“I Could Easily Be George Floyd”: Wall Street’s Senior Black Banker Talks About Biggie, Bill Ackman’s too-little gesture, and the Hope of BLM

Raymond McGuire has been a Wall Street investment banker for nearly 36 years. Currently, he is a vice chairman at Citigroup, the Wall Street behemoth, and the chairman of the firm’s banking, capital markets, and advisory businesses. For 13 years, he ran Citigroup’s corporate and investment banking division. Prior to Citigroup, McGuire worked at Merrill Lynch, Wasserstein Perella, and at First Boston (I have known McGuire since 1997, when we worked together in Merrill’s M&A group.) He has advised on some of the largest M&A deals of all time, including advising Time Warner on its $108 billion acquisition by AT&T and Wyeth on its $68 billion sale to Pfizer.

Now 63 years old, he may well be the longest serving, and most senior, Black investment banker on Wall Street. He is reportedly thinking about running for mayor of New York City to succeed Bill de Blasio when he leaves office next year. Last week, McGuire and Marie-Josée Kravis, the chair of the Economic Club of New York and the wife of billionaire buyout mogul Henry Kravis, took to Zoom to discuss a variety of issues, but mostly they focused on the growing Black Lives Matter movement, the insidiousness of systemic racism in America’s Black communities, and what can be done to make sure Black Americans have greater economic opportunity and a greater chance of creating real wealth.

The key, McGuire said, is education. “Sixty-six years ago, in 1954, the great Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education, and the Supreme Court said that the educational system was ‘separate’ and ‘inherently unequal,’ and it decreed that we should, ‘with all deliberate speed,’ change that,” McGuire said. He then cited New York State testing statistics from 2019 for public school students in grades three through eight. Only 35% of Black students in those grades tested “proficient,” while 51% of the white students tested at that level. “How does this demographic ever, ever have the opportunity?” he said. “What the demographic wants is the same opportunity that you offer your children or that any participants on this phone want for their children. Give me the opportunity to get an education, so that I can be trained, so that I can then get access to capital, so I can then put food on the table, so I can get a job, so I can have a level of dignity, so I can do more than just get minimum wage.”

He said he wishes the Black Lives Matter protesters, whom he supports, were also agitating to change the education system to give more disadvantaged Americans a fighting chance, as he was fortunate to have in Dayton, Ohio. He graduated from Hotchkiss, the prestigious Connecticut boarding school, and then Harvard College, as well as Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. “What about education? he asked. “I got here through education. You were kind enough to cite my educational background. I’ve been on scholarships since sixth grade. I was raised by a single mother. I got bused. I walked a mile and a half to school.… I was on scholarship from sixth grade until I finished graduate school at Harvard.” Kravis probed further. “We often talk about racial issues or it’s often said that racial issues are really an issue of class, not race, and that it’s because these poor children don’t have the opportunities,“ she said. “There is some truth to that, but my experience is that racism or racial prejudice exists at every level.” She told McGuire that she had been listening recently to a podcast with Ken Chenault, the former longtime chairman and CEO of American Express and one of only a small handful of Black CEOs in corporate America—at the moment there are five Black CEOs in the Fortune 500—and he was in the lobby of the executive floor during his early years at the company when another executive came up to him and asked, “What are you doing here?”