Podcast: Breaking Down Barriers

A Conversation with Ramirez Asset Management

In this edition of SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) podcast series, SIFMA’s Amena Ross, Managing Director of Advocacy, sits down with Samuel A. Ramirez, Jr., President and CEO of Ramirez Asset Management and Senior Managing Director of Samuel A. Ramirez and Company, Inc. to understand how we can break down barriers and foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Explore this podcast to learn more about:

  • The mission of Ramirez and its history as one of the oldest and largest Hispanic-owned financial institutions;
  • The power of mentorship, internship and training programs to build culture and increase employee retention, including lessons learned from Ramirez’s experience instituting organization-wide programs for all employees;
  • Innovative ways to connect with professionals and share great opportunities across the financial services industry;
  • And more.

For more information on fostering and expanding workforce, client, and supplier diversity equity and inclusion, please visit www.sifma.org/diversity.

Transcript

Amena Ross: Thanks for joining us for another episode in SIFMA’s DEI podcast series. I’m Amena Ross, Managing Director of Advocacy at SIFMA. I’m here today to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the financial services industry; the opportunities and challenges we’re facing today; and the ways in which Samuel A. Ramirez, Jr.,’s firm is approaching DE&I. Sam is the President and CEO of Ramirez Asset Management and Senior Managing Director of Samuel A. Ramirez and Company, Inc. Welcome, Sam.

Sam Ramirez: Thank you, Amena. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Amena Ross: So to begin, what does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to Ramirez? Can you discuss the importance of your history as one of the country’s oldest and largest Hispanic-owned financial institutions?

Sam Ramirez: Sure, Amena. Thank you. Well, diversity, equity, and inclusion is a key component, I feel, to our success over the past 50 years. And I think it’s going to be very key to the continued success of the firm over the next 50. And to really speak to that, I think I have to give you kind of the background of the individual that started our firm. And you know, my father started our firm in 1971. He was truly a trailblazer.

I think he blazed trails for many of the diverse financial professionals in this business, an individual who grew up in Bed-Stuy, went to Boys High School, went on to St. Francis College. Started interning at the New York Stock Exchange in 1959 at the age of 19 and took an internship at Kidder Peabody in 1964. He was the only non-Ivy League guy at the table and really had a passion for the business. From day one was breaking down barriers and really started at a time when there really wasn’t any diversity.

And he was an individual of Puerto Rican descent, first-generation. Grew up during a time where he was an athlete, went to school and had friends of all different backgrounds. Came to Wall Street and had a passion, and just worked his way in through his charm and his focus, and really is an intelligent individual who, along with that passion and some really good mentors early on.

And these mentors were individuals he met at Kidder Peabody who helped my father find his niche in the markets, areas that he wanted to focus on, and then actually supported him. And when he started his own firm at the age of 31, he actually brought some of these individuals on to help him build his firm. So my father really pursued his American dream and I think paved the way for others in this business.

The funny thing about diversity, equity, and inclusion at our firm is that my father, as he grew his firm and developed his firm, always had a culture of looking back and giving back and bringing others up. So that’s been a deep part of what we’ve done at the firm with our culture. He has always been involved in charities, and I have as well. Growing up, our firm has always been — he was the past President of the Catholic Big Brothers, which helped inner-city kids for many years.

He developed and was the past President of the Municipal Forum back in 1999-2000, ex-President of the New York Bond Club. But he developed a futures and options program for them, which is an internship for high school students as well as programs for college students. So this is something that, through my father’s involvement and the culture we’ve developed at the firm, has been a part of our firm’s DNA since day one. And we’re really trying to take that to another level.

But it’s very important to what we’ve done since day one and is even more important, I think, in the years to come.

Amena Ross: Yeah. So you talked about the fact that the 50th anniversary of the creation of your firm is fast approaching. What were some of the early challenges the firm and other minority-owned institutions faced when you were first founded versus the issues you have today?

Sam Ramirez: Yeah, so it’s interesting. The first challenge my father had was the name of the firm. So he came out and said, “I’m going to be opening Ramirez and Company.” And many of us, peers and friends on the street said, “You know, I don’t know how that’s going to go, Sam. That’s a very ethnic name. Are you sure you want to do that? Why don’t you come up with another name?” He said, “I’m proud of my name, and I’m going to call it Ramirez and Company.”

So he was proud of that name, embarked on a journey, and really just put his head down and focused on doing business the right way. Our mission statement is at the front door of our firm here. We’ve been in the same building since 1974. I’ve been coming here since I was five years old. I pretty much grew up in this business. Our mission statement is our clients’ success is essential to ours. And our first core value under our mission statement is integrity. And he always taught me to lead with integrity and that you only have one name.

