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Regional Council of Negro Leadership

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) was a society in Mississippi founded by T. R. M. Howard in 1951 to promote a program of civil rights, self-help, and business ownership. It pledged "to guide our people in their civic responsibilities regarding education, registration and voting, law enforcement, tax paying, the preservation of property, the value of saving and in all things which will make us stable, qualified conscientious citizens." Instead of starting from the "grass roots," however, the strategy was to "reach the masses through their chosen leaders" by harnessing the talents of blacks with a proven record in business, the professions, education, and the church.

At first the RCNL did not directly challenge "separate but equal" (much like the initial stance of the Montgomery Improvement Association), but zeroed in on the need to guarantee the "equal." It often identified inadequate schools as the primary factor responsible for the Northern black exodus. Instead of demanding immediate integration, however, it called for equal school terms for both races. From the beginning, the RCNL also pledged an "all-out fight for unrestricted voting rights."

16 relatively autonomous committees, each headed by a respected leader in business, education, the church, or the professions, formed the backbone of the RCNL. The committees, in turn, reported to an executive board and board of directors headed by Howard. The RCNL’s constitution stipulated that each town or city with at least one thousand blacks in the Delta was entitled to representation. To build mass support for the work of these committees, the RCNL made sure to hold its business meetings in different locations each year.

The RCNL attracted many individuals of ability and prestige including Aaron Henry, a druggist and NAACP officer from Clarksdale, Mississippi; Amzie Moore, an NAACP activist and gas station owner from Cleveland, Mississippi; President Arenia Mallory of Saints Junior College in Lexington, Mississippi; and President J. H. White of Mississippi Vocational College, now (Mississippi Valley State University), in Itta Bena, Mississippi. For many, it was their first exposure to civil rights and a training ground. In contrast to later groups, such as the Montgomery Improvement Association, most RCNL leaders were businesspeople and professionals. Relatively few were from the clergy.

The RCNL's most famous member was Medgar Evers. Fresh from graduation at Alcorn State University in 1952, he had moved to Mound Bayou to sell insurance for Howard. Evers soon became the RCNL's program director and helped to organize a boycott of service stations that failed to provide restrooms for blacks. As part of this campaign, the RCNL distributed an estimated twenty thousand bumper stickers with the slogan "Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use the Rest Room." Beginning in 1953, it directly challenged "separate but equal" and demanded integration of schools.

The RCNL’s annual meetings in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1955 attracted crowds of ten thousand or more. They featured speeches by Rep. William L. Dawson of Chicago, Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, Alderman Archibald J. Carey Jr. of Chicago, and NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall. Each of these events, in the words of Myrlie Evers, later Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of Medgar, constituted "a huge all-day camp meeting: a combination of pep rally, old-time revival, and Sunday church picnic." The conferences also included panels and workshops on voting rights, business ownership, and other issues. Attendance was a life transforming experience for many younger and future civil black leaders such as Fannie Lou Hamer.

In 1955, RCNL officials, including Howard and Amzie Moore, played key roles in helping to find evidence in the Emmett Till murder case. During the trial, Mamie Till Bradley, who was Emmett's mother, key witnesses, such as Willie Reed, and black reporters stayed in Howard's home in Mound Bayou. Dr. Howard, referring to the murders of and Emmett Till and George W. Lee, and the attempted murder of Gus Courts, charged that the FBI "can’t seem to solve a crime where a Negro is involved." The statement angered FBI Director Herbert Hoover, who credited the FBI with the "virtual elimination of lynchings in the South," and with "breaking up the Ku Klux Klan in the Carolinas and Georgia."[1]

The RCNL went into decline after Howard left the state at the beginning of 1956. Nevertheless, it continued to attract many of the state's prominent civil rights leaders including Amzie Moore and Aaron Henry. The RCNL was still in existence in 1962 but was already being pushed into the shadows by groups such as the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

