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Alumni Spotlight: John Henry ’98L Following his entrepreneurial passions, John Henry gets "comfort from his discomfort."

henry-scaled-800x533 Alumni Spotlight: John Henry '98LJohn Henry ’98L

John Henry ’98L defines himself as a possibilitarian.

Coined by Norman Vincent Peale of positive thinking fame, a “possibilitarian,” as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is someone who possesses “the ability not only to think outside the box but also to blow the box up in order to meet the goal.”

That aptly describes how Henry has maneuvered through a series of seemingly disparate careers over the past 25 years.

He’s been a real estate attorney and the in-house general counsel for a shopping mall developer. He’s developed a major mall on his own and has worked on affordable housing. He’s founded two companies to tackle issues of disparities in telecommunications and energy in low-wealth communities and is using profits from those companies to introduce students from those communities to the latest technologies.

“It takes courage,” said Henry of his career path. “You have to go all in with what you believe. I try not to make dumb bets. But if I think it’s a good bet, I’ll go all in on it. That’s the entrepreneurial life. You get comfort from your discomfort.”

Of course, it also helps if you’re competitive by nature, and Henry is that. The first in his family to attend college and law school, he was all-conference in football as a strong safety for Bucknell University where he majored in history and political science.

Football is what brought him to W&L Law. Before Bucknell, he played at Mercersburg Academy where his coach for two years was Frank Miriello, who left Mercersburg to coach at Washington and Lee. Miriello, the Generals’ head coach for 17 seasons, tried to recruit Henry to play for W&L.

“I wanted a Division I experience, so I chose Bucknell,” said Henry. “But when I was looking for law schools, I remembered Coach Miriello and Washington and Lee. I’d gone to Mercersburg, a small school in a small town, and to Bucknell, a small school in a small town. W&L and Lexington followed that blueprint.”

Henry said the intimacy of the W&L environment led to unique friendships and bonds that continue to this day.

“You can’t hide at W&L,” he said. “It requires you to put your best foot forward and grapple with some of the best and brightest minds. Once you get to a certain point in your career, you’re supposed to be the one with all the answers. But I miss those days of mixing it up in the classroom, the debates and discourse.”

In addition to the bonds with classmates, Henry has lasting memories of the faculty. Torts class with Brian Murchison and Contracts with Sam Calhoun stand out. So do his interactions with the late Roger Groot. “Professor Groot was the GOAT,” said Henry. “He had that steely sort of calm disposition and helped you believe in yourself even when you didn’t. He constantly challenged me be the best version of myself with his unique style.”

Henry entered law school planning to become a real estate developer. After a few years in practice specializing in real estate law with firms in Richmond and Washington, D.C., he disregarded the counsel of his family and friends and took a significant pay cut to join Pyramid Management Group, the largest developer of shopping centers in the Northeast.

“I wanted to get away from the law and get closer to the economics of deals. That was my missing piece,” Henry said.

He considered the Pyramid experience akin to getting an MBA, and his next step was to go out on his own. By the time he was 30 years old, he had a real estate deal of his own —a 400,000-square-foot mall in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He acquired the land, established relationships with the local government, handled zoning issues, negotiated tenant leases, and dealt with local community opposition.

“It was a huge capital undertaking. There are a lot of barriers to entry, and there’s a lot of luck involved in bringing a project of this size to fruition,” said Henry. “It’s where opportunity meets luck meets hard work.”

Henry subsequently spent several years working on affordable housing issues in Charleston, South Carolina, and Richmond, where he’d seen redlining happening with respect to Internet and broadband availability. The disparities disturbed him because access to reliable internet connections is central to acquiring the skills necessary to compete now.

In 2010, he founded Chariot Companies to create strategies in telecommunications for low-income communities in Philadelphia. Then, in 2015, Henry linked up with top telecommunications manufacturers and told them he wanted to become their exclusive minority resale partner in North America. They took a risk on the plan he proposed, and Grace3 Technologies was established as a nationally certified minority business that specializes in providing communications technologies to federal and state law enforcement agencies, first responders, and utility companies.

“We provide internet connectivity in austere and challenging environments,” he said. “For instance, at every kind of event where there’s a safety concern, law enforcement can utilize our technologies to provide real-time communications through video transmission equipment and with reliable connectivity.

“If you’d asked me 30 years ago if my day job would be working with police officers all the time, I would have said a resounding ‘No way!’”

Even as his company expanded and began to manufacture its own equipment, Henry didn’t forget why he’d started the company in the first place, which was to help find solutions to the issue of digital inequity. Consequently, Grace3 donates 20 percent of its net profit to STEM education programming, allowing Henry to expose students from low-wealth areas to “all these cool toys” that his company uses.

Drones are one of those cool toys. Working with the National Black Empowerment Council and the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania where he’s now a board member, Henry is developing a curriculum that can help students earn their FAA drone licenses.

“These kids who’ve grown up with controllers in their hands are adept at flying drones,” said Henry, who is in the process of getting his license along with his 18-year-old son. “This is also a way of hooking them on science. It’s exciting to see how we’ve been able to sustain a business and do some cool things that can get kids inspired to go into these fields.”

Among the initiatives that Henry’s companies sponsor is the Xtreme 5 Teen Tech Summit in which kids from all over the city of Philadelphia spend a day at the Science History Institute immersed in robots and drones and body cameras and SWAT vehicles. As Henry observed, the event has multiple benefits. Students who might not otherwise have an opportunity are surrounded not only by the latest technology but also by representatives from the law enforcement agencies that are clients of Grace3.

“Our goal is to create spaces to expose to the technology and hook them. At the same time, kids come away with respect for that police officer they flew drones with,” Henry said. “One of our tacit goals is to help those relationships between African American and minority youth and the law enforcement communities.”

What’s next for Henry? He isn’t sure, but he’ll keep looking for new opportunities.

“That’s how I challenge and push myself,” he said. “I have to squeeze every ounce of ‘oomph’ I have in me.”

After all, there are always possibilities for a possibiliterian.

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