And along with that initial coming into the market as one of the first Hispanic firms, it’s really breaking into the business and doing business, and then maintaining a business, having the risk controls to be in business for a long period of time. So really, 50 years is a fantastic milestone. I think we’re one of 10, as we look back, firms that are still around with the same ownership from the 1970s because what happened was a lot of consolidation. Some firms went out of business. A lot were gobbled up.

You look at the 50 years, and challenges that we faced through this time weren’t — I’ll bring up the ’90s. Glass-Steagall was repealed, and big firms got even bigger. So it gave banks and investment banks the ability to come together. So that was a challenging period in that firms became even bigger. It was a little bit harder to compete for those boutique firms and regional firms.

And then you had the financial crisis, which was very interesting because that myth of bigger is better was challenged, which I thought was great because there are a lot of great firms out there doing great business. And that myth was challenged. We were able to grow during that period. There were a lot of people leaving large banks and a shuffling of the deck chairs.

Our firm was in business for about 40 years at that point. Very good reputation, solid business. And we were able to attract a lot of great professionals and grow the firm. And I think today, we’re still looking to break down barriers. I think the bigger is better kind of myth is still out there. People want to deal with the biggest banks. However, when they take the time to get to know firms, I think our track record is really hard to dispute.

So these days, I think there’s a very exciting opportunity to compete at the highest level. I think with the focus on diversity across the board, it’s great because if you do a little bit of work to find different type of partners out there, and then you meet firms like ourselves who have been around 50 years. And there are other great diverse firms we work with. There’s a lot to be said for the track record in firms we’ve built. So I think we’re in a nice position these days, but still, we’re breaking down barriers, just like we were doing in the ’70s. It’s just a little bit different now.

Amena Ross: Right. So as you look at the initiatives that you are implementing in the DEI space, which do you view as the most impactful and why?

Sam Ramirez: So I think our continued support of the internship and mentorship programs that we’ve been supporting for decades is key. Our continued support of the Urban Leadership Fellows Program, the New York State HFA Internship Programs, our continued work with recruiting and educating young professionals. Our sponsorships are being taken to another level as well. We’re working with colleges and trying to target schools that meet the mission of our firm in supporting diverse candidates.

And then another program that I think is fantastic to try to get our efforts to another level is our Ramirez Investment Institute, which I think is a great way to get our senior professionals engaged to educate the next generation of professionals. So that’s — these are things we’re doing. These are continued efforts. We have offices all around the country, so we are working in the communities where our offices and employees are, giving back and trying to continue to step up those efforts as we grow.

And we’ve been around for 50 years. I think the next 50 are going to be very exciting with the focus and effort to bring people in. I mean, we like to work with kind of those second-tier colleges, people that might not be at the Ivy Leagues that have talent and want to work hard, just like my father did and I do every day.

Amena Ross: Right. So it sounds like it definitely. Ramirez has served to launch many young diverse professionals into careers at larger firms, and many return to Ramirez later in their careers. How do you think your company’s culture contributes to this, and what sets Ramirez apart?

Sam Ramirez: Yeah. So my father trained many people in the early days. And in those early days, getting opportunities at Wall Street firms, it was really an opportunity to get in and learn and build a business. And I think many saw the large banks as a way to kind of monetize and kind of get to another level. That was in the early days. We had several people that were trained at our firm that went on to the UBS’s, Morgan Stanley’s, Merrill Lynch’s.

And then you have young professionals these days as well. Some people want to work at large banks and have that experience. And even with the young professionals that we train, some stay for the long term. We tend to try to train and move people up and move them up to more senior roles over time. And then there are those that go to larger banks, and they want to try that. They want to see where that takes them in their career.

And many have come back. Many have, in the later stages of their careers, even said, “Oh, I really appreciate the culture, the business, the training.” And many say, “I’d love to come back as a more senior professional and kind of end my career at a firm like yours.” So what’s interesting in this business, this is a fantastic business, but it is controlled by very large banks. Our commitment to the business over the years is very interesting to look at.

We are in certain areas of the market, and we are focused on those areas and intend to have longevity in these businesses. So some of our competition, they’re in, they’re out, they’re upsizing, downsizing. We’ve developed a culture here. It’s almost like a — it is a family-run business. I’m the second generation, and we have the third coming not too far behind, my — in the near future. But the average tenure of our employees is about 14 years, which, when I talk to other leaders of companies, is pretty impressive.

So I think that culture, but the fact that we are competing at a very high level, and individuals have great growth opportunities at companies like ours. It’s a compelling story that puts us in a position to train and keep professionals. But it’s great when people come back to us. If they fit back into what we’re doing as a firm and can fit into the team, they are considered.

But it’s been an interesting journey over the last 50 years to see the evolution in the business and all the training we’ve done over the years and continued training. And those that stay, those that go, maybe those that come back, it’s been interesting.

