Not many business leaders can say they have known a key member of their advisory board since infancy.  Sherwood Bowditch, GB ’07, and Paul Trible, Oxford University MBA graduate and co-founder and CEO of Ledbury LLC, go that far back. 

The pair, just a few years apart in age, can scarcely remember a time when one was not a part of the other’s life. 

“Sherwood is a very close family friend,” Trible said.  “He is more or less a cousin without actually being related by blood.  We grew up together and he is an advisor to our business.”  

Trible’s business, Ledbury, is an up-and-coming men’s shirt maker based in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Bottom district.  The company, which sold nearly 10,000 men’s luxury shirts this past year, has evolved rapidly since Trible pitched the idea to Bowditch just four Christmases ago. 

Bowditch still remembers their initial conversation.  “[Trible’s] thought process [on Ledbury] was very well formed,” he recalled.  “I validated a lot of thoughts that he had and really tried to be helpful in encouraging him to take the risk.”

Bowditch and Trible share a background in classical studies, thanks to liberal arts backgrounds from Hampden-Sydney College and Washington and Lee University, respectively.  Bowditch alluded to classical studies in encouraging Trible to take the plunge and start his own business.

“I quoted The Aeneid to him -- ‘fortune favors the bold,’” he said.  “He was trying to figure out if he wanted to take this leap, and I just kept trying to encourage him.”

Providing encouragement to Trible and co-founder and Oxford MBA alum, Paul Watson, is a role Bowditch has maintained.  “A lot of what I do now as a part of the board of directors is ask questions that will get [Trible and Watson] thinking about things they haven’t considered.”

“Watson and Trible have skills and interests that compliment one another very well," said Bowditch. "Occasionally I can offer some advice that helps them move this great company forward."

Narrowly Avoiding Law School

Trible, a native of Hampton Roads, was on a quest to avoid law school after graduating from Washington and Lee University.  “Like most people coming out of college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and was sort of by default looking [at law school],” he recalled.

“My father had practiced law at one point, so I was sort of looking to go into that direction.”

Then, he received a bit of advice that would prove to be a turning point.  “I think somebody who was wiser than me at the time said, ‘Don’t apply a long-term solution to a short-term need.’”

“You need a job, but you don’t necessarily want to be a lawyer for the rest of your life,” he said.  “Take some time off and figure out what you want to do.”

“Time off” lead a philanthropically-inclined Trible to a role as a Medical Mission Coordinator with Operation Smile, an international non-profit organization.  Trible spent time in Brazil and Vietnam before he was recruited to launch and run Operation Smile United Kingdom in London. 

“When I went to London with Operation Smile, I started getting my feet wet in starting a small business and also doing it in a different country,” he said.  “I was doing a lot of development [and] a lot of fundraising.”

After his exposure to finance and fundraising through Operation Smile, Trible was inspired to pursue an MBA degree.  “I had some experience starting a small business with Operation Smile, but [I felt that business school] would give me the hard, business science that I hadn’t received as an undergrad.”

The Other Paul & Prosperity out of Collapse

As fate would have it, Trible met Paul Watson, another American professional from the Southeast, while enrolled at Oxford.  While pursuing their MBA degrees, Watson and Trible had successful internships in the business world, although in different industries.  Trible interned for a venture capital firm in China, and Watson worked for a hedge fund in London.

“When we came out of business school, we were going to go off and do different things,” Trible remembered.  “I had worked my summer internship in China and was supposed to go back there.”

“The way European [MBA] programs are structured, you graduate in September,” he said.  Trible and Watson graduated in 2008, just one day prior to the apocalyptic Lehman Brothers collapse.

“Very quickly the whole landscape changed,” he said.  “The jobs that we had been offered were gone.”

The pair of recent graduates, determined to find employment, continued to interview.  “We were interviewing at the time, and we had always talked about this idea of starting a clothing business,” Trible said.  “We had this interesting moment (after all of these jobs you are supposed to get after business school weren’t available) to ask, ‘If we could do anything, what would it really be?’”

“So we’d sit around at night with 20,000 other unemployed people in London just talking about this stuff,” Trible recalled, laughing. 

“In business school Paul and I had always discussed that there weren’t many options in menswear back in the United States, and particularly in the Southeast.” Trible and Watson identified a market opportunity for a mid-priced, high-quality men’s dress shirt. 

“We wanted to create this idea of a shirt-maker that focused on great fit and quality, a firm that specialized in doing one thing really well, and bring that back to the Southeast.”

Trible and Watson mulled over the idea in the back of pubs in London, one of which was Ledbury, the company’s namesake.

The Road to Success Named Jermyn Street

One day after Trible finished another less-than-promising interview, he dropped by shirt maker Emmett London on Jermyn Street, owned by renowned tailor Robert Emmett.

“I started talking to [Emmett] and more or less said, ‘I’m thinking about starting a shirt-maker in the Southeast.  I’d love to come in and work with you if that’s a possibility.’” 

Over the course of their conversation, Trible and Emmett discovered that they lived three blocks away from one another and frequented the same local pub.  The duo made plans to meet that Sunday.

So we met, and we really hit it off,” Trible said of Emmett.  “We ended up meeting that Sunday for four hours, and met the following Sunday after that, and the following Sunday after that.”

Finally, Emmett had been won over.  Emmett told Trible, “If you want to come in and start working with me, let’s do it.”

Learn more about how The Richmond MBA Capstone Program partnered with Ledbury in Part II of this story in the March issue of The MBA News & Notes.  For more information on Ledbury, please visit their website.