In this series, youth poised to be Chicago’s future leaders (UCAN program participants and recent alumni) interview current Chicago leaders in their fields of interest.
Finance, the future of Chicago, and how young people from any background can find a career. In this episode of our interview series, Yusuf Aljabri, a UCAN participant and aspiring finance professional, sits down with Kourtney Gibson, President of Loop Capital Markets and a regular commentator on CNBC, to explore how she made it to a leading position in the financial industry, what advice she has for young people interested in entering the field, and why she feels the financial industry is important to the future of Chicago.
Other Episodes can be found here.
Yusuf Aljabri: Ms. Gibson, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about Loop Capital Markets and what it is that you do here.
Kourtney Gibson: I’m Kourtney Gibson, President of Loop Capital Markets. We’re one of the largest privately held investment banks in the country and the largest minority owned investment banking firm. What we do here at Loop Capital is underwrite on behalf of institutions, ranging from public institutions like the city of Chicago and Chicago Public schools through corporations like the Exelons of the world.
We also trade stocks and bonds in the secondary market on behalf of institutional investors across the country, ranging in size from the BlackRocks of the world (which is the largest asset manager on the planet) all the way through smaller asset management firms you may have never even heard of before. We are an investment bank and brokerage firm.
YA: So, did you always plan to go into finance? And if not, what changed your mind?
KG: Absolutely not! I was going to be a bilingual pediatrician. Then I went to undergrad at the University of Miami and I got into the business school – I tested in, and I said, “Well, this business thing could be interesting.”
I was fortunate enough to have interned here at Loop Capital when I was 16 years old, so I had an introduction to business and finance – but I still was going to be a doctor initially. Then, after taking some business courses, and continuing to intern here as well as at Morgan Stanley in New York, I decided this might be the path I want to pursue. So, I decided to stick with finance, majoring in international finance and marketing, with a minor in business law (you always have to know the legal side of things) and I have been at Loop Capital ever since.
YA: Cool, so what kind of jobs are there at Loop Capital?
KG: Take your pick. When you think about an investment bank there are a lot of things that make it go, from the technology and working in IT to the accounting and finance functions that we have here, through marketing, through creative writing…there are a lot of things you can do here – and that’s not even on the business side yet.
On the business side there are a number of opportunities. At the entry level, generally speaking, is our analyst program, and from the analyst level you go into being an associate, then a VP, SVP, Managing Director…As a matter of fact, if you wanted to become CEO here one day the door is open for anyone that has the will, the aptitude and the integrity to get the job done.
There are a number of things you can do here at the firm also from a specific perspective. We have bankers, we have traders, we have sales people on the business side, and on the administrative side is human resources, accounting, legal, IT, marketing, you name it.
YA: So, what should someone like me who aspires to be into business and finance do right now as they prepare for their future careers?
KA: The number one thing you start with – and I don’t care if you want to be the CEO of a company or you want to go do something totally outside of finance – the number one thing is your education. If you can get the grades right that sets the stage to opening the door for you to anything that you want.
In addition to that education you need integrity. People have to know and believe that you are a person of your word and that you do the right thing. Don’t ever sacrifice that for anything; everything else will follow suit, but you have to have integrity.
And you have to work hard. So, as you’re working hard, whether that is at school or whether that is in after school programs, doing the best, being the best will help to shape your future (in my humble opinion), to be able to open the door for you on the business side of things.
YA: What was your motivation throughout your college years, and how did that get you to where you are today in terms of your career?
KG: What motivates me? I am a woman of faith and family. I am very strong in my faith and I love my family, and I feel like I need to be successful in order to make sure that I can make my family successful and generations to come. That motivates me.
I want to be the best that I can be for – and it sounds really clichéd – but for the world, ultimately. If I can do my little part in this little thing called life, hopefully I can impact this world in a positive way.
YA: I’ve seen that you are a regular guest on CNBC. How is that, being the face of Loop Capital Markets? Is there any pressure when you go on that show and have to represent the company?
KG: There’s tons of pressure! Not only am I feeling like I represent the company, but there are a lot more weights that I feel are on my back at any given point in time. And so, I’m nervous every time I go on – but that nervousness actually forces me to prepare.
