Print Friendly and PDF

Why Suzanne Shank Has ‘never Been More Optimistic’ About DEI in Finance

Suzanne Shank is a Chamber Board Member.


Crain’s Detroit Business
Nick Manes
Feb. 24, 2022

This interview is part of a series of conversations with Black entrepreneurs and business leaders about how they got started and what they’ve learned along the way. You’ll find more conversations at crainsdetroit.com throughout the month of February.

Suzanne Shank began her career in civil engineering but quickly decided to shift gears and head into finance instead.

Now, the Detroit-based president and chief executive officer of Wall Street investment bank Siebert Williams Shank & Co. LLC is celebrating 25 years of the firm, which she’s led since its founding.

  • Tell me about the growth of the firm, now 25 years old?

The firm has grown dramatically, through either acquisitions or mergers, and just building our brand on Wall Street. Such that we are now among the most active managers of investment grade corporate debt and equity. And we count 74 of the Fortune 100 among our clients. We have participated in over 1,000 corporate debt and equity offerings over the last five years and we have participated in over $2 trillion in municipal transactions.

  • Given some of those data points in your career, what stands out as among your proudest accomplishments?

We lead with performance and ideas, but I would say we have navigated down markets very well. You know, when I started in the business, we had Black Monday. The next big crisis I saw as president and CEO was the financial crisis, the Great Recession. We actually grew dramatically during that time frame … doubling the size of the firm, because many of the bulge bracket firms with who we were competing were laying people off because they were deeply entrenched in the mortgage crisis.

We didn’t have that. So, we took advantage of that opportunity to hire talent from many (firms) you would recognize. And we really grew the firm, and in the municipal sector hit the top 10 for the very first time of lead manager of municipal bond offerings nationally. And that was a milestone. The first time a minority-owned firm had done so.

  • How has being a minority-owned entity benefited the firm?

Through mergers and acquisitions, we are now the top (minority-owned) firm in the corporate, bond and equity space. That just gives me a lot of pride, that we’re firing on a number of different cylinders in terms of our, you know, performance and rankings. I think what that means for us is, because of our success, we look at opportunities to give back to the communities that we serve.

  • What does that look like?

2020 and 2021 were record years for the firm, and we were able to formalize our giving through the formation of a foundation so that we could target education initiatives, poverty initiatives, and things that we find very important to make the world a better place, and we’ve made substantial contributions from that.

And then we also formed the Clear Vision Impact Fund … We just had a second closing round, so we’ve now raised $140 million. Really trying to deploy capital with other minority and women-owned companies that could grow at scale, and where they have better access to capital. That funding comes from eight Blue Chip companies (including Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and eBay Inc.).

  • What are you seeing as far as impact from those initiatives?

I think it’s to grow more diverse-owned businesses, particularly in underserved communities, which will drive employment and just help those communities overall … in terms of their diverse hiring and job training, career development.

And we’re doing that not only by providing the (Clear Vision) debt fund — because we didn’t want to take equity from other minority owners, but it’s also providing them, hopefully, procurement opportunities with the blue chip companies (that have invested in the fund), or others with whom we can connect them depending on the scope of products and services that they provide.

  • If you had to offer a few words of advice to the financial industry as it continues to make diversity, equity and inclusion a key part of business, what would it be?

I have to tell you, I’ve never have been more optimistic about DEI than I am today. I’ve been a huge proponent. Over 55 percent of our staff is diverse, which is rare on Wall Street. And you could hardly discuss it for many, many years. It was almost viewed as a limiting factor, as opposed to an advantage. What I’m seeing now is that corporations have made, not only big announcements about how to engage, but they are definitely leaning in. And it’s gonna take time, it doesn’t happen overnight. But, you know, we are seeing very encouraging data.

My best advice to other entrepreneurs is, everyone is doing this. Take advantage of this moment. There are so many different types of capital available to grow at scale. If we don’t get a seat at the table, we can’t really provide any real benefit to clients. We’re not looking for just a check. We want to expand our clients’ investor base.

View the original article.