Blacks on Wall Street and Other Money Streets

By Norment, Lynn | Ebony, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Blacks on Wall Street and Other Money Streets


Norment, Lynn, Ebony


Money is power, and on Wall Street the power of money walks, talks and makes the strong tremble. The topsy-turvy finance industry is one of the most competitive businesses in the world. Success on Wall Street requires long workweeks, exceptional stamina and intellect, plenty of confidence, enthusiasm and energy, and sound judgment and intuition. It also helps to be armed with an MBA from an elite university, and it is imperative to be able to handle stress well.

"Wall Street is as competitive as you get," says Raymond J. McGuire, managing director in the Mergers and Acquisitions Group at Merrill Lynch & Co. "People are competing for the same grail."

Today, after decades of virtually being shut out of the top Wall Street firms, Black financial wizards are negotiating and closing big deals, and Black investment banks and asset managers are experiencing a boom in business. "In recent years," says William M. Lewis, managing director and co-head of worldwide mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, "Wall Street has made a major commitment to diversify, realizing that in order to succeed, it must embrace inclusiveness in order to attract the very best talent wherever it may be. In general, African-Americans are faring well."

Others agree that due in part to the buoyant stock market and subsequent expansion of financial firms, there are increased opportunities for minorities. However, the gains in finance and money management clearly are not enough.

"Whether it's participation in transactions or gaining access to positions of influence, we still haven't reached a critical mass," says John O. Utendahl, founder of Utendahl Capital Partners, among the top African-American firms on Wall Street. Utendahl, who founded his investment banking company in 1992 after a 12-year tenure on Wall Street, says, "We need to support those few individuals and opportunities that have a chance to break through the barriers in the hopes that they'll pave the way for greater advancements."

Maynard H. Jackson agrees. The former mayor of Atlanta who now heads the second-largest Black investment bank in the country says the dollar amount of finance deals negotiated by Blacks is minuscule. "We have a long way to go; we are not anywhere close to where we need to be," he says. Jackson estimates that the total of all the finance activities handled by Blacks at major firms and banks, as well as those who head their own firms and banks, would represent about 1 percent of total financial activity.

John W. Rogers, founder and president of Ariel Capital Management and Ariel Mutual Funds, points out that more Black youths do not pursue careers in finance because they are not exposed to investing and money management due to the fact that African-Americans in general do not inherit wealth and have the extra income. "There's no need to learn about investing your wealth when you don't have a lot of wealth," he says, adding that brokerage firms have been very slow to create real opportunities for African-Americans; consequently, there have been few role models.

Nevertheless, African-Americans are making inroads on Wall Street and other money streets around the country. Historically, the term "Wall Street" was used to define financial institutions that advise corporations, individuals and sovereigns on financial matters. Today, according to the executives featured here, the term is very broadly used to describe almost any financial service provider, regardless of the city in which it is located. One executive said, "Wall Street is a state of mind."

One example of how well African-Americans are faring on Wall Street is Raymond McGuire. At Merrill Lynch, he has primary responsibility for transactions involving domestic and international mergers and acquisitions with emphasis on consumer products and the paper/forest products industries. Among the major deals in which he has played a key role are James River's merger with Fort Howard, Dial Corporation's sale of selected brands, and Kimberly-Clark's sale of Scottie's facial tissue.

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