Podcast: The Meaning of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

With Siebert Williams Shank & Co.

In this edition of SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) podcast series, SIFMA’s Amena Ross, Managing Director of Advocacy, sat down with Gary Hall Partner and Head of Investment Banking at Siebert Williams Shank & Co., to hear how this minority-owned business lives its DEI mission.

Explore this podcast to learn more about:

  • How Siebert Williams Shank & Co. lives the DEI mission through its leadership, talent acquisition, training and business practices.
  • The recent national program it launched with its corporate clients to provide capital to small businesses in underserved communities and the acumen to navigate state and local government processes.
  • Expanding the point of entry into 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 Siebert Williams Shank & Co. is working in the space of DEI with Gary Hall, Partner and Head of Investment Banking at Siebert Williams Shank. Welcome, Gary.

Gary Hall: Good morning, and how are you? At least good morning to you out west.

Amena Ross: We appreciate that. So, to begin with, what does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to Siebert Williams Shank?

Gary Hall: That’s an interesting question. So, the first thing I probably should state. As the nation’s leading MBE investment bank that happens to be majority woman owned and majority African-American owned with Hispanic ownership, we lived the remark, if you will. That’s the good news.

But it’s really important that we don’t take that for granted. Just because we have diversity reflected in our office space within our C-suite, we understand that diversity just does not mean hues and gender. It also means diversity of thought. And so, we work exceedingly hard — exceedingly hard — trying to ensure that our employee base feel that they are inclusive and entitled to not only be present and add value to our business operations, but also to the direction and culture of our firm.

A couple examples. We work very hard to make sure our junior employees feel that they have a meaningful impact in how we do business. I’ll give you one quick anecdote. There’s this process in my business called doing refundings. It’s a long, laborious process where you go through official statements and you try to identify certain aspects of a client’s financial debt portfolio to do a refunding. And you learn a lot through this very tedious process. Right?

And so, I was talking to our junior employees and it’s like, “Well, why do we do it this way? There’s so much data. They have these huge repositories where we can just extract this information and get this done in a matter of seconds as opposed to going through this process.” And I really resisted that because I thought, wait a minute. You learn so much if you go through this process. It’s like doing math without a calculator. Right?

Then I was talking to my boss about it. I said, “Yeah, you wouldn’t believe how these junior employees want to skip steps, and they want to actually do these refundings in a nanosecond.” She said, “Wait a minute. You mean we can do refundings in a matter of seconds versus hours? Why would we not want to do that?” And I was like, “That’s a good point.”

So, it’s not only this notion of challenging us to think differently so people can feel included, but allowing folks to make us better by bringing in a different prism and different thought process that allows us to think and look at problems and solutions to those problems in a different way. And it’s making us better as a firm.

We learned a lot through his summer, this past summer, when the nation went through this inflection point close to George Floyd murder and social unrest. We have this presumption that everybody got the joke, was on the same side of this. And we didn’t realize that so many of our employees had public safety and law enforcement backgrounds within their families. And so, how this issue resonated with them was a little different than for others.

And so, we had some real robust conversations within our firm as to how we look at these issues and how we must continue to strive hard to make sure diverse perspectives resonate throughout our employee base.

Amena Ross: That’s really interesting. So, can you tell me a little bit about your background and what brought you to Siebert and some of the challenges you see in the diversity pipeline, especially as you’re trying to keep the firm diverse.

Gary Hall: Yeah, so that’s such a great, great question. So, foremost I would say I’m a graduate of an HBCU, Howard University. And though Howard has the benefit of having a lot of Wall Street firms covered its campus for students, still financial services was something that I did not appreciate the depth and breadth. I thought you just had to be an investment banker or you just had to be a commercial banker. I didn’t realize there were a host of other vocational perspectives that you can actually pursue within financial services. So, I had a very limited perspective. Right?

I came more exposed when I was a lawyer. I practiced law in corporate finance, and I saw a whole different aspect to financial service [from that] perspective being a lawyer representing large corporations and banks. And that just gave me a more in depth appreciation for the opportunities that existed. So much so that after I completed a White House fellowship, I decided to put away my law shingle and become a banker to this noble profession, first in capital markets doing mergers and acquisitions and then finding my life’s work in public finance.

