Building More Inclusive Capital Markets

Reflections and Discussions with Jay Oduwole

This past month, the Black Students’ Association and Western Capital Markets hosted a speaker event featuring Jay Oduwole, a Vice-President in the Investment Banking group at TD Securities. The event began with an educational component followed by a discussion and Q&A with Jay.

Key topics covered in this discussion included an overview of the current racial wealth gap, the segregated economy, the impacts of capitalism on black communities, and how modern financial systems have catalyzed the wealth gap seen today. The speaker portion of this event, which will be the focus of this post, began with a discussion of Jay’s insights and experiences during his career on Bay Street. See the transcript below:

To start things off, would you be able to give us a background on yourself, your career, how you got to where you are today, and what your responsibilities are on a day-to-day basis?

I went to Queen’s University and studied Economics in my undergrad, then did a Master of Finance at the Queen’s School of Business. I finished my undergrad in 2008 and then graduated from my Master’s in 2009. This was right at the onset of the financial crisis. Jobs were few and far between, Lehman had gone bankrupt, Bear Stearns was taken in by JPMorgan — it was a hectic time. While some banks still showed up to do interviews, there were very few roles available. Despite this, one interesting role that came up for me was a job at JP Morgan in Hong Kong. I’d never lived in Hong Kong, and had no connection to Hong Kong at all. But being young at the time, I said, “Why not? Working internationally would be a great experience.”

I took a risk management role at JPMorgan. I was pricing credit derivatives and credit default swaps, which had played a big part in the crisis. It was interesting to see that perspective and I got to work on the trading desk with some bright people at JPMorgan. Ultimately, I knew that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but obviously having JPMorgan on your resume and being able to work in an international financial capital like Hong Kong was something I couldn’t pass up. I did that for about half a year. When I was in Hong Kong, I was able to travel extensively throughout Asia, both for work and for leisure. I was in Japan, India, Korea, Thailand — you name it. It was a lot of fun moving around, and I think the takeaway for me from that experience was that it doesn’t matter where you are. Most people have the same objectives, we’re all striving for the same thing. We put our families first, we put our close ones first, and we try to be successful in our jobs. That’s consistent across the board, no matter the geography. Also, when you see people for who they are, they’ll quickly realize that we’ve got more in common than we think. You’ll see that you probably have a lot of common interests and just generally see the world in the same way. I’ve taken that with me everywhere I go.

I then decided to come back home. I grew up in Vancouver, and I had made some connections with alumni at Queen’s who were very senior at TELUS and I took a job in Corporate Development there. Corporate development is essentially internal M&A. Oftentimes, companies who do a lot of M&A themselves will build internal teams to avoid paying fees. You basically do what you would do as an investment banker, but for the company that you work for. Deals are typically smaller because with some of the larger transactions that take up a lot of resources you’d want to have an advisor on board, but smaller deals are their bread and butter.

While I was at TELUS, a lot of what I did at the time was to begin some of the company’s forays into health: buying electronic medical record companies. Historically, doctors used to write all of their patients’ histories in a folder, and electronic medical records essentially digitize all of that and online and create a repository so that if you change doctors, your file can be seen by your new doctor. Today, TELUS is one of the biggest digital healthcare providers in Canada. I was there at a very early stage, and it’s incredible to see how they’ve grown.

After about two years at TELUS, I decided that I wanted to go back to a bank. I ended up starting in Equity Research (ER) at Scotiabank covering telecom companies. I already had a foundational understanding of the Telecom industry, and it was easy to leverage that skill set in ER. The role of ER is to present buy or sell recommendations on stocks and put a target price on a stock. You are an expert on the sector that you cover. It’s nice because you can end up going on BNN and providing your opinion on events that occur in your industry or in a company that you cover. I did that for nearly three years and typically what you find is that the job tends to be somewhat cyclical. Companies release their earnings four times a year and there’s a process where a company releases earnings, you digest it and you figure out what it means for the company. You then update your model, you put out a research note, and you reset. Reset, repeat… It’s something that happens repeatedly. It’s something that got a little mundane for me. I then decided to try something else and ventured over to Investment Banking at TD covering Telecom companies.