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Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy: Good morning and welcome to the Spring 2017 Hyatt Leadership Distinguished Talk. My name is Adjo Kennedy. I serve as Associate Chair for Global Leadership Education and Research in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. And it’s my pleasure to welcome you to this event. I am going to go ahead and introduce our speaker— our distinguished speaker this morning. Before I do so, I want to acknowledge Kenneth Hyatt for endowing the speaker series. That allows us to bring global leaders, engineering leaders from around the nation and around the world to share their lives with our students, faculty, and the broader Georgia Tech community. I also want to acknowledge MBP who sponsors our Hyatt dinner. Josh Rowan and MBP, are you here? [inaudible audience member] Wonderful. Can you give them a round of applause, please? [applause] I also want to go ahead and acknowledge the president of Spelman College, Mary Schmidt Campbell here today. [applause] And the director of development for Spelman College, Jessie Brooks. [applause] Okay, without much ado, let me get into our introduction of our distinguished speaker today, Ms. Suzanne Shank. She’s chairman and CEO and co-founder of Siebert Cisneros Shank & Company. Ms. Shank is a 29-year veteran of the financial services industry and a founding partner of Siebert Cisneros Shank & Company. During her tenancy, SCS has grown from a startup firm in 1996 to one which has completed over $1.4 trillion in finances for municipalities and $1 trillion in corporate bond and equity transactions. The firm holds the distinction of being the top-ranked minority- and women-owned municipal bond underwriter for 18 years. And the first to be ranked in the top 10 among all firms as lead manager. Ms. Shank has crafted finance instructors, credit strategies, and investor outreach plans for numerous large-scale municipal bond issuers nationally. As CEO, Ms. Shank manages the financial, regulatory, and operational aspects of the firm, in addition to selected client coverage. Prior to her financial services career, Ms. Shank was a structural engineer for General Dynamics, Electric Boat division, working on noise mitigation projects. While there, she served as an interface with the US Navy, assistant with negotiating contracts with General Dynamics’ top client. She has won numerous awards and honors. So I’m going to list some of them. She is recently the recipient of the 2016 Freda Johnson for Trailblazing Women in the Public Sector by The Bond Buyer. Ms. Shank was also named one of the 100 most influential women in 2016 by Crain’s Detroit Business. She received Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award by the Greater New York Council of the Boy Scouts of America in October 2014. In April 2014, she was inducted into the 2014 Academia of Distinguished Engineering Alumni at Georgia Tech. She’s also been named to the NBC’s GRIO 100 list which honors African-American leaders nationally. She’s been recognized by US Banker Magazine as one of the top 25 women in finance. She’s been recognized by Essence Magazine in their Power List, by Black Enterprise as one of the 50 most influential black women in business, and one of the 75 most powerful blacks on Wall street. She’s been also recognized by Women in Public Finance as she’s a hero. Ms. Shank was also selected by the Wharton School of Business from among 100,000 graduates as of its 125 influential people and ideas. She has also appeared in numerous places, such as Wall Street Week, CNBC, Bloomberg TV promoting the strength of the municipal bond market. Ms. Shank is a leading finance services industry advocate, highly active in various industry and civic organizations and actively serves on several boards, including the following: The Bipartisan Policy Center Executive Council on Infrastructure and the Georgia Tech Advisory Board to the President, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History where she focuses on audit, finance, and development, and she’s also a member of the International Women’s Forum. She’s a native of Savannah, GA. She’s a graduate of the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania with a MBA in finance, and, of course, she’s a Yellow Jacket. She got a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1983. Please give a warm welcome to Suzanne Shank. [applause] Suzanne Shank: Thank you so much. I’m so pleased to be here today in front of so many dynamic students. If you’re a Georgia Tech student, you’re hardworking and talented, so I appreciate you taking out the time to join me here today. So some of you may be wondering why a Wall Street stiff in a suit is giving a lecture to a bunch of out-of-the-box, problem-solving civil engineers. It’s a fair question and I’ll tell you why. My firm is a financial institution that assists municipalities and corporations access the financial market. Ladies, there’s some seats down front, if you’d like to join us. The financing for municipalities, in particular, fund major infrastructure projects throughout the country. I will say, here in Atlanta we do a lot of work for Hartsfield International Airport. I think we did the largest airport deal done in 2014 for them. We do water and sewer projects. We worked on the Atlantic Station financing, you probably have enjoyed. So in essence, we connect entities that need to raise capital with those investors who are willing to provide it at the lowest cost. I’m very proud to say that my civil engineering degree prepared me not only to be an engineer but put me on a path to be an investment banker, an entrepreneur, and ultimately a CEO. You may be focused right now on engineering, but the beauty of what you’re learning is it can open doors to so many fields and areas of exploration and innovation for you, too. Your ambition and talent has already shown you to be leaders. To have applied to and been accepted to a school of this caliber and to be pursuing what I think is the most fascinating and important areas of study in our time takes resilience, perseverance, ingenuity, and most of all, patience. I recall vividly how