Empowerment Series: Speaker, Author, Chief Operating Officer of NAIC, Carmen Ortiz-McGhee Shares Financial Empowerment of Latinas and Women of Color with AW
Carmen Ortiz-McGhee’s resume speaks for itself. Graduating from the University of Virginia, as a Psychology major was only the beginning of a highly successful career. Her impressive background in the corporate world includes being named one of Business Insurance Magazine’s, Top 25 Women to Watch. She was Senior Vice President and member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Aon plc., and Vice President of Investor Relations for a real estate private equity firm with $1 billion in assets under management.
One of the many highlights of her career was assuming the responsibility of President for The Marathon Club (TMC), an organization, established to bring forth elite business people in the US to help increase wealth and deal flux for ethnically diverse professionals.
Today, Carmen holds the position of Chief Operating Officer of The National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC). The NAIC is the largest group of diverse-owned private equity firms and hedge funds. Its membership is made up of more than 130 members that oversee more than $250 billion in institutional capital. As COO, she has key supervision of the programs and initiatives that lead the organization’s main alliances and corporate partnerships.
This is a magnificent list of accomplishments but the powerful Puerto Rican is much more than a resume. Carmen has continued to build her empire and pay it forward by inviting others to think bigger. Advocating for minority and women business owners has become her life’s mission. She is passionate about designing new ways to open the gateway for access and opportunity for communities that do not have the resources required to gain economic empowerment.
Interest to interview the human dynamo was born out of a desire to educate the AW community. She is a Latina who comes with a success story in the financial industry, an environment that for decades was known as, a boys’ club. Carmen’s strong desire to influence change, along with a determination to teach others, has been an asset for anyone sitting at her table.
I was honored to have the opportunity to sit with her for a lengthy conversation. Our Zoom meeting proved to be extremely valuable. She inspired me while sharing her experiences and wisdom. Our interview is sure to plant a seed of empowerment in all our readers.
Your mother built a successful career, as an Intelligence Analyst for the United States Army. She provided a strong foundation that contributed to your determination for success. You are an extremely accomplished Latina who understands the power of self, education, access, and community. It took me years to embrace my power, honestly, I didn’t realize, I had any power until some years ago. When did you wake up to your power? When I first woke up to my impact was in the early 30s. The type of impact that is life-changing, affecting diverse communities – my people. I joined an organization of American Latinos, founded by Henry Cisneros and Raul Ysaguirre. They built this organization for our community. They were powerful, wealthy Latinos that could drive change from the top-down, rather than from the bottom up. I worked there as Director of Marketing. I was seeing the most accomplished Latinos in our community. The immense amount of change that took place because this small group was able to use their intellect, influence, access and strategic thinking was mind-boggling. I thought, “If they can do it, why can’t I!” When you surround yourself with people who just do it, you start to believe, it’s possible. It was the moment, I realized that I was going to be the change, I wanted to see.
I found my voice while at the Marathon Club. I asked for the title of Vice President with salary, and everything I wanted, doing so, with courage. The person in this role made the decision to leave sooner than expected! I was this young Latina with a degree from a very good school but a state school, never having spent a day in financial services. Now, I was leading an organization of private equity investors, middle-market entrepreneurs, and senior-level corporate executives. It was an incredible journey! Thank God for amazing mentors who helped me find my voice and instincts. Those two moments in time were formative for me as a leader.
I was raised by Dominican parents, they arrived in the US in their 20’s and did the best they could with what they had. I have made it a point to learn about debt, credit, retirement funds, and investing to encourage my daughter to do the same. What would you say are the two biggest actions we can take to gain financial empowerment in our own lives? Funny you say that. I repeatedly, tell my daughter “You always want to be able to support yourself.” Regardless of what happens, you have to own your future, it’s in your hands. The first thing, I’d suggest is to learn. Take an active role in learning about how to manage your money. Beatriz Acevedo built Suma Wealth, a fintech company. She provides culturally relevant financial literacy to Latinos. I like to bring this up because it is incredibly important. In our community, we do not talk about wealth or money. There is almost a shameful culture around wealth. Without sugarcoating, get smart about managing and growing your money. The other thing I would say, be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams. It’s easy to stay in the roles that are comfortable, the ones you can handle. There is no growth in that, and you are not truly living. Get smart and read everything. Take advantage of fintech platforms. If you have financial advisor friends, talk to them. Michelle Gordon, a Dominican, just launched her personal wealth management firm. Women are doing great things. You want to speak to people in the business, pick their brains and follow a working model. We all deserve to live extraordinary lives. We should be fearless in the pursuit of that.