Throughout the process, like most other folks, I had the benefit of having great mentors, folks who were really champion of my success. I would say some of the challenges that I incurred, that I’m sure others may have well, is this whole notion of how to really learn from failures and successes and not being defined by your failures and successes. It becomes very difficult.

I once remember a situation where I had completed this long presentation that I was given as a junior banker, and it had a typo in it. And it was a typo.

Amena Ross: I think we’ve all been there.

Gary Hall: Yeah. And that typo quickly became in my review an issue with respect to my writing ability. And I’m a lawyer. Now that’s one thing I know I can write. Right? The irony of it, in the review that was critiquing my writing, there were a litany of typos.

And so, I remember asking at the time my supervisor. I said, “I acknowledge I had a typo in the presentation. Thank God we had someone to find it. But I’m noticing here in this review there are a host of typos here, and I don’t think anybody is making an attribution about someone’s writing capabilities based on these typos.”

And that led to a real illuminating discussion with my advance supervisor. But it was an example of how, from time to time for whatever reasons, I don’t know why, there could be stereotypical narratives that are painted for certain employees that become hard to get rid of. And it’s one of the things that I’ve found the most challenging throughout my financial service career when I was [at least] at a bulge bracket firm.

Amena Ross: So, when you have new employees that are maybe coming from those bulge bracket firms, how do you bring them into the environment at Siebert and how is that environment different than maybe what you experienced at those firms?

Gary Hall: We have this label we call deconstructing. And what that means is that we pride ourselves on getting the best talent that we can. If they happen to matriculate from bulge bracket firms, phenomenal. If we can get them from other places, that’s great as well. But what we find particularly with those who come from bulge bracket firms is that we have to train folks on being able to take risk.

It’s important at our firm that you learn from your mistakes, and you only can learn from those mistakes if you are willing to take risks. And getting folks to step outside their comfort zones to be able to challenge and to take initiative and take risks, being okay with having mistakes, is something that we find we have to push people to do.

And once they get comfortable with that risk taking and learning that we actually appreciate them making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, it’s not the mistake that defines you, it’s the litany of mistakes that define you. And them being comfortable with their own self corrective learning capability. Then we get this integration where we think our culture meshes with the talents of that individual and we can maximize their potential.

But it’s a process. And it’s something that we’re very conscious about. It’s something that we teach not only in our junior banking ranks but our senior managers. So, we ask our senior bankers to really, really be patient with folks and pushing their colleagues, and especially junior colleagues, to take those risks. But it’s something that we have to work extremely hard on because it’s a trait that, I don’t know what it is. Especially for minority candidates, taking risks is something that is very, very hard in majority institutions.

Amena Ross: So, importantly, just a few weeks ago, Siebert affiliated Clear Vision Impact Fund, formed to enhance employment, job training, and then accessibility of educational opportunities in historically underserved and disenfranchised communities. And I just want to hear a little bit more about that new commitment.

Gary Hall: Well, this is a collaboration with some of our corporate clients — Comcast, eBay, Apple, Consolidated Brands, Microsoft — where they all felt the need to be more involved in the underserved communities and figure out a way to capitalize those businesses that may have had limited access to capital in the past.

And so, our chairman, Chris Williams, led our effort to establish a debt fund where we’re going and assisting those businesses, middle market companies that are looking to scale up. And it’s not only capital that we’re offering. Right? We have the benefit of having a huge platform with the state and local government business through our muni platform. And a lot of historically MB firms, their first clients are state and local governments.

And so, in addition to being able to offer capital, we’re also offering acumen. We know how to navigate the sometimes byzantine procurement processes of state and local government. The same is the case for Fortune 1000 companies where we are beneficiary of supplier diversity on the capital market side. If there are companies out there that may be a great supplier to AT&T and want to have business with Verizon, well, we know how to make those connections for those companies and help them scale up in addition in providing them with capital.