hard differential equations and many of my other courses were, so it takes a lot of patience. But what you do with it all is still a great question mark, of course. So today, I’d like to speak to you about the characters, with an S, and context that move you upwards. Because one thing is for sure, for the rest of your lives, people will talk to you about your character as the driving force of your success. Indeed, when we think of leadership and leaders, we automatically think of the personality traits that propel them to great heights. The vision of Steve Jobs, the compassion of the Dalai Llama, the diplomacy of George Washington, the courage of Sheryl Sandberg. When people in positions of power ask what makes a great leader, we often hear about the need for integrity, persistence, passion, equilibrium, generosity. But I’m not here today to tell you about characters. I can’t tell you who to be, and I can’t accurately predict whether your character will indeed make you a great leader one day. I am here to tell you about something else that I believe is significantly more important when thinking about leadership. At Georgia Tech, the civil and environmental program teaches its students grid thinking. It teaches us that society is a living thing. It thinks, it breathes, it moves. And the nerves that connect its vital organs are the grids and networks designed, reinforced, and reinvented by people like you to improve the human condition. Here you learn about building infrastructure by nonlinear thinking, by understanding that everything is connected, that our lives are built on a web of highways, tunnels, passages, towers that affect the very air we breathe. Now, if this is sounding very familiar, I admit, I stole it all from a YouTube video on the Georgia Tech website. So while you guys were watching Beyoncé and Adele at the Grammy’s going viral, I was the geek watching videos about civil engineering preparing for today. And I can’t help it; I’m a proud Tech alum. The reason I refer to this video, though, and its ideas about nonlinear networks is because I very much believe that, like the networks, you work so hard here to innovate and improve. Leadership is too, a living, breathing network. Just as society has an infrastructure of water supply, energies, and systems of transportation, leadership cannot thrive on character alone. In my mind, it is not defined by an individual and his or her followers, but rather by the characters and the context that facilitated his or her ascension to a position of power. And the characters and context that will inevitably result from his or her leadership. Put simply, leadership, to me, is about connection rather than isolation. And I learned that right here at Georgia Tech. I’m honored to be deemed a distinguished leader by the school and perhaps even by my industry. But I would argue that I am only the leader I have become because of the mentors who inspired me, the teachers and classmates who supported me, the clients who hired me, the protégés to whom I hope to pass on the lessons I’ve learned, and the circumstances that forced me to make the decisions that got me here today. I am no more a leader than any of you, and I don’t say that to be modest. I say this because I am Georgia Tech graduate, and I, too, know the power of the network. Warren Bennis, the revered American scholar and preeminent voice on leadership studies, once said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is “that leaders are born. “That there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense,” he goes on to say. “In fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” This is certainly true in my case. I was not predisposed to reading at 3 years old. My mother taught me. I wasn’t destined to be a geometry geek. My geometry teacher, Mr. Avilla, inspired me. Like many of you, I bet my love of reading and math were gained through nurturing and circumstance. My parents were my earliest champions and first mentors, the very foundation of my network, you might say. And they’re here today, so I am going to spend a few minutes talking about them and embarrassing them. The drove up from Savannah, GA, to be here to support me once again. But they’ve had a huge influence on my life. To this day, I am in great awe of the upward career path of my father. He rose from the labelling of “negro laborer” on my birth certificate, to being the first black bus driver in Georgia, to an administrator for the Savannah Chatham County Transit Authority. He showed pride and integrity in everything he did at the Transit Authority, even as a bus driver. And it was this exceptional work ethic that propelled him all the way to the position of Director of Transportation, the first African American to serve in that role. Similarly, my mother, a whip-smart Spelman graduate in 19— had the same focus. She became a teacher at 19 and rose up the ranks of our local school system to become the assistant superintendent for both gifted and special needs students. She also obtained her master’s and six-year education degrees while working more than full time and taking care of a family. We were the absolute definition of an upwardly mobile family who rose to the middle class. And I saw firsthand how hard work and integrity pay off. And I also knew because my parents made clear after graduation, I needed to move out and get a job. [laughter] Now, I know we all have different experiences of home life. Some of you might be here thanks to your families. Some of you might be here in spite of them. The important thing is