The pandemic brought on many challenges. People lost their jobs and women have left the workforce; many had to pivot in different ways, unexpectedly. Can you offer any suggestions to help keep female professionals motivated and confident, as they continue to pursue their goals? During moments of dark or challenging times in my career, I have made the mistake of not reaching out to my tribe. I’ve isolated myself, not wanting to be a burden or show weakness. The problem is, when you do that, you lose the engine of positivity and encouragement. You go without great advice, insight, and opportunity. Reach out and take advantage of your tribe, let people know you are looking. If they don’t know, they can’t help you. Communicate with your closest tribe for that encouragement. Make sure your mentors know the aspirations and goals, you are trying to accomplish. Also, we need more women doing amazing things. Women are force multipliers. When you empower a woman, who empowers another woman, who then empowers another, the impact is exponentially greater than that one person. You have to own your space and bring your full value to bear, everyone else will embrace it. I surround myself with incredibly accomplished, intelligent, and really good human beings. We celebrate one another and hold each other up through challenging times. Empowered, uplifted women are an incredibly, powerful force.
As Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC). How does the large network of diverse-owned private equity firms and hedge funds assist diverse women? Great and easy question, that is what we do. The NAIC has been around for 50 years. For the full balance of that time, we have advocated on behalf of diverse investors. Currently, there are approximately 140 members, all asset management firms owned by women or people of color, or both. They manage an aggregate of close to $260 billion in institutional capital. The percentage of capital in this industry that is managed by women and people of color is 1.3% of $70 trillion dollars. When you combine women and people of color, the number is substantially more than half the population, yet, less than 2% of all this capital (a lot of which is paid in by people of color) is managed by women and people of color, it is a travesty!
We do 3 big buckets of work to help make change happen:
- Increase access to capital for these diverse firms. We have a list of programs and initiatives that open doors for our diverse managers, helping them gain access to those relationships.
- Deliver market education. Research and training for institutional investors interested in investing with our managers are provided. Analysis that focuses on the performance of our diverse firms is key.
- We address industry challenges, focusing on how to get more women and people of color into the business. There are a series of programs and initiatives, such as Women in Alternatives Initiatives (In, Up, and Beyond). It looks to increase the number of women in the business, those moving up through the leadership ranks at firms they are already in, and others launching their own firms, eventually.
Those interested in reviewing mentoring programs, visit the NAIC website for internship programs and mid-career fellowships.
The finance industry is predominantly male. How do you see a career in finance, as a pathway to power for a woman? Wealth, “money is the thing” but not in a crass way. If you think about money, and how it creates access to better education, neighborhood schools, healthcare, food options – a better everything. Money can also take away certain worries. When you don’t have to worry about the basics, you can really discover yourself and lean into growing who you are. It opens up a path to pursue dreams with less fear of the risks. By no means, do I think money is everything but it is a big thing and it offers access to opportunities and freedom.
I like to end interviews with a positive message, advice, or quote to inspire women. Can you share the best advice you have been given during the journey to becoming the best self? Take risks. Women tend to check every box before pursuing any opportunity. Men might have 30% of the boxes checked and go in, fully believing they are capable of doing the job then getting a promotion in the first year. It is so amazing, the confidence men have! Step outside of your comfort zone, do it, knowing your value and capabilities. You have to take an accounting of the way you go to a place, how you give yourself. Leverage your intellect and energy to make things better than when you first arrived, that is your value. It is your power.
Always use your voice. Never stay silent in a room. I had a mentor, say to me, “If you are in a room, people are talking and you never say anything then what do they need you for.” Be careful what you ask for, this took place during a period of time when I would sit in a boardroom and never say anything because I thought everyone else in the room was smarter than me. Finally, he said, “We chose you. We chose you to lead us. If you don’t lead, what do we need you for? If you don’t contribute your energy, insights, and vision – why are you here.”
Have you ever been silenced by a fear of inferiority, felt insecure or intimidated by the accomplishments of others in a room? Years ago, I attended an industry dinner at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City, on my own. The event was filled with people from the financial world, mostly men. The guest speaker was Timothy Geithner, Former United States Secretary of the Treasury. Everyone in attendance was holding on to every word during his speech. I remember, looking around the room, glancing over at the attendees, and people at my table. For a moment, I felt afraid of what others would think of me. Was I smart, successful, or elite enough to have a seat at their table? As the night went on, I engaged in dialogue with an opportunity to demonstrate, not only did I deserve to be at that table. I earned my seat and held my own in a room filled with financial professionals.
If we believe, we are capable of greatness and do the work, there is a limitless amount of potential to achieve whatever we set out to do. Carmen is a woman of color, a Latina who can stand in any room in the world because she understands and embraces her power. The magic can only be unleashed when we believe, we can. Take a risk on yourself, begin to build the foundation that sets you on a path to design the kingdom of your choice.
AW is incredibly grateful to Carmen Ortiz-McGhee for taking the time to share a piece of her journey with our readers. This story filled me with inspiration. I hope it encourages you to blaze your own trail of achievements!
This interview is available in its entirety on AW Confidential’s YouTube channel. The best source to watch great interviews, offering insight to help you on the journey to becoming the best version of yourself.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.*
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