“Preparation, performance and paranoia,” said Ray McGuire to the AmNews when discussing his approach to work.
Where does the paranoia come from?
“From knowing that every day somebody’s trying to dunk on you, trying to take your lunch money, trying to take you out,” said McGuire. “You don’t want to be an ESPN highlight. Remember, championships are won when nobody’s looking.”
Competitiveness is the name of the game for the now former vice chair at Citigroup. Raised by a single mother and his grandparents in Dayton, Ohio, McGuire was raised in a home that made faith, hard work and education the tenets of the household. Circumstances outside of the home factored into that mantra.
While McGuire grew up near a paper mill in a population dealing with environmental racism, he still managed to excel, attending the prestigious Miami Valley School in his hometown. While there, he maintained a 4.0 grade average, was the president of the school and the top player on his basketball team. He was a big fish in a small pond until he was challenged.
“If you are as good as they say you are, why don’t you go test yourself against the big boys and girls in the East?” one teacher said to a 16-year-old McGuire. He then took a plane by himself to Connecticut and then a Greyhound bus to visit schools for his final pre-college year. He decided on The Hotchkiss School (a boarding school in Lakeville, Conn.), which is considered one of the best prep schools in the country and is surrounded by a nine-hole golf course.
McGuire became the first person in his family to graduate from college when he earned his bachelor’s at Harvard (he also applied to Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Amherst and John Hopkins and was accepted at every school). He then took on Harvard’s JD/MBA program earning degrees in law and business simultaneously. His journey brought him to Wall Street. Did McGuire see any other path to success?
“There was no plan B,” said McGuire. “It was a one-way ticket. That’s not written in the bio. You can’t Google that.
“As another philosopher said, ‘Started from the bottom, now we’re here,’” said McGuire.
Over the past four decades, McGuire helped businesses generate over $20 billion a year in revenue supporting public and private sector clients around the world. McGuire said that someone with that background is someone who could change city politics.
“In 2019, the $93 billion budget, that’s fiscal year,” said McGuire. “Taxes provided two-thirds of that at $61 billion. Real estate taxes the largest contributor—$28 billion. Then comes personal income tax and sales tax. How do you balance that?…If there’s gonna be a potential reduction in the value of real estate, it’s gonna have an impact on real estate taxes, it’s gonna have an impact on your revenue base. If sales taxes are going down and personal taxes go down, you tell me how you meet your budget?
“Then you look at your expenditures of your budget,” continued McGuire. “$34 billion goes to education, $21 billion goes to public safety and judicial and then another 16 goes to social services. You have to be really thoughtful about how you manage that budget.”
With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio having to cut city jobs and battling with local labor unions as to what jobs can be cut, there’s still reserves left to help the city in the meantime. However, McGuire knows those reserves will end soon.
“We’re gonna be OK, probably…from what the experts say, for FY ’21,” said McGuire. “Now, in FY ’22, when your reserves have gone and your tax base is down, who do you think is gonna suffer from that if you’re not in the room where it’s happening? How many people who look like you and me are in that room?”
The current projected budget for FY 2021 is $544 million with an $830 million shortfall. According to a recent report by the Independent Budget Office, the city is projected to have a $6 billion budget gap for FY 2022.
“You have no idea how bad this is about to get unless we have leadership that can manage us out of this and lead us out of this,” McGuire said.
McGuire spent the last 13 years as the head of global corporate and investment banking at Citigroup. He’s the longest tenured head of investment in the history of Wall Street. While originating and executing deals valued at over $650 billion, he kept his ear to the street mentoring young people when there was no one who looked like him to mentor him.
“I can remember coming from the wrong side of the tracks and not being invited to the fancy stuff,” said McGuire. “I know what that felt like. There are so many kids like me who didn’t get that opportunity. Kids with no one betting on them.”
McGuire said that the city, the private sector and members of the community need to collaborate and help give kids opportunities to shine.
“Growing up, school was safe. Church was safe,” said McGuire. “We need examples of people today who have placed bets [on themselves]. Who do we celebrate these days? Yes, we should celebrate the athletes and the entertainers, but do we celebrate the others? There are many people who would like to stop us there because that’s an area where we’re under their control.
“There’s no cavalry coming in here. For too long people have promised us and not perfected on those promises. I got no summer programs, no youth employment, no nets and rims on the court, no broadband and no tablet. Where’s my hope? Where are the examples that we’re celebrating? You tell me?
“To whom much is given, much is required,” said McGuire. He reported on such to prove that point.
This year, McGuire premiered a study that concluded that racism has cost the United States of America $16 trillion in the past 20 years when combining the cost disparities in wages, education, housing and in the investment of Black-owned businesses. The study stated that equal access to housing credit could have added 770,000 more Black homeowners and $218 billion in sales and expenditures. The study also showed that it would have increased the income of Black employees by $113 billion while improving access to college for Black students. This is why to McGuire, access through education or the current power structure means a lot.
A 2019 report by the New York State Education Department showed that in 2018, between grades 3 and 8, 34.5% of Black students were proficient in English Language Arts, a 17.3% achievement gap when compared to their white peers. In math, the numbers are 29.3% and 24.9% respectively.
“When the foundation is crumbling, what will the righteous do?” said McGuire. He wants systemic changes not just in City Hall, but with the police and the community. He talked about linking up the “Kristen Foys” and “Erica Fords” of the community together with the cops to have a real conversation. Not just about the people, but about those tasked with upholding the law.
“The problem is that we’re thinking about this the wrong way,” said McGuire. “I want systemic change. I want to get these people in the same room. The people on the frontlines. In certain countries, the police don’t have weapons. If the only thing is a hammer everything looks like a nail. We’re letting ourselves be divided.”
McGuire also talked about bringing artists back to the city via repurposed vacant space in luxury apartment buildings and making sure everyone in the city has a right to a home and resources. He wants everyone to realize that it’s in the city’s best interest to work together.
“People have to realize that it’s in our best interest to utilize all of this space. You can’t just throw rocks from the outside and expect something to change. You gotta be on the inside. I’ve been on the inside.
“They’re gonna say he’s a corporate guy. I welcome that,” continued McGuire. “I’m all the way corporate. Who in the room can confidently talk about the budget and move the pieces around so that the people who are worse off don’t suffer the most. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty fluent in that stuff,” McGuire said. “I’m un-bought, unbound and un-bossed. I’m gonna tell it the way it is.”
Does McGuire have his eyes completely on City Hall? Citizens of the five boroughs may know at some point, but his suggestions on how to make this city work could make someone think that way. It’s not everyday a man of McGuire’s stature uses a mix of “high” and “low” art to explain his stance on life.
“I’ve got two philosophers, both of whom you may be familiar with,” McGuire said. “One is my man Omar from ‘The Wire’: ‘It’s a game out here. You gotta play or be played.’ Now, it’s not clear to me that they didn’t take that from a writer who changed the course of American literature and American history, Ralph Ellison. Ellison told us to play the game, but don’t believe [in] it.
“…And my addendum to that is until you run it,” McGuire concluded.