I’ve been doing that for the last six years. Investment banking is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding. The way I typically contrast research with investment banking is that in research you write about the news and in investment banking, you make the news. If you work on a big deal, it shows up in the Globe and Mail the next day, so it’s nice to see the fruits of your labor. You get to see the private side and you get to understand what a CEO’s strategic objectives are and what they want to achieve. As their advisor, you need to figure out how you’re going to help them achieve those goals. You’ll never know a company as well as a CEO, but what you can bring to the table is an insight into the markets. How are the capital markets going to react to something that you’re doing? How can we best finance this transaction? The better you know their company, the sector and the trends, the better the advice you can provide them. So I love it and it’s always changing. Today it is busier than I’ve ever seen. In the last six years, I probably worked on one IPO, but now I have four live ones.

Now regarding my experience as a black person in finance, the facts are that there are few of us in this job. When I look around the floor, there aren’t very many people that look like me and that’s the reality. It’s something you can’t ignore, but it’s also not something that’s on the forefront of my mind. I come to work just like everybody else, and I want to do the best job that I could. But it’s something that I think should change because ultimately, your race does not indicate how well you can perform. Your race may put some obstacles in front of you that people of other races may not have, but there are bright people across the board. The fact that I was few and far between is something that should be changed. Hopefully, with the renewed focus on this, things will be changed. Now, have I ever experienced explicit racism in the workplace? I would say no. Have I experienced, or do I acknowledge that implicit racism does exist? Absolutely.

Let’s say you were to go to an interview, and the person in front of you has a different background than you. It may not just be a racial background, but it may be an upbringing. And let’s say this individual played a certain type of sports or went to a certain type of school or went to a certain university that you didn’t go to. It’s harder to develop a rapport with that person than with someone who you had all those same shared experiences with. People like working with people with whom they can get along, and it could go as far as if you have a hard-to-pronounce name. It might be easier for someone to go call a “John Smith” than for them to call someone whose name they have a hard time pronouncing. Going back to the interview example, it’s easier for that individual who’s in a hiring role to choose the person that they just got along with, because typically when you get to the interview stage, everybody has crossed the bar in terms of grades and such, so it essentially comes down to how well I like that person. So, historically what’s happened is that they’ve hired the person with whom they’re most familiar, and that’s something that absolutely needs to change.

As a black person, I think it’s important that more of us are put in positions where we are decision-makers to broaden familiarity. It is important for our allies to be aware of potential implicit racism, and to reflect on why you are thinking that way. Why did you have that reaction when that person said this or when that person walked into the room? That’s a key part that our allies need to be aware of because it’s not enough to say you’re not racist, it’s important to explicitly act against racism. Going back to my international experience, if we all go in with the mindset that we’re all largely the same. A lot of this will solve itself.

At TD, I’m part of a new committee called the Black Experience Committee, which was put into effect after the killing of George Floyd. What happened is that the world woke up to some of the injustices that have been taking place for a very long time. Now there’s this increased motivation to try and find ways to put more people of colour in roles, because as I said, we’re all deserving, we all work hard, and the reality is that people of colour face some obstacles that others don’t. So, some things that we’re putting into place today include broadening the pool of the schools and programs we recruit from, creating scholarships that focus on diversity, making sure that people of colour have the opportunity to get promoted and reach senior roles. But I think the most important thing is for people of colour themselves and for allies to recognize that these things do exist and actively work against them.

The last thing that I will say is once you get into a role, always try to pay it forward. Try to help others who are coming up. Carve out some time to speak to students. A lot of people don’t realize these roles exist until it’s too late and because it’s highly competitive you need to be preparing at a very early stage. So once you reach your desired positions, I encourage you to think about what it took for you to get there, realize who helped you along the way, and make sure that you also help the new generation.

Thank you, those insights and reflections were incredibly valuable. You mentioned how you’ve never experienced explicit racism in your career, but I’m curious how you went about navigating and fitting into the corporate culture and becoming successful without necessarily losing yourself or minimizing the expression of who you are as a POC.

I think naturally there is a part of you that can’t fully be expressed. I might not be as willing to talk about a Jay-Z lyric to my boss because I know he’s probably never listened to a Jay-Z song before. I never played hockey, growing up I watched the Raptors, and I may not be able to have that conversation that somebody who did play hockey may be able to have with their boss. There’s a professional you and there’s a personal you, and that’s never going to change, and you have to play those different roles. It’s not necessarily a racial thing, but there’s always going to be common interests that some people have and some people don’t have. But you’re not always able to fully be yourself, so it’s something to be mindful of. It’s important to find common interests with people because you’ve got to enjoy the people you work with. You’ve got to find ways to communicate with each other outside of work, and in investment banking I see the people I work with more than I see the people I live with. So you’ve got to find a way to connect on a personal level. It’s important as allies to think about that and think about everyone that you work with. If you’re in a manager role, think about all the people who you’re leading and how you can make everybody feel included because that’s absolutely critical. Maybe if there’s a team event, you don’t have to always go to the golf course. Find things that apply to more people.

