IN CONVERSATION WITH…
TRACY MAITLAND, Advent Capital, Founder and CEO
Moderated by EDWARD LEWIS, Essence Magazine, Founder
“Control your own destiny.”
On June 14, 2018, in Manhattan, ICON MANN and Ogilvy partnered for a very special evening of conversation and fellowship with President and CEO of Advent Capital TRACY MAITLAND. The first in our annual series of live-talks with Moguls, Makers and Innovative Disruptors about the motivations, mantras, and meditations that make them unstoppable. For Maitland, a born entrepreneur, whose work ethic and skill at relationship building places him atop a $10 Billion empire -a vision without a plan and passion is indeed a hallucination. Guiding this private invite-only audience through the narrative of his life is longtime friend and founder of Essence Magazine, EDWARD LEWIS. Here is their conversation:
ED: I know that my family is very important in terms of who I am today and what I have achieved. What can you tell us about your family and what impact they have had on you?
TRACY: Family was very important for me. My father was an icon to me. I was very fortunate. My father was a surgeon and had a very good practice here in New York. My mother was a teacher who taught high school and college. Seeing them both have independent lifestyles, but be together was very important. It inspired the ways in which I thought of my life going forward. First from a marriage point of view, I wanted a partner who was able to have an independent lifestyle. When people can bring two things to the table, not just economically, but ideas and thought, I think that is a very important thing to have.
My father, DR. LEO MAITLAND, being a surgeon had his own private practice so that got me thinking about being an entrepreneur and having control of your own destiny. From a very early age, I saw him run his business the way he wanted. He also did a lot in the community. I remember him having office hours in Harlem on Saturdays because people, back then, could not get off work in the middle of the week to take care of health issues. The lines would be out the door. He had a range of patients from Miles Davis to Geoffrey Holder to the average guy so seeing that range of people and meeting that range of people was inspirational me. In 1958, when Dr. King was stabbed at the bookstore in Harlem, my dad was one of the operating surgeons, but not credited. Seeing this helped me understand what I wanted to be when I grew up.
The DECISION FOR INDEPENDENCE:
ED: You started your career at Merrill Lynch and did very well. Why did you leave and start Advent Capital?
TRACY: I was studying at Columbia and so excited to be interested in Wall Street. I knew from early on that being in New York made a difference about discovering and understanding Wall Street. I was excited about it and trying to figure out how I was going to get on Wall Street. There was the SEO program that I was really psyched to interview with. I got in the interview and I started talking about being an entrepreneur, which was the complete wrong thing because they want to hire people who work at these firms like Solomon Brothers, First Boston, etc. Obviously, I did not get the job, but they did me a favor because I needed to figure out, “how could I get on Wall Street? Forget about a program. How was I going to do that?” That is the interesting thing about being an entrepreneur—having that mindset and being in control of your own destiny. It was instilled in me from a very young age.
I was fortunate in that I did a number of internships: Chase Manhattan Bank, Merrill Lynch, and others. At Merrill Lynch, I was in a program where I had the opportunity to rotate around the firm in lots of different areas. I was in investment banking, I was in trading, and I was in research. I was even in the lobbying office in D.C. for a while. That opportunity to see lots of different things was really super important to trying to figure out what I wanted to do. They only took 12 people out of thousands so I was really blessed to get into that program. It was a fast-track management program. When I finished the program, the guy who helped me get into it said, “Tracy, I have just been promoted to run the Great Lakes region in Detroit, do you want to come out there?” I didn’t know where Detroit was because I’d never thought about it. I’m from New York.
I remember after agreeing to go out there the guy who ran the local office said to me, “I don’t know why you came here. They don’t do those convertibles or that funky equity stuff you want to do. You should go back to New York or Boston.” To this day that guy has not bought me lunch. That was motivation for me. Within two years I was producing more than he was and training people in convertibles and equity derivatives around the country for the firm. Then in 1987, unbeknownst to him, Mike Milken did me a favor. He hired the senior guy from Merrill in New York who did convertible bonds to come over to Drexel. Merrill, not seeking to look outside for a replacement decided to bring me in back to New York as the Head of Global Sales for Convertibles, which allowed me to see a lot.
