It is very important and significant; New York is one of the single largest issuers of municipal bonds in the world and one of the most sophisticated issuers of municipal bonds in the world. To work with New York City, you are genuinely working with the biggest and the best. So the opportunity to work with NYC is certainly a challenge and a pleasure. It truly brings out the best in you. It was a very significant transaction for us. When people think of business deals involving nine and ten digits, they usually think of white men and country clubs. How did you get the business from those mainstream companies?
I think you have to give the credit to Comptroller John Liu and the tone he has set in the office in New York City. You also have to give a significant amount of credit to the staff, specifically Alan Anders in the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget and Deputy Comptroller Carol Kostik and Mark Kim in Comptroller Liu’s office.
Essentially, what they did was they created an absolutely, totally level playing field. Much like you see in athletics, basketball and baseball for example, where everybody is playing by the same rules. There is no favoritism and no discrimination. What they were able to do was put a situation out there to 14 firms who were asked to solve the exact same problem: how to give NYC a structure that provided them with the optimum financial transaction. The firm that was going to win it was going to be the firm that really knew the city better, knew the city’s finances better, but was also creative. It wasn’t going to be one that was the biggest, it wasn’t going to be the one that played golf with the people that made the decision, it was going to be the one that had the best idea. That was all we asked and I think that what any minority firm asks. Just to give them a level field to work on and let us work.
What difference does it make to people on the ground in Chicago or in NY between Loop Capital getting the contract versus a mainstream firm?
First of all, I think a publication such as yours, which touches the folks and that is very important to the community, probably wouldn’t write about it if Goldman Sachs got the business. It wouldn’t be as newsworthy. But I think to us it is a very big deal and there is a very deep message here and it’s many faceted.
I’m calling you from Italy, I’m on vacation with my family right now but I think it’s so important for you to write about this. And I think it is very important for the comptroller to talk about this because there is a genuinely important message here. Loop Capital is an African-American-owned firm, I started this firm in 1997 when there were 6 people including my wife, now there’s about 150. We do about $200 billion worth of deals a year.
But the significance of the comptroller putting it out there so that a firm that is a minority- owned business can have a chance to be a book-runner in a billion-dollar financing which is one of the biggest that the city does. The significance of that, particularly at this stage of his tenure, I think he is delivering a message to the city of New York in terms of what he stands for and what he’s committed to. So it is totally different with Loop Capital getting it as opposed to JPMorgan or Barclay’s or Goldman Sachs or any of those guys. The message is so different and I think so meaningful and so motivating for a lot of folks.
When you were in high school what were you thinking of doing and how did you get to the financial industry?
When I came out of high school in the ’70’s I didn’t even know what investment banking was and I don’t think I knew a single African-American at that time who had any clue what investment banking was. We just weren’t involved in that business at that time and, candidly, there are not many of us involved in the business today some forty years later. I wasn’t exposed to any sophisticated level of finance such as that we do today. The only thing I was taught as a kid coming up by my parents was to work hard do the best you can at whatever you’re doing. And to commit yourself to really hard, work and treat people fairly and be honest. Those basic values and virtues. But never any thoughts about high finance at the level that we’re doing now. It wasn’t until I got out of college that I went on to graduate school to get my MBA that I really started to learn about investment banking.
We have an internship program that brings in about 20-25 high school and college kids every year in New York and Chicago, primarily African-American, and we expose them to investment banking very early. We do that because I don’t want them to learn about it by accident like I did. In this bond that we have working with New York City, we have African-Americans working on this deal that are still in school. They learn and know by the time they get out of high school and college that there is a minority-owned firm doing billion-dollar deals out here and they know how it’s done. We’re committed to teaching.
Speaking of values, did a religious institution play a role in your life at all?
When I was a kid my father was a deacon at the church. I was in the church about 5 days a week. I did everything, directed the choir, set up the chairs, swept the floors, took the collection. I have a very solid religious background. Those are important values that you learn and that stay’s with you and they stayed with me.
Out of the things that were valued in your home which would you say was the most important?
My father was the hardest-working person I’ve ever met. People think that heroes to a guy like me are celebrities or politicians, but no. It’s the single parents, the woman who comes in tired after working two jobs, clears the table for them to study. She does not know where school will lead them, but she knows it’s important for her kids to learn. It was my father that comes home working two jobs that he knows are dead end jobs without a lot of future, but he needs to do it so his children will have a better life. Most days my father would come in and he wouldn’t even take off his clothes, he’d just go to sleep in them and get up and go to work again. My father was a taxi driver and entrepreneur like me. He drove a jitney cab.
I want to express my sincere appreciation to New York City, Comptroller Liu and the environment that he is fostering there. He’s newly elected and this is one of the first big things he’s done in terms of minority inclusion and he’s doing it the right way with minority business and economic power. It’s not just talk.
I hope the readers find something motivating in this because we set out to work very hard. We’re just a regular group of people, just hard working folks, and things worked out for us. We have been calling on New York City since 1998 and I started the firm in 1997. In 1998, we were at the bottom and now we’re at the top. Just do the homework, put in the time, learn your craft and in the right circumstances, things will work out for you.