It is also good to have mentors. Generally, mentors are important, but I think it can be helpful at times to find mentors that do have shared experiences with you. Again, if it’s a cultural experience, if it’s a racial experience, if it’s where you went to a university, it’s important to find someone who can help you navigate because they have shared experiences with yours.

I think people often have their own perspectives on the significant barriers preventing people of colour from entering finance, whether it be mentorship, access to opportunities, or access to knowledge. I’m curious what your take on that is, and what you think the most significant barriers preventing people of colour from entering and thriving in finance might be.

The one thing that I’ve noticed repeatedly is that these roles are extremely competitive. I remember being at an afterschool group at Queen’s, and I was reviewing pitch decks made by individuals who were in their first year. Some of the slides they put together could have probably been put in a deck at TD. They were that good. I think the issue is that because these jobs are so competitive, people are preparing extremely early.

To preface, I think it’s always important to recognize that “people of colour” is a broad term. But it is important to look within diversity and make sure that you are not blanketing it because some people of colour, particularly within finance, are doing better than others. Generally, what I’ve noticed is that they learn about these roles too late because if you learn about them in the third or fourth year, unfortunately you’re playing catch up, and sadly you’re probably not going to catch up. So, it’s important to investigate what’s out there early.

At a very early age, we learn that there are doctors and lawyers, and those are successful careers, but there are many careers in finance that are also cool, compensated well, and are extremely rewarding. It’s on us to make sure we spend some time thinking about these options, and then once you start figuring those out, start doing the work to prepare yourself to get those jobs. Naturally, it’s going to be a lot easier if you had a relative or close friend who was in commerce and got into the best bank. So, that’s one of the obstacles, because if you don’t necessarily have that very visible model and path to follow, it will be increasingly difficult.

Branching off that, do you believe that we will ever get to the point where diverse and inclusive corporate cultures are the status quo rather than the exception. And if so, as future leaders, what do we need to keep in mind or be doing to help society get to that point?

I really hope so. I think diversity of voices and diversity of thought aren’t things that we should be doing just for the sake of it, but because it leads to better outcomes. If you’re a consumer goods company selling things to a younger demographic, you’ve got to be aware of the audiences that you are reaching. The more people you have at the table making these decisions, the less likely it’ll be that you miss trends. So, I think the diversity of voices is absolutely critical to be successful in the current corporate world.

Regarding your second question, you need to be active. This can’t be something that will just occur organically. You need to go out of your way to make it happen. It could be as simple as just making sure there are roles for people of colour, people of different genders, or different sexualities — it’s all critically important.

My last question is, reflecting on your career, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self or someone preparing to walk the path that you have taken?

The biggest thing that you can do as a young individual is just gather information. It’s important to think about your career and think about what skills you bring to the table and what you think you’d be best at. Gathering information could be as simple as going online and researching roles. Think about what you like — if you have a knack for numbers, find roles that require those types of skills. Do your research, learn about the roles, and get to a point where you understand what those jobs are. Then start reaching out to people. If you send 10 emails to 10 different alumni, even if only one of them responds, that’s fantastic. You can pick their brain and start asking questions. Also, try to maintain that relationship. Don’t call that person every day, but catch up with them three months after you’ve spoken and say, “Hey, we talked about this and I saw this news article and it reminds me of our discussion. What are your thoughts?”

There are many different roles out there. Investment banking is one of many finance roles. Find out what makes sense to you and what you like. Also, realize that you don’t need to know exactly what you want to do when you’re 20 years old. If you try something and find out that it’s not for you, it’s not the end of the world. You move on to the next thing. Have a plan in mind but be prepared to pivot as well. Learn as much as you can and be flexible. Ultimately, go to where your skills can be best applied and what makes you genuinely happiest.



WCM’s mission is to educate, develop and provide real-world opportunities for members of the Western community to explore their interest in finance.

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Western Capital Markets

WCM’s mission is to educate, develop and provide real-world opportunities for members of the Western community to explore their interest in finance.