An interview with Richard Lerner, Co-owner of Bel Air Fashions, and 2016 BBB Integrity Award Winner
By JLara Williams and Tong Shi Kho, Creighton University MBA students


Bel Air Fashions is a third-generation family business started by Richard and Sheldon Lerner’s grandfather, Max, in 1914 and over 3 generations evolved to Bel Air Fashions. His grandfather emigrated from Russia to Omaha. After settling down here with his family, he started a commercial real estate business and hotel. Eventually Max Lerner started a pawnshop. Customers brought in clothes to get loans. When customers didn’t return for their items, quite a bit of clothes accumulated and there was no place to store it, and thus began the clothing business

Both brothers, Richard and Sheldon have grown up in Omaha. Both he and his brother received their BS in Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They continued their education, attending clothing certifications programs and seminars to become certified wardrobe consultants and custom clothiers. The brothers hoped to be fully educated in all things clothing.

Richard has been doing workshops for about 44 years working with colleges, organizations, and businesses. His workshops are primarily in Omaha and Lincoln. He has worked with University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO), and Creighton University preparing students for post-graduation job interviews focusing on professional image and dressing the part.  However, the United States military is his biggest project. He works with all four branches. He helps men and women make the transition from military to civilian life by teaching them how to dress competitively for job interviews. Richard also wrote and published the book Dress Like the Big Fish in January 2008 that presents materials for creating a winning image. The paperback and eBook copies are sold by Amazon.

The Ethics

“Ethics means never having to think about the truth. The truth is the truth. Never compromise.”  – Richard Lerner

Mr. Lerner believes ethics means never having to think about the truth. When you say something, you just back it up and do it. It doesn’t matter how bad the situation is, it should get taken care of the right way the first time.

“The truth is the truth, never compromise, and remember the truth all the time.” - Richard Lerner

He believes lies are the biggest factor that can tear down a business and an individual’s integrity.

“Ethics just means you stand by your actions and do it with a smile.”- Richard Lerner

He believes ethics isn’t just about himself, but the client making sure they always have a positive.

When it comes to his personal and professional values, Mr. Lerner stated that,  “When you look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself is that who you really are. If you can do that without question every single day, that’s important. Personal and business values should go hand in hand together.” This is the key to his success. Long-term customer relationships are his primary focus within the organization. He wants his customers to always have a good experience and to feel that he always has their back.

Ethical Omaha Project’s Omaha business core values defined within their organization

  • Accountability means being accountable in everything you do, meeting things head on, meeting all the needs of the client, and doing everything in a gracious manner.
  • Community responsibility means being fair and constant. There’s “no free lunch” out there so always work to the benefit of the community.
  • Financial Vitality means always reinvesting in the business, having sufficient capital, and being prepared to face anything that could happen.
  • Integrity means never having to think about what you are doing, doing the best you can do and never sacrificing integrity and ethics, and always prioritizing the clients.
  • Moral Courage means going against the grain in everything you do, and doing what needs to be done to better the clients, the community, and yourself.

Benefits of Smaller Size Organization

Mr. Lerner believes that with the small size of his business, it allows them to work closely with the client and always act in an ethical manner.

“We’ve always been hands on with the business. We are engaged. We see ethics everyday. For us, it is a blessing because we get work with our clients and pursue our passion.”- Richard Lerner

2016 BBB Integrity Award

Mr. Lerner believes this award identified who they are, what their business is all about, and what they have been able to contribute to the community. It is an honorable recognition of his organization within Omaha, and it is a great measure for their passion and success.

Tips for Young Business Men and Women

“Be prepared and don’t get greedy. Good things don’t just happen overnight. Recognize yourself and be a good learner. Stand your ground, separate yourself, and make yourself unique. The process is like climbing up a ladder- it has steps. So, take one step at a time and be the best you can be. Never compromise your honesty, ethics or integrity along the way. Define what your passion is and go after it. Lastly, always do the right thing.”- Richard Lerner


© 2017, Kracher & the Business Ethics Alliance