Some of the earliest lessons Richard Tucker, CEO and co-founder of Arlington Capital, learned about being an effective leader, he gleaned at the tender age of nine when he was still a young boy fresh in his elementary school years. Tucker was raised by parents who inherently displayed the tenets of great leadership in everything they did and grasped every opportunity to inculcate these attributes in Tucker, too.

When his parents enrolled him in athletics, Tucker was taught the importance of taking ownership and the benefits of teamwork. At home his parents reinforced the qualities of integrity and hard work. When he became part of the student council, he was taught to take ownership of his actions and the power of admitting errors and following them up with swift amends.

At the time, he didn’t associate these qualities to the notion of leadership per se, and he didn’t realize that in the process of these experiences, his parents were ingraining in him lifelong skills that would ultimately help him achieve a long string of successes in a matter of decades—accomplishments that most people can only dream of achieving in a single lifetime.

A native to central Dekalb in the fifties, Tucker’s family was strictly a middle-class working family, with his father being employed as a car dealership general manager. At the age of 14, Tucker drew inspiration from his father’s commitment to his career and decided to apply for a part-time job at the dealership, too. As he watched his dad command a small team of people, he learned that leading by example to deliver your best work to motivate others was the hallmark of some of his dad’s best leadership traits.

Many days after school, Tucker would hop on a bus and ride to the dealership to work alongside his dad and see him in action, returning home with him at the close of the workday to spot his mom taking great pride in managing their home and later her banking career with the same level of dedication and passion. Over time, Tucker began to imbibe on these traits, shaping his own distinguished understanding of what leadership meant as he came into adulthood.

While enrolled in the University of Georgia, Tucker continued to work almost every quarter of the school year as he studied toward obtaining a business degree. At the time, Tucker wasn’t quite sure where that degree would lead him, only that he could see himself working in some realm of sales or sales management.

While still enrolled at the university, Tucker met his future wife, Peggy. Later, in 1970, after Peggy graduated, the pair tied the knot. Two years later, they transitioned to Gwinnett County, making it home, and also welcomed their first child, Lee Tucker, who was born a month before Tucker’s own graduation and attended his commencement ceremony. Days after graduation, Tucker landed his first “eat-what-you-kill” job, as he jokingly refers to it, with Wayne and Jimmy Mason, real estate tycoons who’d already realized great successes in the property industry. Wayne hired Tucker to sell homes in Snellville for pure commission pay.

Fortunately, the real estate market was at its peak from 1972 through 1974, affording Tucker a more than decent living, several times more than other job offers he received. And then suddenly, as with most cyclical ventures, inflation hit, interest rates skyrocketed, and the demand for real estate instantly shriveled up. By now, Tucker and his wife had recently also welcomed a daughter, Valerie. With a full family to support, Tucker scrambled to land several part-time jobs. By day, he worked odd jobs, by evening he loaded trucks, and by night he pulled overnight shifts to make ends meet, even going as far as to secure a part-time rural mail route.

Growing anxious for something steady, Tucker serendipitously stumbled into his neighbor one day, who turned out to be the high school principal for their school district. He shared that the school had teaching vacancies. However, he advised Tucker that he would first need to obtain a teaching certificate, after which he could be hired as a history, PE teacher, and football and basketball coach. Eager to gain full time employment, Tucker returned to UGA in the spring of 1975 to obtain a provisional teaching certificate alongside his wife. He taught for two years—but Peggy would make a career out of it for the next three decades until retiring from Brookwood High School as its assistant principal in 2005.

Fortunately, Tucker’s earlier gleaned skills with real estate began to come in handy again around this time. He started expanding his scope of projects, using profits to then acquire both real estate and later non-real estate based ventures, building a diversified portfolio of investments. Along the way, he remained in touch with his pal Wayne Mason, who was later elected Chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission. Not long after, in 1977, Mason tapped Tucker to come work for him as a liaison between elected commissioners and department heads. For almost three years, Tucker remained in this role and saw his leadership skills start to take root again. He began networking with other leaders in the county, observing them, noting the things that made them successful.

In this space, Tucker felt confident and in his natural element. Not for the first time, he also felt fortunate to be in Gwinnett, till this day dubbing it the county of opportunity.

In 1980, Tucker left the Gwinnett County Government to join Virgil Williams in a myriad of businesses, including contracting, banking and real estate. To this day, Tucker still refers to Williams as a visionary and mentor who helped him realize his full potential. Taking his freshly gained experience, Tucker then transitioned to the mortgage industry, ultimately ascending to Vice President of mortgage lending for a major Atlanta-based bank.

Tucker was often involved in political campaigns as a supporter and contributor, lending his backing during several gubernatorial races and eventually was appointed to a handful of statewide positions. Along the way, he kept practicing the tenets he’d learned early on: working with integrity, building trust, giving respect, believing in people. His humble nature and way with business dealings also started to catch the eye of prominent figures at the state level.

In 1998, Tucker landed in the field of vision of Governor Roy Barnes, who promptly appointed him to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, where Tucker spent three years developing transportation policy. There, Tucker and his board committee helped craft the legislation, authorization and resolution to get the Atlanta region compliant with the national Clean Air Act.

Flourishing further, Tucker joined appointed and volunteer boards such as Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he was involved in driving significant decisions for the Gas South Center & Arena.

