Braxton Clark ’18
Todd Sears is the self-proclaimed “gayest man on Wall Street,” and also, one of the most successful.
Mr. Sears, a Woodberry graduate, spoke to the Woodberry community and met with small class groups on Friday, January 13th. He started his lucrative career by focusing on LGBT finance at Merrill Lynch. He brought in $1.4 billion in four years before his promotion, and more importantly he opened up discussion about LGBT rights and issues in the finance community. Mr. Sears headed the strategic initiatives of the Office of Diversity at Merrill Lynch until 2004 when he moved to Credit Suisse as the America’s Head of Diversity. After being let go in 2010, he started Out Leadership. Out Leadership educates corporations on LGBT business strategies and hosts forums between LGBT advocacy groups and finance industry leaders.
Mr. Sears came out to a group of teachers he was close to at Woodberry. Coming out was important to him, and he wanted to have a strong group of allies that could back him up and accept him for who he is. According to Mr. Sears, his strong connection of allies is the source of his success as a gay man in society and also in the finance industry.
“Those allies are the people who actually helped me be successful because they gave me the navigation I needed in the corporate space.”
Strong allies they were. At Mr. Sears’ first convention, he partnered with Merrill Lynch, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays. There, he discussed how the uncertainty surrounding LGBT issues was hurting their bottom line and how to tap into the gay market. Mr. Sears knew that the bottom line was the driving factor behind all major decisions at these large corporations, and he could use that knowledge to promote gay rights and gain profits at the same time. Once gay marriage rights were passed, the LGBT community had certainty about their rights and position in society, and they could begin to think about the future and in turn invest in banks. It was a win-win. He has found that the market has been more effective at advancing gay right than politics or anything else.
“The markets are fundamentally rational, and discrimination is fundamentally irrational,” Mr. Sears explained during his talk. “It’s much easier to make a case around something being irrational and bad for business than make policy. For the marriage equality Supreme Court case, 367 companies signed a brief saying that marriage equality was an business issue… I’m not telling you your culture is wrong. I’m not telling you your religion is wrong. I am telling you it is going to cost you your business.”
Mr. Sears said receiving a standing ovation after his speech was “magical,” and he is proud to see the Woodberry community becoming more open since his time as a student. He said that the feeling he felt on the stage was only matched by the time he met the President Barack Obama at the White House. In response to Mr. Sears’ visit, the Peer Leadership committee is starting an ally program at Woodberry.