you are able to recognize what you have learned because of them. That your ideas and decision-making skills were not created in a vacuum. Relationships, the positive and the negative, are how we come to understand other people and understand ourselves. If a leader is not connecting with the people around them, then who are they really leading? And what can they really achieve? Now, like all of you, I excelled in many areas in high school. I was the editor of the school newspaper. I loved writing. I was the only student in my junior high school to take algebra in 8th grade. Now, I know you’re all laughing because you probably took it in the 5th or 6th grade, right? [laughter] But at that time, everyone else was taking it in 9th through 12th grade. And then when I was put in the gifted program, in 9th grade, I was separated from all my friends, which was at the time rather isolating. But then I realized I have a responsibility to show those who believed in me that I could succeed in this new challenging environment. And so I graduated valedictorian as I understand many of you. When my guidance counselor suggested I apply my gift for the math and sciences to an engineering degree and showed me the data on post-college employment, that engineers were getting six to eight job offers at the time, I put aside my thoughts of being a social worker, which was my original desired profession. So I’d love to say I applied to Georgia Tech because I wanted to save the world through clean energy solutions, but I really wanted to get a job. [laughter] And I thought, hey, I’ll totally be able to do that because I’m the top of my class. Well, it was here at Georgia Tech that I learned one of the most important lessons about leadership. It was here that I learned the importance of collaboration. Now, the school was a little different then. Tuition was only $250 a quarter for in-state students. I think that was 300-something for out-of-state students. And we took the Stinger shuttle around campus. I don’t know if you still have that. Now, the most dreaded class at the time was midnight calculus, which actually wasn’t at midnight, but it was at 6:00 to 7:30, I think on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. So it just as well could’ve been at midnight. But the intellectual ferocity this school demanded of us was the same. The first couple of quarters I wasn’t sure I would make it. I went from being at the top of my high school class of about 200 students to every freshmen class having 200 students. And professors from abroad, I sometimes struggled to even understand, because I didn’t— they didn’t share my deep Southern drawl. I went from having a wonderful relationship with each teacher to my teachers not even knowing me. And academically, Tech was a huge challenge. My first semester, I was introduced to science and calculus courses that seemed to far exceed my preparation or intellect. But I wasn’t alone in the feeling of being out of my depth. So after overcoming initial trepidation, we found solidarity in the challenge. Everyone complained about the intensity and complexity of the material, especially diff EQ and mechanics of deformable bodies. They confused everyone, I might say, except Gary May, your current Dean of Engineering, who I overlapped with a couple of years here, and it was all a piece of cake. Gary walked around the campus with a smile. [laughter] But it was in this period of my life, I learned for the first time that I was much stronger when I reached out and relied on the support of my peers. I realized I could only go so far on my own. And here at Tech, my classmates and some of the upperclassmen and sometimes people like Gary May who could help us became invaluable allies. Because we were all working towards a common goal. I learned the power of study groups, of pulling each other up instead of competing, and the value of working with students from cultures to whom I had never been exposed. To this day, I still have those two books from diff EQ and mechanics of deformable bodies, which I have kept as I move around the country from city to city to remind me about the people who helped me understand. And I could get my head around those courses, well, anything is possible. Contemporary theories on leadership are beginning now to talk about leaders being only as good as the people who surround them. My success is 100 percent because of the people I met right here at Tech and the people I continue to work with. Yours will be, too, no matter your position or rank. Don’t forget that. When I transitioned into the finance world, I don’t think even I knew how important those connections would continue to be for me. My firm structures deals to finance infrastructure. But really, we’re in the people business. We have to make our clients look good by providing the best financial solutions for their needs and then executing on that plan. Our clients must be accountable to either taxpayers or shareholders, so they bare a huge responsibility to their constituents. Gaining that trust and confidence requires relationship building through superior performance. Similarly, we build strong relationships on the buy side of the business with large institutional investors who buy the products we’re marketing, stocks and bonds. These relationships are built, also, by providing valuable market insights, taking bonds back into inventory, sometimes at risk, if they need to unload them, and having well-placed deals rather than sloppy ones. Every client, sell-side and buy-side, has someone in my firm who is their