Just as the United States was shutting down as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Rina Thomas White was finalizing the purchase of Laundry South Systems & Repair, a leading commercial laundry equipment supplier. A University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law graduate who was raised in Louisiana and developed a career in economic development, Rina was determined to learn about running a business first-hand. Luckily, with her experience as a management consultant at McKinsey and Company, and working in a business like laundry, a service we all need, Rina has been able to weather the pandemic. In the fall of 2021, Laundry South Systems & Repair made Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing privately owned companies in America.
Rena was born in New Orleans to parents from Kerala, India who passed on a strong Catholic faith tradition to her. After graduation, she returned home to post-Katrina Louisiana to work with the state's Department of Economic Development on projects to reverse the state's brain drain and to combat its high rates of poverty. She then served two legislative sessions as Governor Bobby Jindal's advisor on economic development, tax and budget policy before returning to school to pursue a JD.
Rina lives in Jackson, Mississippi with her husband and two daughters.
Having gone to law school and worked in policy and in consulting, what drew you to buying and operating a business?
I started looking for a business to buy and grow in 2019 after having my first daughter. It fit with several of my goals at that time - ownership in every sense of the word, an entrepreneurial venture less risky than a startup, and huge opportunity for continued learning. And it fit with my skills and experience - negotiating deal docs to close the purchase and then pushing operational improvements once I owned the company. It's a fun challenge!
You grew up in New Orleans and worked at the state level on economic policy in Louisiana for many years. Why did you decide to switch gears and become an entrepreneur and CEO?
I started my career working in economic development in post-Katrina Louisiana and loved it. We were racing to change the national narrative away from recovery from natural disaster to new opportunity. I was lucky enough to work with some exceptional people on this, but I saw a lack of understanding of actual business issues in the broader economic development community. Running and building a small business is my boots-on-the-ground self-education to get to a deeper understanding. It feels like a continuation, not switching gears.
How did you decide to live and work in Jackson, Mississippi?
I married a guy from Mississippi! We've made this our home, and he is currently serving as the elected State Auditor of Mississippi. We are very fortunate to be close to both of our families and have lots of grandparent help.
What does being in Jackson offer to you as a business leader?
Working in any small community - Jackson included - forces you to be creative and optimistic. You're not going to have the density of human and financial resources that you have in a big city. You've got to work a bit harder at some things.
What’s the best part of being in the laundry business?
Commercial laundry equipment distribution is a business that can survive a pandemic. I finalized the purchase just weeks before the shut-downs started rolling across the country in the spring of 2020. Fortunately, our customers kept calling for repairs and replacement equipment.
Have you been able to give back to your community through your business?
In a difficult pandemic year, Laundry South Systems & Repair has provided quality service to local businesses and has created stable skilled-trade jobs for folks without four-year degrees. ∎