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].
Q: Who is an example of someone in PE who inspired you and your firm and why?
Nicholas Antoine: Reginald Lewis, a legend in the PE industry. He was probably most famous for acquiring Beatrice International from KKR in 1987. As memorialized in his autobiography — “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” — it was a billion-dollar transaction that he did in partnership with capital from Michael Milken’s Drexel debt shop. Unfortunately, Lewis passed away very early in his career, but he may have been the first Black billionaire. He was a trailblazer at a time when very few Black people were involved in PE in the country. He’s a person we think about when we think about pioneers.
Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue careers in PE?
NA: Unfortunately, this is an industry that historically has been and continues to be not very diverse. My former boss at Ariel Investments used to say, “Diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business.” Diverse teams have been shown time and time again to be more creative and to outperform non-diverse teams.
From a business perspective, I think the data is very clear. But most importantly, it is the right thing to do. We’re a diverse society, and there should be representation from all walks of life.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Black entrepreneurs? What advice would you provide to overcome it?
NA: We often talk about access to capital as a major challenge. While it is, I think another major barrier to entry in PE is access to knowledge and understanding. If there aren’t people in the fields to begin with, how can one learn that this industry is one of the country’s most efficient for generating wealth? I think access to information and knowledge, education and financial literacy — and not just in a general way, but specifically around PE — is a major challenge.
To begin overcoming this, we need to hire more Black people at PE firms and investment banks. Reginald Lewis started off as an attorney at a prominent law firm, so there’s value in law firms hiring Black law candidates. Any exposure to the industry is a great first step.
Q: What attracted you to PE?
NA: Having access to that knowledge and understanding of financial markets and asset management, both in public and private markets. That came from reading and being very fortunate to meet lots of people over the course of my career.
But probably the biggest way I gained access to information was by working at Ariel Investments before Chad Strader and I started Red Arts Capital. The founder of Ariel, John Rogers Jr., had invited me to work at his firm, and that led to extraordinary exposure to lots of different people. I met my business partner and built networks that I then brought with me to Chicago. Without people like John Rogers bringing me into the industry, I wouldn’t have been able to see the evidence of the success one could achieve in PE and learn about the space.
Q: What do you think has been essential to the success of your firm?
NA: Finding a great business partner. Chad has been an absolute pleasure to work with over the past almost 10 years. Also, our ability to pick an area of focus and build expertise in a sector has been extraordinarily pivotal to our success.
About Nick Antoine
Nick Antoine is a co-founder, co-CEO and managing partner at Red Arts Capital, where he leads fundraising, research and thesis development. Before forming Red Arts in 2015, Antoine served as special assistant to the chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, a $13 billion asset management firm. He began his career as an equity research analyst for Princeton Global Asset Management before moving to Chicago to join Ariel as an equity research associate.
Antoine is a board trustee of WTTW Communications, a member of The Economic Club of Chicago and a director of the Princeton Club of Chicago. He also serves on the chairmen’s advisory council for the Big Shoulders Fund, a charity that creates opportunities for inner-city children to attend Catholic schools. Antoine holds a BA from Princeton University.