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: What do diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why are they important?
Mikel Parker: They mean access, opportunity and ultimately freedom. Opportunity is what everyone asks and strives for, yet without major rewiring of our leadership systems to ensure a true sense of inclusion. Let me reverse the order here. Inclusion is making diversity a vital piece of your organization’s everyday practice by valuing differences in race and gender. Equity is the ticket to the dance in the form of access. It makes it possible for differences to be heard, respected and acknowledged as contributions to the collective whole, and serves as the platform for inclusion and diversity.
Diversity within any industry is a silent — but loud — communicator of “opportunity exists here for all.” It is far too often that we hear, “The first Black person…” or “The first woman…” It’s a shame that, in this day and age, there are still so many blocks or flat-out lack of invitations to explore untapped areas. We will have achieved ultimate success as a business community when “firsts” are obsolete. I want to help empower a commonplace where we see that people of all colors and women are well distributed across all levels within our workforce. By asking questions like those you are asking me, we are making strides but still have a long way to go. We will get there eventually; sooner would be better.
Finally, I’ll note that sports, arts and entertainment have shed a major light on how impactful it is to create a cross-cultural atmosphere inclusive of Blacks, whites and women to provide new legacies. Think about the impact, for example, of Jordan Peele in movies, Misty Copeland in ballet, Aurora James in fashion design and, of course, Tiger Woods in golf.
Q: Why is it important for more Black professionals to pursue entrepreneurship?
MP: Optics are essential. Black people, like all other races, typically identify with those who look like themselves. More Black professionals need to see others who cracked the code in order to encourage additional Blacks to pursue entrepreneurship. We have unique experiences that allow a deeper understanding of what it means to take different paths and persist with creative ideas that ground us with new perspectives. The more Black professionals who take the lead and prove successful entrepreneurial pursuits, the greater the number of Black entrepreneurs who will ultimately prevail. This will in turn lead to a greater number of aspiring and successful, independent Black professionals. The “Black snowball effect” could be real and positively impactful to the business world. We need to find a way to take a greater stand on expanding our vantage points to increase the number of calculated risks.
Speaking of risk, one material impediment to each Black professional pursuing entrepreneurship is the lack of generational business success within their respective families. The years of watching our family members in the white-collar world or engaging in business talk around the dinner table simply did not exist during our childhood. Many Black professionals today are first-generation high school/college graduates and/or corporate professionals. Failure is not an option. Self-made success rests squarely on the Black entrepreneurs’ shoulders for capital raising, emergency funds, relationships/connections and adviser experience, all with the requirement of flawless execution. The margin for error or second chances simply isn’t the same for Black professionals. Added is the fear of not being able to re-enter their field of interest as employees in the event of failure.
This may seem trivial to some, but a lack of legacy is massive and real across the Black community. How do we overcome this and begin to see an increase in Black entrepreneurs? It starts with radical shifts in practicing what I see as basic roadmaps of Black transformation: education/continuing education, mentorship programs for Black professionals of all levels, appropriately structured financing opportunities, time and explicit support from not only fellow Black professionals but all races. Perhaps my generation will not flourish with a greater number of entrepreneurs, but I hope my children’s and future grandchildren’s generations will be much better suited for entrepreneurship optionality.
Q: What attracted you to investment banking?
MP: I had originally planned to be in the medical field when I first attended college. I wanted to be a biomedical engineer and help innovate cutting-edge prosthetic limbs for athletes. Pretty specific and “nichey,” for sure. At that time, I was also a college athlete and was and remain highly competitive. I knew I would need an outlet upon graduating that allowed me to continue competing, but more so in the business sense.
By the middle of my second year in college, I began hearing a lot about my classmates’ stories related to investment banking and the associated competitive environment, collegial atmosphere, high demands and career opportunities. Simultaneously, I enrolled in a required economics 101 course proctored by a great professor who was excellent at applying real-world examples and current events in an engaging way.
Throw all the above into a mixer and I was hooked on becoming an investment banker. I switched my pursuits to investment banking halfway into my sophomore year and was fortunate enough to secure an analyst position immediately after graduating. The combination of persistence, hard work, luck, timing, friends and family made it all possible and set me on my career path. I am forever grateful for the path I’ve taken to date and the people who have been influential along the way.
Q: How do you believe Black professionals will be able to influence the investment banking industry?
MP: This is similar to my earlier answer. Black professionals bring different backgrounds and experiences than whites and other races do. This will, in turn, lead to analyzing challenges with a different lens at times and possibly lead to the creation of novel financial products and offerings. Fortunately, many investment banks, including my firm, AMB, are already taking great strides to identify leading Black and female students and professionals to join the investment banking community.
With that said, top talent is key in investment banking regardless of skin color or sex. We all need to understand that this talent exists beyond white and male circles and must give minorities and women an equal chance to shine because I am confident that, by and large, each individual will.
About Mikel Parker
Mikel Parker joined AMB as the head of the firm’s investment banking division in 2019. Prior to joining AMB, Parker served as chief financial officer for several divisions of Ciox Health, a leading provider of healthcare information management services, and also oversaw corporate development. He started his career as an investment banking analyst at Robinson Humphrey and has held various senior roles at multiple investment banks, including vice president at Shattuck Hammond and managing director at Genesis Capital.
At AMB, Parker sits on the executive committee and is responsible for client strategy, sourcing deals and managing transaction execution. Over the course of his career, he has directly participated in transactions across a wide spectrum of industries. His healthcare transaction experience has spanned provider, HCIT, payor and life science services companies to date.
Parker received his BA from Washington and Lee University and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame for soccer. He received his MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Parker was recognized as a winner of M&A Advisor‘s 8th Annual Emerging Leaders Awards.