Now instead of covering regions like Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan, I was going to Kuwait, the Middle East, London, and the West Coast. I began to have a perspective on the world and what we were doing. In this time, I never lost sight of my vision for myself. I have always known that in order to control our own destiny, as a people, we must have our own enterprises. I was always keen on this.
I left Merrill at the top of the game. I was the number one producer in the firm for all products not because I was the most brilliant guy, but because you have to position yourself to be lucky. My department was the most profitable unit in the firm so when I resigned, I resigned to the CEO of the firm. They ended up being a part of what I wanted to do.
ED: You and I share the same thought about being in control of one’s destiny. I didn’t know that I was going to be in publishing, but within my family I had an uncle who had his own business. He was in the logging business and he used to talk to me as a kid about having control of your own life. Having control of your own destiny. The only way you can have that is to have something of your own. So when that little seed was planted in my head, when the opportunity presented itself in terms of getting involved and helping to create Essence, that is what motivated me because I wanted to have some control over my own destiny in terms of hopefully making a difference.
TRACY: Ed, that is a great point. It has never been just about me. Over the years, I have had opportunity to sell the company and just do nothing. I am not interested in doing that. I think it is important for us to have our own institutions. We hire people. We are part of the community. When you have your own company, you have the ability to be part of the conversation. The conversation you have as the head of a company is far different than the one you will have as a Senior member of even a large company because you make the decision.
ED: Tell us the environment, in respect to you being a black man, in finance starting your own business—what kind of capital did you need?
TRACY: I was fortunate enough to be able to finance it myself. We did take some outside partners, not so much for the capital, but for the relationships. Partners like JOHN UTENDAHL (pictured above), who is here with us tonight, with whom we had an equity swap. Other partners were from Kuwait and Merrill itself. For me to start a business from scratch was interesting, but if I could start a business with an operating history it could get off [the ground] a lot quicker so there in laid the value. For example, what the Kuwaiti family could do for me in the Middle East; what Merrill Lynch’s number one Investment Banker could do for me in terms of introducing me to other corporate pension funds etc. Ultimately, we raised several million dollars, but more importantly the family in Kuwait was our first investor. I think they gave us $50-$60Million to manage and then Merrill Lynch, because of the pre-existing relationships, gave us $50-$100Million to manage.
ED: Today what are the assets of your company?
TRACEY: $10 Billion. We still have a long way to go though. I see some of these other firms who are making $480Million last year from one client, so you get a sense of what I mean when I say we still have a long way to go. People read about this seemingly large sports contracts for professional athletes. That’s great, but think about the guys who own these companies.
The BLACK HANDICAP(?):
ED: Did you find being Black inhibited you from getting ahead? From having even more capital?
TRACY: You know, I didn’t really think of it that way. Yes, there are challenges, but my focus has always been on my performance. I think that it is a two-edge sword. I have always focused on the .99 cent bucket instead of the .01 cent. Don’t misunderstand, I am certain there have been times “they” have hung up the phone after speaking with me and said something. And yes there are times like; I remember one time I called on an insurance company in Bermuda. I arrive the receptionist calls so he comes out, looks around, and says to her, “I thought you said Tracy Maitland was here.” I was the only one sitting in the space.
I don’t get deterred. If we can perform, and be best in class in this business then you get ahead.
ED: What mistakes have you made in building your company and how have you learned from that in getting ahead?
TRACY: I think any business is about a people business, so it’s about hiring the right people. Trying to perfect hiring the right people is really a challenge. So bringing on the wrong people, with the wrong attitudes, historically, was a mistake. Keeping them around too long was also another mistake. Listen, I am a human being. You want to give people an opportunity to do well and so you give them benefit of the doubt, but sometimes you also have to establish more of a discipline and a baseline. When people do not reach that baseline, you have to try and help them get there, but if they can’t then you have to make a change. It’s not me being a bad guy in firing that person. It is better for the firm that he leaves, and it is better for himself that he leaves so he can find something he can do better. Prolonging people that are not productive to the organization is to nobody’s best interest.
The biggest challenge for any business is having the right people. Bring the right people in. Those are some of the biggest mistakes that I have ever had. The opportunity costs of bringing in the wrong people, particularly if they are in senior positions, is very-very high.
View gallery of photos from ICON MANN's In Conversation with Tracy Maitland in NYC:
DIVERSITY + INCLUSION:
ED: What role do women play in you company?