relationship manager. And my job as CEO is to make sure those relationships are fostered and grow. In essence, I have to hire people I trust to manage those relationships effectively, grow the firm’s client base, and grow penetration with each client, always asking what can we do better? Now, on Wall Street, it is rare to hear people talk about connections. You’re most likely to find individuals who believe in the leader and follower structure. It’s an every man or woman for him or herself environment. And often very competitive, even within firms. People vie to be the smartest, the shrewdest, the most cutthroat, so they can take all the credit for the deal. We recently were hired along with another firm to complete a $1.4 billion water utility financing plan. We had $700 million of tax-exempt bonds to sell. The other bulge bracket firm had $700 million of taxable bonds, but it was one financing plan. So I put my best talent in the firm on the deal. The regional banker for the other firm chose not to do that. He wanted to grab all the credit and not bring in the best talent from New York or Chicago. So what happened? Our firm stole the glory at every step of the financing and were given the primary responsibility for structuring the deal, all the heavy lifting, and developing the investor strategy. We ultimately came out on top. And because of our success as a team, I get invited to Tech as a distinguished leader. I don’t see the other guy’s name on the board out there. So you may have all gotten here on your own merit, and no one can take that away from you. But what you take away and what you’re able to achieve as you move forward and go out into the world will depend on your ability to share your vision, your expertise, and your challenges with the people around you. There’s a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, a man of the arts rather than the sciences, that captures this idea of collaboration. I’ll paraphrase: If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, we each still have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange ideas, then we each now have two ideas. When you understand this, I believe you don’t just understand collaboration— you understand leadership. I’ve had many mentors and collaborators in my life: my parents, of course, my Tech and Wharton friends, and then, of course, my first two business partners, Muriel Siebert and Napoleon Brandford. But I wouldn’t have connected with them if the circumstances hadn’t steered me into their path. You may have read Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, The Outliers. Gladwell talked about success as a result of environment and context, if not more than a result of an individual’s personality or character. He repeatedly stated, “It is only by asking “where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.” He cited Bill Gates’s rare access to a computer at a time where regular people didn’t have that access. And he looked at why a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. The reason, he concluded, was, since youth hockey leagues determined eligibility by calendar year, those born on January 1 played the same league as those born on December 31st. The older kids are bigger and more mature than their younger competitors and often identified as better athletes and get preferential extra coaching and, therefore, have a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues. In other words, circumstances create the leader, not the other way around. But we also know from studies about leadership what connects the stories of many leaders is what they’re able to do in these situations. You might hear about the moments in which leaders are born. These transformational experiences sometimes demand a confrontation and challenge to adversity while others come from experiences of inspiration, an “Aha!” moment or the positive influence of the person on one’s life. Being aware of those moments is what will determine how you move forward. What you choose to do with those experiences. I certainly believe context played a big part in making me who I am today. So two months after I began working on Wall Street, armed with my MBA in Finance from Wharton, Black Monday hit. Now that was in 1987, most of you weren’t born. But it happened to be the largest one-day market crash in history. The Dow lost $500 billion and global markets were turned upside down. Now I’d been to two of the country’s top schools, but nothing could have prepared me for my Wall Street initiation. It was brutal. Firms started cutting staff— any of my peers who had started working, like me, two months earlier. And they cut whole divisions to compensate for the losses. It was a chaotic time. But from the challenge, I learned so much about opportunity in crisis. I happened to go work at a small boutique firm and we pulled several all-nighters as we took advantage of a market inefficiency to save our clients millions of dollars, and, in turn, derived substantial fees. That may be one reason Muriel Siebert approached me to start a municipal bond firm along with Napoleon Brandford. Yes, I was good at my job. Yes, I was determined and ambitious and all those complimentary terms that people throw out to describe effective leaders. But would I have been able to dig in and prove my mettle if I had just been given a sweet job out of school and there had been no crisis? And would trailblazers like Muriel Siebert and Napoleon Brandford even have noticed me? We’ll never know, of course. But as much as I like to take credit for my success, I think