You may not be familiar with her yet, but Suzanne Shank is one of the richest, most influent African American women on Wall Street. In 2016, her company was valued at 2 trillion dollars. But the entrepreneur never forgot where she came from.
Suzanne Shank was born in Georgia, Alabama, in a middle class family. At only 3 years old, the daughter of a teacher and the first Black bus driver in Georgia was already quite the reader. Because she excelled at maths and science, her teachers encouraged her to pursue a career in engineering.
After graduating from Georgia Tech, she was hired by General Dynamics, where she worked on a nuclear submarine project. But something feels wrong. So Shank returned to university for a MBA degree and set her sights on a new goal: Wall Street.
For a few years, she knocked on several companies doors before landing a job at a small firm, just two months before the krach of October 1987. Although she lost her job in the crisis, this experience would lead her to favour smaller companies. In 1996, Siebert Branford Shank is created by Shank, Muriel Siebert (the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange) and Napoleon Brandford. Since Siebert’s death and Brandford’s retirement, Shank is the CEO of the merged company.
Siebert and Co
The company underwrites municipal bonds and other financial instruments. They also served as a financial adviser on various municipal and corporate projects including airports, roads, schools and the recent hockey arena in Detroit.
But the path to success wasn’t so easy. Thirteen years after the company was created, the financial crisis happened. Rather than throwing in the towel, Shank and her team took advantage of the situation and surrounded themselves with seasoned bankers.
With double the number of employees, they became the first female- and minority-owned company to enter the top 10 municipal bond underwriters in 2010. Even though their headquarters are in New York, Shank made a point to keep the offices in Detroit.
A few words of advice
Aside from being a business woman, Suzanne Shank is also a mother of two young girls who prefers a quiet life to the limelight. Balancing her career and family life has always been a priority.
She is also very involved in her community, which she tries to help as much as possible, namely by advising young people interested in finance. A philanthropist, she is also on the board of Spelman College (a historically black female college), the Charles H. Wright museum of African American history and numerous other organizations around the United States.
When asked if she has any regrets, she says: “I do wish I would have asked for more money”. She encourages young women to not be afraid to demand equal pay. “Millennials have it right when it comes to telling people what they want,” she said.
“ Be an expert at something rather than a generalist at everything. If you’re viewed as the expert, you’re the go-to person and that’s very important”. Also, education is crucial for all and “can change the trajectory of one’s life”.