Royal Little

innovator in business and philanthropy 

The late Royal Little, founder and former chairman of Textron, was well-known as an innovator in the business world. He founded the Special Yarns Corporation, the forerunner to Textron, in 1923 when he was just 27 years old. Business boomed during World War II when the company produced parachutes but fell sharply following the war, and Little shifted Textron’s focus to consumer goods.

Royal Little delivered the keynote address at the Foundation’s 1979 annual meeting.

The textile business continued to ebb and flow. In the early 1950’s Textron began purchasing companies unrelated to the textile business to diversify its holdings. By Little’s retirement in 1960, Textron had acquired 40 companies and had gained the financial stability he sought. In his January 14, 1989 obituary, The New York Times referred to Little as “the shrewd Rhode Island entrepreneur who is widely regarded as the inventor of the modern conglomerate.”

Little applied innovation not only to business, but also to philanthropy. Our winter 1990 newsletter explains, “When he was first asked to be a solicitor for United Way, Little declined on the grounds that he was working on a plan to raise more money than he ever could conventionally. True to his word, Little established Rhode Island Charities Trust in 1937, and United Way of Southeastern New England (now United Way of Rhode Island) has been the sole beneficiary ever since.”

Normand Caya, then executive vice president of the local United Way, told the Foundation, “Thank God for Royal Little, because without those funds, things would be a lot more difficult.”

In accordance with Little’s wishes, the Charities Trust’s assets were transferred to the Rhode Island Foundation two years after his death. At the time, those assets totaled $34.2 million. It was – and remains today – the largest single gift in the Foundation’s history.

Our 1990 newsletter continues, “Charities Trust was just one more brainchild of an energetic, imaginative man who believed that everything, including charity, should be done efficiently…It was partly Little’s special brand of financial wizardry that inspired the trustees to build the trust from Little’s puny $600 investment into the $30 million giant it is today.”

Little’s son, Arthur Little, told the Foundation in 1990, “He wanted excellence. He did things because they were the right things to do, and he didn’t expect to get anything in return. His attitude was always, ‘Here’s a problem. We’ll fix it.’”

"In 1937, Royal Little changed the future for United Way of RI with the establishment of the Rhode Island Charities Trust," says Anthony Maione, CEO and President of United Way of Rhode Island. "We are grateful that the fund, to this day, continues to pay 100% of our fundraising and administrative costs. Every dollar donated to this United Way goes right back out into the community, thanks to this amazing vision of Royal Little and the RI Charities Trust."

That attitude has benefitted the United Way of Rhode Island for nearly 80 years and will continue to do so forever. Today, the Charities Trust’s assets total more than $71 million and it awarded more than $4 million to United Way of Rhode Island last year alone.


One Union Station
Providence, RI 02903


(401) 274-4564

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