Chicago Private Equity Exec Outlines Keys to Investing in Minority Businesses

Monday, August 10, 2020

Rendel Solomon and Jacqui Robertson

Rendel Solomon, an executive with private equity firm M2 in Chicago, and Jacqui Robertson, head of inclusion & diversity at William Blair, who moderated a discussion with Solomon on I&D.

William Blair presented a thoughtful discussion of diversity and inclusion issues at an online event on July 23 featuring Rendel Solomon, an executive with a Chicago investment firm that focuses on minority- and women-owned businesses.

Solomon, who was raised in the tough inner-city neighborhood of Garfield Park on Chicago's West Side, entered Tulane University in 1996 to study engineering and after graduation joined Procter & Gamble. He went on to earn an M.B.A. from Columbia University and is now back in Chicago, where he works for Muller & Monroe Asset Management (M2), a private equity firm that manages over $1 billion.

Solomon shared his personal story of hope, inspiration, empowerment, opportunity and ownership, which he said were all keys to his perseverance. The descendants of poor sharecroppers in Mississippi, his family moved north to Chicago in the mid-1950s. He and his sisters are the first of his family to graduate from college.

"It's important to recognize that being exposed to new things is what creates opportunities, what sparks minds, and what insights action," Solomon told the gathering.

He cited William Blair's community partner, the Greenwood Project, as an excellent example. Greenwood's husband-and-wife team, Bevon and Elois Joseph who work in the Chicago financial services industry, founded the nonprofit to introduce and foster potential careers in finance to talented minorities from underserved communities.

"Part of what we can do today and must continue to do is push forward this exposure piece," Solomon said. "Thankfully, I had some exposure. My late mother was focused on getting me and my two sisters educated. That was a tool that she knew she had to arm us with."

M2 invests in small and emerging companies mainly owned by minorities and women. He said diverse-owned businesses have to overcome many barriers in accessing capital when they lack the heritage, legacy, and relationships that are often the key for sustaining business development. 

"When you don't have that in certain communities, whether it's the Black community, Hispanic community, LGBTQ community, women—it makes it that much more difficult to start and grow a successful business."

Solomon cited a 2019 Knight Foundation that showed diverse-owned firms represent just 1.3% of the $69 trillion of capital managed in the U.S. despite equal performance.

"It's not going to be fixed overnight," Solomon noted, calling the history of small minority control of capital "the largest barrier."

Regarding diversity and inclusion initiatives within companies, Solomon said the most effective ones become wrapped around everything the organization does.

"You can't achieve D&I off in a vacuum, over to the side," he said. "It has to be infused in every aspect of your organization from hiring to retention to promotion to procurement to investment to donations to conversations. Every organization still has some work to do."

The July 23 event was the second in a series of D&I conversations William Blair's ONE Alliance business group has hosted in 2020. ONE Alliance is dedicated to supporting a workplace culture of inclusion and diversity where all voices are heard and valued.

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