Amena Ross: Yeah. So I would love to hear a little bit more about the training you’re doing with the next generation of financial professionals through the Ramirez Investment Institute. Can you speak more about this work and your plans for the future?

Sam Ramirez: Sure. I think during this period with COVID-19, we’ve all gotten a little bit more used to video communication and Zoom calls and everything else. So we usually like to train and engage on a personal level, and we’re going to obviously continue to do that. But in going through the process of interacting with people through video content, it’s been, I think, a learning experience for our senior executives and, we feel, a way to potentially train on a little bit wider, larger scale.

So what I’ve done, and it’s really coming from the top, is that our senior executives are committing to creating video content. Senior bankers, our Ph.D. economists in our Financial Strategies group, as well as senior analysts, and putting together training modules that give you the ABCs of banking, the ABCs of credit analysis, what we do for our capital markets clients. And it’s a great way to support some of the colleges.

It’s kind of like a guest speaker opportunity for business classes where they can engage. And I do the intro and give career advice and kind of give the history of the firm and certain things that I think are important to young professionals considering a career in the financial services. And it is an amazing industry. I mean, if you’re a numbers cruncher, more analytical, or a people person — you like to give presentations, there’re all different types of roles in the financial services business for individuals. It’s a great industry.

So this is a way to try to educate. I think we have interesting content. We do a live Q&A. And we’re going to be using this for training for some of the interns we bring in as well as working with colleges around the United States to bring some interesting content. And I think we’re going to be working with SIFMA a little bit as well because you all have some very interesting video content, as well as a certification, I think.

Amena Ross: Yeah, for SIFMA Invest. And I think it’s really important that you highlight that the financial services industry has broad opportunities that don’t only reside in investment banking because I think that’s been a part of kind of a lot of diverse individuals who may be interested in going into financial services but, unfortunately, they think, well, I’m a marketing major, so why would I work for a financial services firm? Or I’m an IT person, so why would I work for a firm? So I think it’s so important that you highlight that.

Looking towards the future, what in your view are the biggest opportunities to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the industry?

Sam Ramirez: Well, I think it’s just a really exciting time in the history of our country. Having two daughters and a son coming up and the fact that there’s a real focus on — across all industries to create a more diverse and inclusive business environment, I just think it’s a really exciting time. You look at our firm and the culture we’ve developed and what we’ve done and what we try to do on a daily basis, and there are great companies like ours out there that — where you can come, you can learn and be part of great institutions that value diversity.

But even for those that are diverse that want to run the biggest banks, it’s a great time for diverse individuals and women. There’s a real opportunity across the board. And the exciting thing about the environment is that there’s a lot of growth potential because the clients that I am pursuing, now that I can talk to other diverse individuals, or just a more diverse group of individuals across the board with our Fortune 500 clients and our state and local clients.

We’re way ahead of the curve because I think the municipal bond area/sector and public finance in general, they have more diverse individuals and have been more diverse for many years. But you look at colleges and endowment foundations. They’re all focused on these areas. And it’s just a good thing for our country and a good opportunity for us all to come together. Great ideas are developed. We firmly believe that diversity brings long-term value.

So I think it’s an exciting time. And our firm is going through a nice period here. Running a firm for 50 years is not easy. I think the next 50, we have great opportunities. Our firm is sitting here with a very strong credit profile, an A-plus credit rating, a very strong track record, great experience. And you look at us, you look under the hood, and there’re some really great things that people see when they take the time to do that due diligence.

So this week, we senior managed a new issue for Deere, John Deere, and, more recently, Allstate as well. We’re getting opportunities to compete at a higher level, which is very exciting. And so I think the future’s bright, and excited about our role going forward. I hope to be, over the next 50 years, a household name that can compete and continue to compete with the largest banks in the world but continue to grow and be a respected — continue to be a respected member, but maybe more of a household name.

Amena Ross: Yeah. Well, great. Thanks again, Sam, for joining me today. It was really a pleasure chatting with you. To learn more about SIFMA and our work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, please visit us at www.sifma.org/explore-issues/diversity-and-inclusion. To learn more about Samuel A. Ramirez and Company’s impressive work in this space, please visit www.Ramirezco.com. Thanks again, Sam.

Sam Ramirez: Thank you, Amena. Take care.

Amena RossAmena Ross is Managing Director of Advocacy, SIFMA. She is responsible for leading SIFMA’s federal government relations.

 

 

Samuel A. Ramirez Jr.Samuel A. Ramirez Jr. is President & CEO, Ramirez Asset Management, Senior Managing Director Samuel A. Ramirez & Company, Inc. During his almost 30 year career at the firm, Mr. Ramirez, has led the development and growth of the Firm’s core divisions: institutional and retail sales and trading, public finance, and corporate banking.