Voice of Business: The Man Who Transformed the United States Chamber of Commerce

Voice of Business: The Man Who Transformed the United States Chamber of Commerce

Voice of Business: The Man Who Transformed the United States Chamber of Commerce

Voice of Business: The Man Who Transformed the United States Chamber of Commerce


From small-town life to the world stage, Richard Lesher's inspiring tale is one of dogged determination. The son of an alcoholic and violent father in Depression-era Pennsylvania, Lesher worked his way through school, eventually overseeing NASA's vital technological transfer program during the race to the moon. His greatest achievement, however, was serving as president of the US Chamber of Commerce from the Ford through the Clinton administrations. Working closely with the presidents--especially Reagan--he modernized the Chamber over 22 years and dramatically expanded its national and international outreach. Believing strongly in the power of the free enterprise system, Lesher became a key voice and agent of economic change in former communist countries in the 1990s. Respected and admired by presidents, officials, and world leaders on both the left and right, Lesher has lived a hopeful and uniquely American story, a remarkable testament to personal perseverance and the ever-present opportunities in a free society.


It is hard for me to believe that twenty years have passed since I sat down to share my thoughts and ideas in the pages of a book. the last two decades have been a wonderfully full and meaningful period and given me ample time to reflect on the many memorable events in the life I have been fortunate to lead.

For a boy who survived the rigors of a highly challenging, Depression-era childhood in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, it has been a remarkable journey. the road would one day lead to the heart of nasa when man walked on the moon, and ultimately to the heights of government and public policy with the United States Chamber of Commerce—affording me a front-row seat with seven us presidential administrations, myriad foreign leaders, and key moments in world events during the final decades of the 20th century.

You will read all about that and much more in the book you hold in your hands. But first, I think it would be worth revisiting the theme of my last effort, the 1996 work entitled Meltdown on Main Street: Why Small Business Is Leading the Revolution Against Big Government. From my vantage point as president of the us Chamber of Commerce, I felt compelled to make the case against oversized government regulation that had run amok.

Instead of supposedly helping people navigate the challenges of daily life, an excess of rules and regulations was having the opposite effect: increasing frustrations and burdens of the working class. It’s amazing how some things never seem to change.

My contention in 1996 was precisely the same as it had been nearly twenty years earlier, when, in 1975, I was named to lead the us Chamber. As I maintained in Meltdown on Main Street, “The national spirit of enterprise and initiative has been hamstrung by maddening regulatory red tape and bureaucratic bungling. Laws purporting to help our way of life have wound up harming it.”

I advocated strenuously that we must be guided not by an abundance of policy making, but by self-reliance, individual responsibility, and personal initiative. Those principles mirror my own story—the tale of a bold and independent child who came from meager means and faced many difficult obstacles, with nothing handed to him along the way as he charted the course of his life.

Not surprisingly, I feel just as strongly today about the need to push back against big government as I ever did. It is a never-ending fight, and one that began in the early days of our nation, when Thomas Jefferson noted in 1787, “The natural progress of things is for the government to gain ground and for liberty to . . .

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