Black Professionals in Private Equity & Finance – Dealmaker Spotlight: Shawn Jackson

Launching a New McGuireWoods Profile Series

March 15, 2021

The following series features interviews with Black dealmakers and trailblazers in the private equity and finance community. To help us spotlight professionals making a difference in their career pathways, please email Greg Kilpatrick at [email protected] and Gerald Thomas at [email protected].

Shawn Jackson

Q: What do diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why are they important?

Shawn Jackson: Diversity, equity and inclusion are all about ensuring that everyone — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or background — has not only a seat at the table but also a voice at the table. This particularly manifests itself with inclusion, as having a voice at the table allows Black professionals to play meaningful roles in decision-making processes.

In my experience, investment banking (IB), private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) historically have not prioritized the “I” of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as much as they have prioritized the “D” and the “E.” In my 20-plus years in IB, many inroads have been made at bringing people of diverse backgrounds into IB/PE/VC. Organizations such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and the Robert Toigo Foundation — both of which I am a proud alum — are doing an awesome job addressing some of the tremendous DE&I gaps within the junior levels (i.e., analysts/associates) of IB/PE/VC.

However, IB, PE and VC firms have not had nearly as much success with DE&I on the higher levels. And frankly, retention of junior professionals of diverse backgrounds and aiding their progression into more senior roles are paramount to ensuring the true effectiveness of DE&I initiatives.

A recent McKinsey study found that Black professionals in the private sector — and particularly in IB, PE and VC — are overrepresented in entry/junior-level jobs and represent only 5 percent of all senior-level positions. So IB, PE and VC firms are getting Black professionals in the door, but they are not promoting their advancement into senior, decision-making positions. This causes them to walk out that door because they do not believe they have a fair shake at advancement.

The senior level is where impactful decisions are made, and IB, PE and VC firms need to focus on increasing their numbers of senior-level Black professionals to foster true inclusion in the decision-making process. I strongly believe that continued forward advancement of Black IB, PE and VC professionals will allow a more organic DE&I cycle that ultimately builds a critical mass of Black professionals in decision-making roles. That’s how IB, PE and VC firms are going to effect real change and put Black professionals on a more equal footing with their counterparts from majority backgrounds.

Q: What attracted you to the world of IB/PE/VC?

SJ: My first exposure to investment banking was through my experience as a college student at the University of Pennsylvania. I started at Penn as an engineering major, but Penn’s status as a major Wall Street feeder school allowed me to familiarize myself with the possibilities and opportunities of investment banking.

During my junior summer, I earned a chance to learn firsthand about IB as an SEO summer intern with Credit Suisse. During that summer, I met so many bright, driven and incredibly hardworking people at the firm who regularly challenged themselves to be great. So, my interest in IB was certainly piqued then.

I think the clincher for me was witnessing how IB professionals have the unique opportunity to have a daily impact on deals that have a transformational impact on organizations and the lives of their stakeholders and employees. The prospect of this was extraordinarily exciting to me as a 21-year-old, soon-to-be college graduate. When I received an IB offer from Credit Suisse after that summer, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity.

Q: What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds?

SJ: Listening, openness to idea exchange and an absolute refusal to make assumptions about my colleagues based on their race or background. Look, I’m an African American male from the west side of Detroit who grew up in a single-parent home. The way I grew up certainly is going to have a bit of influence on my overall world view and advocacy for DE&I. But my 20-plus years of Wall Street experience has given me an opportunity for exposure to colleagues with diverse thought processes and experiences. I take advantage of this exposure by asking questions of my colleagues and maintaining a healthy curiosity about their thoughts and motivations.

People are going to have different views, and these views are shaped by many, many factors and life experiences. I have made the most of my opportunity to understand where all people are coming from and have listened to what they have to say. I have had conversations with so many of my colleagues over the years, agreeing with some people and vehemently disagreeing with others. Some of these conversations have inspired me to shift 180 degrees from my original point of view.

The bottom line is that consistent listening and openness to hearing different viewpoints, while always remembering my core life principles, have been paramount in my ability to understand the perspectives of my colleagues.

Q: Who is an example of someone who inspired you in the world of IB/PE/VC, and why?

SJ: The late Gordon “Gordo” Rich, who was the head of Credit Suisse’s media and telecom group when I joined as a first-year analyst, was an incredible inspiration to me. Gordo’s role in the RJR Nabisco takeover battle in the late 1980s is part of the book Barbarians at the Gate. Gordo was incredibly smart and just got deals done.

A quality of Gordo that I always admired was his forthright nature. His clients and the members of his team always knew where they stood with him. And he really went to the mat for his clients in negotiating deals and for his employees in recognizing their hard work.

As a result, Gordo was incredibly well-respected by his clients and viewed as a thought leader in media/telecom M&A. Gordo also engendered the highest amount of loyalty that I have ever seen from team members to their boss. I highly respect the way Gordo went about his business with his clients and team members, and I model my approach to leadership in IB after his approach.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Black entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?

SJ: I think it is safe to say that a significant number of the 2.6 million Black entrepreneurs in the United States has experienced structural inequities in comparison to their white counterparts. Implicit bias against Black entrepreneurs has resulted in a vicious “cycle of scarcity” of capital that has formed a roadblock to the creation, success and survival of Black-owned businesses. These challenges have become even more amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Black-owned businesses have been among the last in line to receive Paycheck Protection Program loans. This overall disadvantage of Black-owned businesses is manifested by the numbers: Black entrepreneurs receive only 3 percent of government-backed small business loans and 1 percent of all PE/VC backing.

To mitigate this disadvantage, Black entrepreneurs must put in more elbow grease and do a bit more homework than their white counterparts to find the necessary resources to finance and grow their businesses. Be resourceful in forming symbiotic networks and partnerships. Point each other in the right direction and offer a hand to members of their networks who need to learn about effective sources and methods of capital raising. Find support and advisory services. And, most importantly, Black entrepreneurs need to put their heart and soul into building companies with business plans and value propositions that make it impossible for lenders and PEs/VCs to walk away.

About Shawn Jackson

Shawn Jackson is a managing director and heads the Los Angeles office of Auctus Capital Partners, a Chicago-based investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), equity/debt capital raises and strategic advisory for middle market businesses. He brings more than 20 years of investment banking experience in both the middle market and bulge-bracket arenas, having been involved with a myriad of M&A and financing transactions ranging in size from $10 million to $5 billion. Jackson has participated in more than 50 corporate finance transactions, including M&A, sales of private and family-held businesses, corporate divestitures, leveraged buyouts, and debt and equity capital raises.

Jackson has been based in Los Angeles for more than 15 years. Prior to joining Auctus, he held investment banking roles with New Century Capital Partners, Bank of Montreal and Credit Suisse.

Jackson received his bachelor’s in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

To contact Shawn Jackson, email [email protected].