Recent national conversations about systemic racism in our society have put a spotlight on the lack of diversity in the finance industry. Historically, the banking and finance industry has lacked equitable representation of people of color in top roles and has struggled with inequality through decades of lending discrimination. But despite these systemic challenges, a group of leading Black men and women in finance have risen to top positions, and as a result, have paved the way for future investors of color. They include Robert F. Smith, Russell L. Goings, Suzanne Shank and Mark Mason.
As the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith has led the private equity industry with a focus on investment in enterprise software, data and technology companies. Smith’s investing style incorporates the pillars of economic and racial justice, environmental awareness and social good, all while managing billions in assets. A graduate of Cornell University and Columbia University, Smith worked at Goldman Sachs before founding Vista in 2000. Outside of investing, Smith is a longtime philanthropist in causes like curbing racial disparities in prostate cancer diagnoses, ending student loan debt and preserving the legacy of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Russel L. Goings came from humble beginnings, born during the Great Depression in a family of six kids. After struggling with dyslexia, Goings went on to earn a degree from Xavier University and launched his investing career. As the first Black brokerage manager at an NYSE firm, Goings made Shearson, Hammill, and Co.’s Harlem branch the firm’s most profitable. He then purchased the branch, renaming it First Harlem Securities. Goings’ prolific side ventures included helping to found Essence Magazine and chairing the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Like her fellow trailblazing investors, Suzanne Shank revolutionized finance and investing using skills from other industries. After earning a civil engineering degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, she went on to receive an MBA in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She went on to work at a variety of Wall Street firms, co-founding Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. in 1996 and becoming the first person of color and/or woman-owned business enterprise to be a top ten U.S. municipal bond underwriter. A member of Wharton’s graduate executive board and Spelman College’s Board of Trustees, Shank has focused on providing resources to the next generation of underrepresented people.
As the current chief financial officer of Citigroup, Mark Mason has helped lead the charge for financial companies attempting to grapple with racial injustice. Following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, Mason’s Citigroup blog post, entitled “I can’t breathe,” earned attention for its passion and power. A graduate and trustee of Howard University, Mason also received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Over the past 20 years, Mason has held a variety of influential positions within Citi, helping the company manage trillions in assets.
In 2018, only three percent of venture capital partners in the U.S. were Black, while 80 percent were white, according to the NVCA-Deloitte Human Capital Survey. But trends show that more young Black Americans are investing than ever before, with 2020’s Ariel Investments-Schwab Black Investor Survey showing sharp increases.
One of those up-and-coming Black investors include Arlan Hamilton, the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund that is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women and/or LGBTQ. Beginning in 2015, Hamilton built the firm from scratch, which is now invested in more than 130 startup companies.
As the biggest names in finance and investing continue to move towards a more racially inclusive future, the stories of these iconic investors will be imperative roadmaps to the Black investors of tomorrow.