TRACY: In any company it is about diversity, right? Diversity of ideas whether it be from women, Arab countries, Puerto Rico… If you want to get the best ideas then you need to have a diverse group of folks with whom you can work with. Women. Men. Different Cultures. Part of the benefit to being in New York City is that you are able to mix with all talent and hire them.
ED: In this environment, in terms of the #METOO movement, what advice do you give us men in terms of how we should interact with women?
TRACY: I think that people have to use their best judgements in how they interact. You can’t make a rule for everything so ultimately it does come down to good, individual judgement. Human beings need to be respected. There should be some rules put in place to make certain that no one is taken advantage of, but also we must be careful not to go too far with broad agendas.
The BLACK CLASS:
ED: I was at Harvard Business School last month and made the observation that under this current administration we should understand that for those of us who have attained something that there is a large group of people out there who don’t like us; who don’t really think that we are part of this great American society. With that perspective in mind, what is it that you think we should be doing to see our communities succeed and benefit from this American system we helped build?
TRACY: That is a very good question. One of the biggest disappointments I have had over the last decade is when WARD CONNERLY on the west coast was able to squash Affirmative Action.
I have an office in London, and go there quite often. You don’t see a real robust Black middle-class in England. None on the trading floors, at hotels, or even the cabs. I think I have had one Black cab driver in all my years in London, so my view is despite all of the African populated colonies that England has acquired, they have never had an Affirmative Action Movement. In the United States you had an Affirmative Action Movement. You had to hire x-number of people stating that everyone should be able to get full and fair considerations for certain positions. Not having that in England shows because there is really no Black middle class that I know of, which is why I was so happy to see the Royal Wedding because that invited an entire population of invisible people in that country to be seen or considered. Maybe now people will look at them differently. And so, we still need to have Affirmative Action because they are not going to give us opportunities. Today, there are less black people on Wall Street than when I started. Why? Because then there was more incentive and initiative to get more minorities on Wall Street. Today it’s not a priority. Those rules remain important and the only way we can have them on the books is that we be more active politically.
The last Presidential race was disappointing because African-Americans were not inspired to come out and vote. So, I would say one of the biggest things that we can do as a group is to get more involved politically because that is transformational even on a local level. Look at New York, which is 60% minority yet if you look at the amount of contracts going out, single digits. If you find a way to be involved, that is the only thing that will effect change. The laws will not change in your favor on their own. We need to be much more involved.
ED: What advice do you want to give in how we conduct ourselves and move ahead from your perspective?
TRACY: Political involvement. Events like this: each one, teach one. Having an open dialogue is very important as well as people being able to share knowledge. We are not competitors. I remember when I was first going around and calling guys on Wall Street for meetings. There was this black guy at First Boston and you know what? He saw me, but he didn’t want me there. He wanted to be the only one there. He was like, “you know Tracy I think what you should do is think about Proctor & Gamble.”
His view, I think, is that he was the only one there and if I came in and did a great job that I would be compared or contrasted to him, and if I did a bad job then it would be, “see what you are doing to me,” so let’s just keep it the way it is. I think less and less of those of guys are around now.
TRACY: There is very little dialogue with folks in AFRICA. I go over once a year to see the investments and joint ventures I can do. And I can tell you that they have the resources. They don’t necessarily have the technical know-how. There is a lot of opportunity for Africans and African-Americans because it doesn’t really exist. When you say Africa, you have to understand that that doesn’t really mean anything because there are 54 countries over there with completely different agendas so it’s complicated, but there are some real stories of turn-around like RWANDA. The CONGO is a complicated situation, but it is the wealthiest in terms of resources so the degree to which you have expertise to have a productive dialogue can be helpful. There are a lot of Africans and there is a lot of room so we both can win.
The MEDITIATION (legacy + heritage):
ED: What Legacy do you want to leave for your family and for our community?
TRACY: I have this company. I am passionate about what I do and I like what I do. I think it is important for us to have our own institutions so if we can keep growing, being more impactful, hiring our own people, contributing to causes that advance communities and giving internships or having discussions like these that is what is important to me. That ultimately is transformational. You pass that down. And perhaps you can inspire other people to start their own companies and control their own destiny.