So, it’s a targeted $250 million fund. We look for companies that tare middle market companies with an EBIDA between probably a million to $10 million. We look to make $4 million to $5 million [on the] checks. You’ll be shocked as to the amount of activity that we received as far as inquires of potential fundees. And we’re really excited about our ability to make an impact in the communities that we serve.

Amena Ross: And that’s a national program? Are you focusing on certain regions or cities?

Gary Hall: It is a national program. We are right now. We’ll soon announce the actual terms of agreement with about 4 or 5 companies that are spread all over the country. And that’s the benefit of having 19 offices and a national footprint, that we have tentacles in these communities all over the country. So, again, another way for us to expand our offerings and most importantly allow us to make a difference in these underserved communities that we serve.

Amena Ross: Yeah. So, you’re kind of at the forefront of creating a firm that is successful, diverse, and is really meeting the needs of your clients. Looking towards the future, where are the next opportunities to advance DEI across the industry?

Gary Hall: I still think we have to work harder in making that point of entry wider. The portals that we typically look at are narrow. I’ll give you an example. When I was at a bulge bracket firm, those of us who [unintelligible] around on the hiring committees, we all reflected a similar background. Right? And so, we’re looking for candidates.

And most importantly, when you’re looking for candidates to come in, the first thing on your mind is who’s going to help me do my work. Right? And when you think of that, you think of people who look like you, who come from the same institutions that you come from. And you don’t want to take risk in bringing on someone new that you don’t know. And so, guess what? You hire folks who fit a very homogeneous type of background and you don’t get that stretch for diversity.

So, the first thing we have to do is get out of our comfort zone and go look for great talent in pastures that we don’t typically look at. So, for example, HBCUs have a wealth of talent of folks who have ingenuity, brain power, tremendous passion, and thirst for growth. And making sure we provide access to this great financial service industry that we have.

The second thing is really nurturing the talent that we have within our walls. In a perfect world, I would’ve never left a bulge bracket firm, but I thought leadership opportunities were limited, because either the trajectory for leadership was very, very narrow, or the composition and the profile of who was deemed to be a leader didn’t fit my personality traits. I got to tell you, I’m very encouraged in what I’m seeing with a lot of bulge bracket firms changing that.

I happen to be a shareholder of J.P. Morgan. And I just read their letter to the shareholders by Jamie Dimon, and it was all about inclusive and DNI. Not from the standpoint of just being an involved corporate citizen, but for their own business survival. And when you make that nexus, then you start to get true impact. And I see a bunch of leaders in J.P. Morgan who were my peers when I’m there who are really ascending to really powerful roles within the organization because there seem like there’s teeth behind that commitment.

And so, that’s a very encouraging thing is someone who has a sophomore in college who, for whatever reason, decided he wanted to follow my pathway in financial services. And I see the opportunities that he’s being presented, they’re just much wider and much deeper than what those that my peers did when we were coming back to school. So, I’m very encouraged by what’s going to happen in the future in financial services.

Amena Ross: All right. Well, I try to keep up to date with everything that is going on with Siebert, but did you want to share any other initiatives or programs with our audience?

Gary Hall: I would tell you, we have grown exponentially. This is not your mom’s Siebert. The reason I say your mom’s Siebert is because our CEO is Suzanne Shank who’s a trailblazer on Wall Street. We have tripled our net capital in the last three or four years. We have expanded our offerings. We’re not only number one when it comes to municipal bonds, but also capital markets. We have over $500 billion in assets management and on our cash management strategy that we help some of our foundations and corporate clients. So, our firm is growing exponentially.

We continue to add talent. I got to tell you, it’s getting harder now. The competition for good talent is becoming fierce. But we’re finding that we’re able to differentiate ourselves in the value proposition that we offer to really, really close the gap with what we offer from what bulge brackets to really be competitive in all different aspects of financial services.

Amena Ross: So, great. Thanks so much again, Gary, for joining me today. It was a real pleasure chatting with you. To learn more about SIFMA and our work to promote diversity and inclusion, please visit us at sifma.org/exploreissues/diversityandinclusion. And to learn more about Siebert Williams Shank & Co. impressive work in this space, please visit siebertwilliams.com. Thank you again, Gary.

Gary Hall: Thank you. Have a great day.