it’s much more complex than that. When Muriel and Napoleon insisted I be CEO of a new company, I was astonished! But when Mickie Siebert asks you to be chief executive of a company, it’s hard to say no. For those of you unfamiliar with Muriel Siebert, which I’m guessing may be many of you, I can tell you that Muriel’s achievements in the financial world had a profound impact on the women’s movement. And if there was ever an example of a situation creating a leader, she is it. Not only was she a woman in an industry that was notoriously sexist, but she was also Jewish at a time when Anti-Semitic rhetoric over a lunch meeting was common place. She was one of the best equity analysts on Wall Street but she had nothing going for her. And she was never going to get anywhere at her firm, so she decided to work for herself and purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, the first woman to do so. She couldn’t succeed at her job any other way. The circumstances turned her into a groundbreaker and she paved the way for all women on Wall Street, including yours truly. Muriel’s legacy shows the power of connection in leadership. Thirteen years after we formed our firm, another crisis— I know you’re going to say there are many crises on Wall Street— the financial crisis of 2008. I hope you remember that. The mortgage crisis presented us with an opportunity. It was mayhem, but we took advantage of the turmoil within the large bulge bracket firms whose mortgage-backed securities were turned upside down. As they were downsizing, we hired several top flight bankers who were displaced by the upheaval. It was a risk, but a calculated one and it paid off. We grew dramatically, nearly doubling in size and pretty soon made history by being the first minority-owned and women-owned firm to break into the top ten. That means that now, I can hire the best talent in the business. I can empower them to be successful and thus propel the success of the firm. And that also resulted in me attracting great new partners after Muriel’s death and Napoleon decided to retire. So you see, I look at my success and I don’t see Suzanne Shank, the only African-American female CEO on Wall Street or one of the 50 most powerful women in business or a founding partner of the nation’s leading muni-bond firms. I only see connections. The people, the places, the events, and the opportunities that brought me here. And when I look ahead, I am only searching for ways to make more connections. That’s why mentorship is important. That’s why teaching my daughters what I have learned is important. That’s why coming here and talking to you is important to me. Not because I’m important, but because we just made a connection in some way that will affect you, I hope, when you leave the room. Your character got you here, but you have a huge job to do. The work being done by each of you now and in your careers will have an indelible impact on our communities. You are finding solutions to complex problems in society. We rely on the engineering community to invent life-changing technological innovations and tools to accommodate the needs of a growing population and reduce the demands placed on our infrastructure. And we have a real dilemma on our hands. Will we have the infrastructure to take advantage of the innovations you create? According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, as you may know, the backlog of infrastructure needs for just the essential projects is 3.3 trillion through 2025. And the Trump administration has stated financing infrastructure to be a priority. Well I certainly hope it is. Driverless cars cannot operate on most existing roads because the pavement conditions and lane markings are not of sufficient quality. America’s power grid is straining under current demands. Our water pipes and sewer lines are operating past their useful lives. Instead of providing a pathway to innovation, our infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the changing world. That’s what you are all here to solve and this is not the work of an individual. Now some of you will go on, leave to build business and invent technology. Others may go on to do research. Some of you might go on to tackle these problems from a different angle as I have in finance. No matter what you end up doing with your education here at Tech, you have taken the first step to becoming a leader. You are already building relationships and examining solutions to problems. You are already making connections. You are already grid thinking. You are the every embodiment of great leaders. Thank you. [applause] Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy: Thank you, Suzanne, for this inspiring talk. We’re going to open it up for questions. We have bout ten— ten to twelve minutes for questions. So if you have question, just raise your hand and we’ll bring you the mic. Student 1: Miss Shank, thank you for being here. You’ve shown that, as civil engineers, we don’t have to dedicate the rest of our lives in that specific career, but we can open ourselves to financial industry as well as other areas. So my question is, was there a certain moment in your life where you decided you wanted to get your MBA in finance or was it already preplanned during your undergrad at Georgia Tech? Suzanne Shank: No, good question. It was not planned. When I was working at General Dynamics interfacing with the Navy— I was telling this story last night at dinner— I actually— it was all expenses paid. Every aspect of my life was being paid for by my firm. Rent, stipend for