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Imperial 718 Fund
By Jean Cohoon / December 31, 2013 /   Loading Disqus...
Growing up on Providence’s East Side, Alan Harlam could see the houses of nearly all of his family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – from his own home. But the family shared more than a physical closeness. “My grandfather, whenever he had success in business, set aside a portion to give back to the community. Family members were always on boards and involved in philanthropic causes. It was part of the family culture,” he explains.

Alan’s grandfather, Ralph Shuster, was in the scrap metal business in the 1920s and 30s, buying up companies along the way. “I think my opportunistic, entrepreneurial sense comes from him,” says Alan who now is director of social entrepreneurship at Brown University’s Swearer Center.

Following Ralph’s death, some of his earnings were used by his children to establish a trust to provide investment capital for future generations of the family to pursue their passions in business.

Alan’s wife, Bari, notes that it was Alan’s uncle, Mat Shuster, who was the “leading thinker” of the family trust. “He was eager to teach, and the trust was very much about sharing his experience. He absolutely was generous and motivated in finding opportunities for different family members,” she notes.

One of those opportunities came to Bari, who grew up in a Chicago suburb and met Alan when they were undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. Shortly after she and Alan moved to Providence in 1992, the family purchased Imperial Pearl, a costume jewelry company that was in receivership. Bari insisted their bid price end in $718 – a tribute to their then-infant twin sons who were born on July 18.

“It was a unique opportunity – to learn how Alan’s uncle thinks, operates, and works to turn a business around – and it shaped how I think today,” says Bari who now is executive vice president of membership marketing and analytics for BJ’s Wholesale Club.

The sale of Imperial provided funds for this endowment. “We felt it was important to honor my uncle. And bringing the funds to the Foundation was a way of re-engaging in Rhode Island philanthropically. We like what is happening at the Foundation and the leadership the Foundation is taking,” Alan concludes.
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