Walk into Tracy Maitland’s midtown Manhattan corner office and his perch resembles the classic Wall Street seat of power. It possesses key features like sweeping views of Central Park from atop a 57th street skyscraper, and Maitland’s desk is crowded with statues and lucite tombstones commemorating successful offerings for his $9 billion in assets investment firm, Advent Capital Management.
A few other things catch the eye, however. There’s the framed photograph of his father, Leo, just after he and a team of surgeons at Harlem Hospital saved Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life when he was stabbed at a book signing in 1958. Behind Maitland’s desk are pictures of his family with President Obama and the First Lady on the campaign trail, and during the two-term Obama presidency. There are photographs of Maitland’s dogs, a Cane Corso, Kenya, and two Olde English Bulldogges, Bailey and Tucker. Maitland was motivated to become a long-serving board member of the A.S.P.C.A. after Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was jailed for being part of a dog fighting ring, hoping to represent African Americans and build community ties.
Maitland is one of the most influential African American financiers on Wall Street and a champion of racial equality in the predominantly caucasian industry. Advent is a powerhouse in the niche market of investing in convertible bonds, and Maitland is the firm’s principal owner. Some 55% of Advent’s staff are women and minorities, and Maitland, a graduate of Columbia University, prioritizes recruiting analysts from New York City’s working class schools like Baruch College. With excess profits, the firm endows cultural institutions like the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and the local hospital where his father worked. About three years ago, Maitland became a financial backer of the New York Police Department’s efforts at neighborhood policing, a program to build ties between police and the minority communities they serve, which has now been rolled out to every precinct in the city.
Maitland is also outspoken, willing to speak his mind after the United States was roiled by a racist incident in Central Park in late May. Then, protests swept the nation into June after an unarmed black man was killed by police in Minnesota during an arrest.
“What happened with Amy Cooper in Central Park when she tried to weaponize race and gender against Christian Cooper is telling of the challenges and institutionalized racism in this country,” Maitland tells Forbes. “She did it because she thought she could,” he says of the incident, in which a black man asked a white woman to leash her dog in a protected part of Central Park and she called the police presenting Mr. Cooper as a threat.
Amy Cooper later said in a statement, “I want to apologize to Chris Cooper for my actions when I encountered him in Central Park yesterday. I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash….I hope that a few mortifying seconds in a lifetime of forty years will not define me in his eyes and that he will accept my sincere apology.”
Then there was the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, in which a police officer used unnecessary restraining force against Mr. Floyd, who later died in custody. “The symbolism of that police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck was very powerful emotionally,” Maitland notes, “It basically says, I’m in control as if I’m a king and I can kill you, or let you live, on a whim.”
Since, the police officers involved have been charged criminally and the country has been swept in protests. The vast majority were peaceful. However, some turned violent, and cities like New York and Los Angeles have seen looting. Police have reportedly been injured, thousands have reportedly been arrested nationwide. Some mayors and governors instituted curfews in response. In Washington, President Trump called in the military, which then used tear gas on a protest to clear a way for a photo opportunity. On Wednesday evening, Trump was sharply criticized by his former Secretary of Defense James Mattis for those theatrics. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try,” wrote Mattis in a letter.
For Maitland, the events of May and June go beyond politics. They are important in surfacing long-simmering issues of race, justice, and fairness in America. “George Floyd could have been me,” says Maitland, “Society has to be aware that this is real. It’s a real risk to African American men.”
After the disturbing incidents, there’s new motivation for change. Foremost, is an urgent need to expand fairness and equal opportunity for minorities, according to Maitland. “The great thing about America is it is a country of immigrants. When people come, they come with their best ideas,” he says, repeating the country’s motto “E pluribus unum,” latin for “out of many, one.”
“This nation is the United States,” he says. “But if we are going to be united, everyone has to have equal access and full and fair consideration.” For many protesters, the issues go beyond just police tactics. “These people don’t have access to great education, great health care, or economic opportunity,” he says, “And so they’ve had enough. They’re looking for a way to get fairness in a society that promises a doctrine of equal opportunity.”
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Maitland broke through on Wall Street in the early 1980s interning at firms like Bear Stearns while studying at Columbia, and then was trained in Merrill Lynch’s analyst program. After becoming a top salesperson at Merrill, Maitland founded Advent in 1995 and built it into one of the largest minority-owned investment firms in the world. For most of his career, Maitland says he’s seen opportunity for minorities recede at the highest rungs of finance.
“I believe there is something called invisible affirmative action,” says Maitland. People hire those they know, or are those who are referred by family, friends and affinity groups. “I understand it. It’s comfortable and it’s the easy thing to do,” he says. “There are less African Americans on Wall Street than there were when I was in the middle of my career….If you want to have a productive society, you have to encourage participation from all parts.”
The path forward, according to Maitland, is hard-minded work at widening the doors of opportunity in business and finance to those who are currently shut out, whether that’s African Americans, or other underrepresented minorities like women and hispanics. The first step, according to Maitland, is for companies to truly hold themselves accountable to concrete goals of having a diverse workforce.
Corporations need to begin laying out specific targets for diversity in their workforce, their managerial ranks, and their boardrooms, he argues, and it’s crucial that bonuses, stock options, and other compensation are tied to actually hitting them. “Companies need to be measured on whether they are making progress,” Maitland says, “It’s good for business, and it’s good for this country.”
In finance, the potential for change is even greater. Maitland believes banks and investment firms can make far greater investments in minority-owned businesses and underrepresented communities, where investment capital can compound opportunity. Diverse companies, hire diverse workers and they can become beacons in their own communities. The world is awash in money, but it barely trickles into minority businesses.
Change is afoot. On Tuesday morning, Bank of America unveiled a $1 billion commitment to support minority communities by working with historically black colleges and universities, hiring more workers from underrepresented communities, job training and investment in local businesses and affordable housing. “The events of the past week have created a sense of true urgency that has arisen across our nation, particularly in view of the racial injustices we have seen in the communities where we work and live,” said BofA CEO Brian Moynihan, in a statement. “We all need to do more.”
With Covid-19 pummeling the economy, Maitland notes that scores of cultural institutions are at great financial risk and could close their doors without help. Three days ago, Advent announced a $100,000 donation to the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem to help safeguard its future. It also earmarked $50,000 in medical equipment for Harlem Hospital, where his father worked, and Meharry Medical College in Tennessee.
Other giants in investment management, like Robert Smith’s Vista Equity Partners and Frank Baker’s Siris Capital have recently made important grants to minority communities, targeting education, opportunity, and financial access.
“It is incumbent on companies like ours to help support diverse communities,” says Maitland, “If it’s not for that, what are we here for?”