When you think about the fact that there are young girls and young boys that are looking on that screen and I may be the only person of color or the only woman that’s a person of color that they see that entire day on that network. It’s important to me that I make sure they understand that they can do this, too – that I am up there doing just as much and saying and being as on top of it as all the other gentleman that are sitting around me at those tables.
YA: How do you see the financial industry being important to Chicago and the future?
KA: I think the financial services industry is a part of the fabric of this community. Aside from the money that moves within a lot of these institutions, the financial institutions have an obligation and an ability – and candidly they have been stepping up to the plate – around actually working with communities.
Think about a lot of the not-for-profits that are here in the city…think about the different entities that help and give back, whether that be through internships, donations, different programs. Many of those not-for-profit boards consist of people that come from the financial services industry, from the Jim Reynolds of the world to the John Rogers of the world to a myriad of other CEOs that are across this city. They really do get behind making Chicago the epicenter of financial services – and making sure that everyone is participating in that economic development.
YA: Do you think it is important to find minority youth that are interested in finance, and try to teach them things they may not be exposed to coming from the places that they do?
KG: Definitely, and many of the institutions across the city have internship programs. I sit on the board of the Chicago Scholars Foundation where we just launched a program called Emerge, which helps to place students of color, first gen students, low income students, into companies across this city, to expose them to financial markets and other companies like Loop Capital.
I am sitting here as living proof of an internship program. I think back to when I started interning – the CEO paid me out of his pocket. And John Rogers and Melody Hobson over at Ariel Investments have started a school. So when you think about the commitment here, the desire for minority students in particular to have exposure to this business, we are following suit via not only our wallets, but also our time, effort and energy, to make sure that we’re not the last faces of color you see in these seats – and that we continue to grow and foster students across this city.
YA: Are there some of those internships here at Loop Capital?
KG: Definitely. Right now, our internship program brings in either sophomores or juniors in college. We have a huge internship talent pool – over a thousand applicants this past year that wanted to work at Loop Capital. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take them all in, but we do usually have between 20 and 30 students every single summer that we bring in to expose to investment banking.
YA: What are some of the things that they do within the internship?
KG: It varies – whatever we need. Candidly, if I needed to go do something that isn’t normally what you would see a president do – say we have a pitch and everyone else is working on something – I’ll go in the back and put the books together.
It really is a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of business, and at the end of the day the ultimate objective is to add value to your clients, which ultimately adds value to the firm…which ultimately makes sure that we can offer jobs and internships to folks such as yourself in the future.
There are a myriad of things that interns here get exposure to, from putting together those pitch books to burning the midnight oil running models and working in Excel and PowerPoint. And we bring our interns to meetings – whether it’s with a CEO or the mayor of the city, we’ll bring our interns to expose them to what actually happens at the other end. So, you’re working all night running models and doing pitch books – well, how does that come to life in a meeting? We really try to expose our students to the full gamut of what it is to work at an investment bank.
YA: I’m a junior in high school and I have to deal with a lot of things, such as school and taking the SAT, but also, I want to enhance my understanding of the financial industry. Is there any advice you have for me that I can be able to manage both my school and learning about the financial industry?
Like I said – and I don’t care if it’s Loop Capital, if it’s Morgan Stanley, if it’s Citadel, if it’s Ariel – when you first come through that door you have to be on par and as good, if not better, than the folks who are already in that job. The first thing people are going to say is “OK, what’s is your GPA? What were your test scores? And maybe you didn’t go to Harvard or Yale, and that’s OK – but you went to school and you worked incredibly hard, you got great grades ,you were active and involved. You were involved in your community, and you showed an interest early on in this business.
It’s how you shape that total package that then comes in the door says, “Hey. I’m the person you want to hire.” You want to make sure you’re doing those things that give you a leg up in this world. So, if you want to be a fund manager and run your own portfolio, look at what the background is of those fund managers you aspire to be like. Then say,
“How can I put my career path on par with theirs? What did they do to get to where they are, and how can I put myself in a position to do similar things?
YA: Thank you very much Ms. Gibson – thank you for being here today and allowing us to interview you.
KG: Thank you.