car, everything, so it was quite lucrative. I was living for free. But I had decided— a cousin had mentioned, “You’ll really advance your career with that company if you go into management and you get your MBA.” So my plan was to work two years at General Dynamics and go get my MBA in management so that I could move up the corporate ranks of General Dynamics. It was when I got to Georgia Tech that I realized I really hated my management courses because they were too touchy-feely. And after an engineering undergrad, you want an answer to a problem. So I ended up majoring in finance and it was then that I began to pursue jobs on Wall Street. So I took— did a little— my plan was to move up in management by getting my MBA at General Dynamics, but then I took a right turn to Wall Street. Student 2: So I really enjoyed hearing about the power of teamwork while also acknowledging that— especially the field that you work in. I know engineering is competitive but I imagine finance is cutthroat. [laughter] So I’m wondering how do you balance and how do you go about trusting people? Like remaining smart and remaining strategic, but also when you share ideas, there’s a great amount of trust that goes into that. So how do you bring that part— that aspect of teamwork— into your daily life, your daily relationships, as well as your overall— how do you make it strategic? Suzanne Shank: Well, you know, I grew up in the South where people generally showed you who they were. So moving to New York was a big change [laughter] for me. And I began to realize that you could not trust anyone until they proved that you could trust them, which was the opposite of my upbringing. So, I used to be rather shy and I found that I had to speak up a lot more to get my voice heard and let everyone know my idea was the one. You have to be sometimes pretty aggressive. But I think my Southern upbringing allowed me to do it in a manner where it wasn’t offensive. I have found that the more you give credit to others, while still stating your own piece, people tend to support you in that. You have to a mentor, too, though. It’s better for someone else to stick up for you other than you sticking up for yourselves. And I often tell young people, it’s hard for you to choose a mentor. You have to conduct yourself in a manner that a mentor wants to pick you. But it is tough. Teamwork is always tough. I know at Wharton, when they admit students now, they do a group interview. They give them a group case study and they film them and they never pick the most aggressive student to be admitted into the school. Because they’re trying to foster teamwork. I hope more corporations are looking at that. I don’t— I look down at individuals within the firm that are always taking full credit when I know others have contributed. I don’t know if that answers the question, but— [chuckles] Student 3: If you will, ma’am, could you really just delve in a little bit more because, as you know, there’s a lot of digital transformation happening on Wall Street and by definition, the market reflects the price of consensus of— the consensus of the market says. And, by definition, you have to hold a lot of people who, by definition, are going to be definitely disagreeing with each other on each other on a regular basis, because that’s how you get the higher returns. So how do you really manage these alpha personalities, who, by definition, disagree, but at the same token manage it. And last question is this, managing the digital transformation of just not the infrastructure, but the high performance trading and like, there’s a recent article about Goldman. Like they have more programmers than bankers now, so if you could delve into those things. Thank you so much. Suzanne Shank: Well that’s a hard question. Let me just say this— There are a lot of different alpha personalities that must be dealt with, but the proof is in the pudding, right? You know the producers rise to the top. It’s clear everyone has a job to do, everyone has a responsibility. I make sure everyone is clear on that. So I have a means, objectively and subjectively, to judge my employees. I am in constant dialogue with them. So I also believe in 360 reviews within the firm. So it’s not just the senior people judging and providing feedback on the junior people. The junior people have to objectively critique their supervisors. And I read those and take those and take that to heart in terms on compensation and performance reviews. We do a lot of trading on the street, but we do mostly riskless trading. We preserve putting our capital at risk in the primary market when we’re doing these bond deals for cities or corporations as opposed to in the secondary market. And we’ve been very successful at that. Because we’re not a behemoth firm, we’re not trying to put all our capital on the line. So I guess what means— a few years ago, maybe 20 years ago, it’s been a while— we thought that we would lose our business in the muni-bond space because of the digital transformation. There was a company called E-Bond Trade that municipalities could go to and just have someone click a button and get their bonds sold, all electronically connection between investors and people that wanted to borrow money. That failed because, in the end, it still is a people business. A municipality wants to have someone to go to to blame if it doesn’t go well. [laughter] And investors want an expert to make sure that the disclosure that an issuer has provided in terms of their financial condition, is accurate, that they can rely on that. So there has