How This Man Turned His Parents' Retirement Funds into a Thriving Multi-Million-Dollar Enterprise

How This Man Turned His Parents’ Retirement Funds into a Thriving Multi-Million-Dollar Enterprise

WFCN – Sherman Lewis III, then 33 years old, was building a portfolio of real estate properties in the Washington, D.C. metro area when he learned about the prospect of owning Shell gas stations. The enterprise came with a $1 million price tag, most of which went toward inventory.

Due of his lack of business experience, he was turned down for funding by the bank. Lewis asked his parents for assistance. He persuaded them to contribute $310,000 of their retirement savings to his proposed company.

Since then, the risk has paid off. Since then, that one venture has expanded to become The Lewis Group, which owns quick-service restaurants and is a Shell gas wholesaler. The corporation is the largest employer of Black Americans in Houston, with over 1,000 employees and an annual revenue of over $100 million.

Lewis, who was raised on an Oklahoman farm, graduated from Langston University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics. After serving in the armed forces for two years, he joined the USDA Soil Conservation Service, which is now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How This Man Turned His Parents' Retirement Funds into a Thriving Multi-Million-Dollar Enterprise

His Parents’ Retirement Funds into a Thriving Multi-Million-Dollar Enterprise/ Image: Mr.Money Mustache

Lewis later earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government before taking a position as Director of Outreach Programs at Langston University. Lewis made the decision to enter the commercial sector after leaving academics.


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“I’ll tell you what, I spent a lot of nights crying. For me, it was essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the first three years. Regarding the compromises he had to make to establish his multimillion-dollar company, Lewis remarked, “I was just learning every part of the business.”

Lewis contributed $690,000 on top of his parents’ contribution by leveraging his savings and home equity. In 2003, he succeeded in leasing 13 Shell locations and put forth great effort to expand the franchises. Because of their operational expertise, the Lewis Group consistently performed among the top 10% of Shell sites.

Lewis was given the chance to lease nine more stores, increasing the number to 24. When Shell made the decision to sell its real estate and exit the industry in 2007, he purchased ten sites.

When Lewis was renting space to the fast food restaurant Jack in the Box in one of his gas stations the next year, he discovered his next profitable business opportunity. A few years had passed before the franchise began to sell some of its corporately owned locations.

Throughout the course of the year, they went to Lewis Group’s gas stations to look over the locations, got to know one another, and developed a connection. Lewis and an employee of the company created a partnership, with Lewis keeping a 75% ownership stake.

Lewis first purchased 11 Jack in the Box locations. Over the years, he added more stores, increasing his total to 39. The Lewis Group was bringing in $116 million a year by 2017. Lewis expanded his business by taking chances with franchising.

His ability to do business has brought him a great deal of power in the business sector. Lewis has held positions on the boards of Farmers Insurance, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Area National Urban League, and the Emerging Leaders Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He was given the Heart of the Lion Award in 2014, and in 2015, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities presented him with the 1890 Career Exemplar Award.

The School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Langston University was renamed in Lewis’ honor after he made the greatest single donation to the institution in its history, a transformative gift.

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