mystery out of the financial markets and make complicated terminology that goes with finance into something that is more understandable. “I like helping people understand; it’s not magic, it’s math,” he emphasized. “The way money compounds; the relationship of money to itself. In my 42 years in business, I still love meeting with children and grandchildren of my customers and students, whether it’s at Bridgewater State or at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro South, where I’ve been on the board for 23 years. I try to remove the mystery of Wall Street, that faraway place.”
Advice to older people
After admitting that he recently turned 63, he stated, “People always say I don’t look or act like someone in their 60s, whatever that’s supposed to look like. A big part of that is staying engaged with your communities; especially with the young people of those communities, and while they don’t admit it right up front, they’re looking for that guidance,” he explained. “They want encouragement; they want guidance, and I think staying engaged keeps you young and curious.”
Ricciardi also mentions not taking yourself too seriously, doing whatever you consider to be fun, and being willing to learn new things. “Whether it’s dancing more, learning an instrument―we talk about life-long learning, to circle back to the college world. Whether it’s traveling or taking a course, going to a talk that you might not have otherwise gone to,” he said.
The impact he will make
When asked about the legacy he will leave or the impact he will make, he responded thoughtfully. “Anybody from anywhere can achieve anything. You can be born in a region, you can go to school in a region, you can come back and start a business,” he noted. “You don’t have to run away. It’s fun to travel, but the answer…it’s right there in your backyard, if you want to truly make it that way. One person can have an impact; you can make a difference if you’re relentless in what you believe,” said Ricciardi. “It’s not so much trying to make everybody else believe what you believe. We’ve got too much of that. Let them see by your example and your engagement. I hope that when you’re given an opportunity to lead, which I’ve been afforded many times in my life, that you use it to actively get things done.”
He then refers to having the College of Business named for himself. “Perfect example. That was completely flattering…I was only 52 years old.” He goes on to explain how that honor led to the next question. “I said, ‘If you’re going to do this, what can we do with it?’ He mentioned some of the problems he’s attacked. “Whether it’s setting up the student-managed investment funds or starting an endowment. The current president of the university and I co-founded the initial endowment campaign back in ’99,” Ricciardi explained. “So that’s been the impact I ultimately have had here. I hope above all else, that when people start listing the things they think I’ve done that are worth listing, it’s that,” he said. “Anybody can do this if you’re passionate enough about what you’re doing and truly engaged and truly listening.”
“I think the legacy, I suppose, is you can grow up in this region and make a difference,” he concluded. “You can raise your family in this region and give back, and hopefully still be relevant.”