to be a go-between and I think that’s what saved the bankers in our business— you know, our careers basically. Does that answer your questions? OK, thank you. Student 4: Hello Miss Shank, thank you again for being here. My question was, as you know, a lot of us when we graduate from here at Tech will be receiving a lot of offers from companies as far as working for them, working in firms or working in larger organizations. But what would you say is the best indication, as far as when you’ve reached the point as far as preparation and as far as the preparation necessary and also the— the word that I’m looking for— when you have the preparation and also the mentality necessary to go on into leadership and to take control and, sort of, whether it’s starting your own firm or starting your own company, where is that turning point, you would say? Suzanne Shank: I think when you’re viewed to be a leader within the bigger company. So if you’re already being recognized for leadership and you’re taking significant responsibility within the firm and have an understanding of all the inner workings, you know, really gathering data and information. And you have the capital and support and people you trust, you should be partners with people who are additives and not taking away from the business. There’s a lot to consider. I’ve had people leave my firm to go start, not competing businesses, but, you know, related businesses and then, in two years they’re back because they didn’t anticipate all of the challenges. When you own a business and you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be the hardest working person. No one is going to work as hard as you are. You’re going to be the one who stays up late at night when something goes wrong, while everyone else is sleeping. It’s your money on the line, you get paid last. You have to pay your people. So just whenever you’re ready to take that risk, and it is a risk. But for me I’ve been very lucky. It paid off very much for me and it’s worth it. But I think the training and understanding of all the business workings you can before venturing out on your own is invaluable. OK, thanks. Student 5: Yeah my question is the following. Like you said leaders, they are born right? And that means they are born, no they are not born, sorry my bad, they are made. And my question is the following. So how do you grow your character? How do you grow [inaudible] the leader you are today? If you have any advice to give to us all future leaders. Suzanne Shank: I think other than what I said ethics is really the most important thing in any industry and you know you’ve heard about some of the bad things that have happened on Wall Street. It’s all been because of poor ethics and bad decisions made. When you’re taking care of other people’s money and you really have to view it— it’s not yours, you get paid you know an appropriate fee, you really have to think selflessly about that. And so I think if people are going to trust in you, they are concerned about, you know, your character and your ethics. And you want others to know that, you know, you are someone who can be trusted to take on the assignment. That you’re going to work hard. That you’re the person they can trust to see it through to the end. You’re the one who’s going to pull the team together to get the best job done. You know, for me, you know I never looked for a job after my first job on Wall Street. All the jobs came to me and you know that’s sort of rare. I had friends that jumped around sort of every two years. I tended to be a loyalist and stay and try to work my way up and it just happened that people approached me about other opportunities because I think they saw me keep my head down and work really hard. Now I can’t tell you that I made, you know, I could’ve made more money if I was a little more aggressive about seeking out opportunities. But, you know, I do value— I don’t do what I do just for the money. I guess that’s it. I just really want to do a great job and have my work have an impact in some way. You know when you die they say no one says you— I wish I had worked harder. You know I worry about when I die, what will people say? You know? I want to make sure it’s something my kids will be proud of, my family will be proud of, my coworkers will be proud of. So that’s just my mantra. Student 6: I’d like to thank you for such an insightful talk. And on behalf of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, I’d like to provide this as a small token of our appreciation. Suzanne Shank: Thank you so much. Student 6: You’re welcome. Suzanne Shank: Thank you. [applause] Thank you. Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy: Thank you very much, Ms. Shank. I think you’ve left us with a lot to think about. This has been an inspiring talk. And I want to thank everybody for being here. We have lunch served in SEB122, so you’re all welcome to go over there. If you go out through this door, it’s the building on the right. The building that adjoins this building. Thank you for coming.

Further reading

  • Beito, David and Linda (2009). Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03420-6.
  • Dittmer, John (1994). Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02102-9.
  • Payne, Charles M. (1995). I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08515-9.

External links


  1. ^ Associated Press (January 19, 1956). "Challenges Negro Leader On Charges". The Sunday News Journal. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
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