Among his own ventures, he owned and operated multiple package liquor stores. And then, suddenly, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce had a vacancy for its CEO position. Tucker remembers hesitating to apply despite being encouraged to do so. “I was largely an entrepreneurial spirit and didn’t know how I’d feel leading a not for profit organization,” says Tucker. But he took the job, thinking he’d stay two years. Instead, he ended up investing seven years in the position and seeing the Chamber through several successes. One, for instance, was raising enough capital to pay for the entire building and construction of the chamber headquarters so it was owned free and clear of debt. This building, now named the Richard L. Tucker building in his honor, would go on to remain unchanged for the next two decades before its most recent renovation in 2023.

Later Tucker’s reputation preceded him with Sonny Perdue who, once elected as governor, appointed Tucker to the University System Board of Regents in 2005. Here Tucker would spend the next fourteen plus years undertaking responsibility for the state’s public colleges and universities in Georgia, meanwhile earning reappointment by Governor Nathan Deal. While on the Board of Regents, Tucker served as Chairman of the Board and of every standing committee, earning regional and statewide recognition for his leadership in business and civic endeavors. In 2003, he received the 4 Pillar Award from the Council for Quality Growth and has been listed multiple times as 100 Most Outstanding Leaders by Georgia Trend Magazine and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In the meantime, around 2003, Tucker took the leadership skills he’d garnered in these prominent positions combined with his passion for real estate to become Managing Partner and, later, sole proprietor of Arlington Capital, an equity lending firm that funded real estate projects. By then, Tucker felt at the peak of his understanding of real estate and finance and realized the vast scope of opportunities available in the industry. The firm kicked off as a mezzanine lender, lending project equity to borrowers after the bank had made its determination on how much of the total amount it would lend as primary debt.

Tucker was successful in this role, with his early upbringing and leadership experiences driving fruitful interactions and achievements. Then the 2008 financial meltdown reared its head. Because Arlington itself was reliant on loans and on the hook with lenders, it accumulated significant debt, which took the greater part of the next three and half years to recover from. By the time the company finally made itself out of financial quicksand, it was 2013 and Tucker had acquired sole ownership of the entity.

Immediately, he set forth to revamp the company model so that it would invest in real estate by placing equity alongside other investors to match their placed equity. Tucker’s innovativeness, diligence, and people skills have today contributed to Arlington Capital being recognized as a distinguished one-of-a-kind company in the financial niche. But at the heart of its success, Tucker believes, stands its commitment to building relationships and fostering client trust traditional style with faith in promises and handshakes.

“The whole world runs off relationships,” says Tucker. “You can have good ones or you can have not so good ones. The not so good ones affect you as much as the good ones. At Arlington we are in the relationship business and focus on building great relationships predicated on a lot of trust and understanding of the markets.”

If he’s learned one thing in his decades of being at the forefront of business, politics, and local positions of authority, it’s this: leadership takes on many faces. “I’ve always said, if you’re leading and nobody’s following, you’re just out for a walk,” says Tucker. “I’ve also learned that you can lead, but you don’t have to be out in front of everyone to do so. You can lead with just your ideas, your participation, your contributions whether they’re financial or intellectual. There are many ways to lead.”

However, the three key qualities Tucker places at the forefront as significant traits every leader should demonstrate are to keep true to your word, speak the truth and, in the event you ever fail to tell the full truth, take ownership of your shortcomings and do your best to clean the situation up the best you can. He credits these lessons back three-hundred-and-sixty degrees to learnings taking root decades ago during those early childhood years. “My parents always said, it’s expected that you’ll make mistakes, but if you don’t try to make amends, you’ll pay the price,” says Tucker. “They also instilled the characteristic of having great pride in your accomplishments. They wouldn’t hesitate to share with people the things I did well, and I thrived under that praise.”

Of course, he feels remiss to not share how blessed he feels to have had great mentors and inspirational contacts who also helped cultivate his leadership philosophy, such as his friend Wayne Mason and many other notable Georgians.

“The relationships you keep are important,” says Tucker. “My mother always said you are judged by the company you keep, so be careful who you associate with. I draw inspiration from and emulate people who are successful at what they do.” Tucker also believes in paying it forward to younger professionals seeking mentorship and guidance, saying he’s happy to help people in the way others helped him.

Tucker says the best advice he can offer aspiring leaders eager for sage advice is to be passionate about whatever it is they set out to do. “Without true passion, you won’t feel interested to learn and grow or even seek guidance from experienced mentors,” says Tucker.
Decades of innumerable successes in varying professional arenas aside, Tucker states that the single most significant accomplishment of his life is the family he and Peggy have helped create, including his two children and five grandkids—all of whom he believes to be leaders in their own right.

“My grandkids are involved in everything imaginable from athletics to academics to business to civic and charitable work,” says Tucker. “They’re team captains, student council officers and passionate about all they do. But I give the full credit of my grandkids’ successes to my two children, Lee Tucker and Valerie Ausband and their spouses who are remarkable themselves. Above all else, I give thanks to God every day for each of these blessings.”

In expression of his gratitude for all that life has afforded him and his family, Tucker participates in many causes but prefers to keep his contributions anonymous. However, he humbly discloses that he has a particular soft spot for causes geared toward scholarships and foundations that benefit children who are at the mercy of others, such as those who are incapacitated.

“I am beyond blessed in many ways. If I can contribute back to others, that makes me feel I’m doing my part. There’s a large pie to fill—if each of us contributes a little bit to that pie, the missing parts become much smaller. It’s the least I feel I can do to show my thanks to the good Lord for all He has so graciously provided to my family and me.”

Click to view Richard’s story and more in the Gwinnett Magazine Winter 2024 Edition!

Check out other Gwinnett Leaders & Legends here on Gwinnett Magazine…