Investor Relations & Product Management, Clearlake Capital Group & Board Member
In episode twelve, we stop in Santa Monica. Dhani Jones speaks with Capital Raiser and Board Director, Marcelia Freeman all about the importance of mentorship and post-university support networks, and why there needs to be added focus on hiring managers from diverse backgrounds.
When you have diverse managers, whether they're women or people of color, the data has proven out that they generate more alpha. Full stop period. So if we are in the business of managing capital and generating alpha, generating strong performance for the people that we are managing money for, whether it's a public pension plan, whether it's an endowment, whether it's a hospital system, whatever it might be, we are not fulfilling our fiduciary duty to them if we're not finding the best managers out there that can produce the best performance in a systematic, repeatable way. That's the end of the story.Marcelia Freeman, Investor Relations & Product Management, Clearlake Capital Group
With fifteen years of experience in financial services, Marcelia Freeman joined Clearlake Capital Group, a Santa Monica based private equity firm investing in technology and industrials, in 2020 in Investor Relations & Product Management.
How pursuing diversity can help you find better managers
Marcelia Freeman (00:04):
When you have diverse managers, whether they're women or people of color, the data has proven out that they generate more alpha. Full stop period. So if we are in the business of managing capital and generating alpha, generating strong performance for the people that we are managing money for, whether it's a public pension plan, whether it's an endowment, whether it's a hospital system, whatever it might be, we are not fulfilling our fiduciary duty to them if we're not finding the best managers out there that can produce the best performance in a systematic, repeatable way. That's the end of the story. More institutional investors need to add diverse managers into their portfolio. Not because it feels good, not because it looks good, but because it performs well.
Dhani Jones (01:02):
The Pathfinder podcast is presented to you by Ansarada. Ansarada is the modern deal and virtual data room technology designed to make M&A, capital raising, divestments, restructures, and IPOs as simple as possible. Since 2005, Ansarada has been trusted in over 24,000 transactions, and powered over 1 trillion worth of deals. Ansarada is a secure space that includes workflow tools, AI power data rooms, built in question and answer, and integration frameworks. It's the data room trusted by modern deal makers. You can start for free today at ansarada.com. You know I like a winning team. So say it with me, ansarada.com for your next winning outcome.
Welcome to The Pathfinders. The modern deal maker series brought to you by Ansarada. Now here's your host Dhani Jones.
Dhani Jones (01:55):
Welcome back everybody to the Pathfinders present by Ansarada. I'm your host former NFL player, investor, and entrepreneur Dhani Jones. Today I'm joined by capital raiser and board of director Marcelia Freeman. Marcelia works in Investor Relations & Product Management at Clearlake Capital Group, and is member of the board of directors of the Florida A&M University Foundation and the National Association of Securities Professionals. And she served as a term member on the Council on Foreign Relations. Marcelia came into her current role at Clearlake Capital Group with over 15 years of experience in financial services, and is with us today to share some of her deal-making stories to offer us insights into how she blazed the trail forward in the world of capital raising, and explains why it's so important to create a clear path to follow for those who come after you.
Dhani Jones (02:37):
What I find so amazing about your career is that you've had such a dedicated path, and you've had such a committed understanding of where you want to take not only your career, but where you want to bring others along as well. So I really appreciate that. And it all started off at Florida A&M University. And I know we banter back and forth because obviously I went to the University of Michigan and I feel so much pride about that, but you also went to Harvard Business School. So you kind of hold that as a special place. And I know education is something that you're very passionate about. Would you say that there are key moments from your childhood or your school career, or school years that really launched you on the path towards career and financial services and investment?
Marcelia Freeman (03:29):
I'd say first of all, that the path of education was one that was incredibly important to me. I have a brother that's 13 years older than me. So when I was starting kindergarten, he was going to college. And I remember sitting in his old room with my mom and my brother. And she was asking, "Well, where are you going to go to college?" Because we knew what college was at that time. And I remember saying that I wasn't going to go to college because she didn't go to college. And she was all these amazing things. And why would I need to go to college if she didn't? And funny enough, well not funny, deliberately enough she registered in school the next semester and graduated from her undergrad Radford University at the age of 40, and then went on to get two more master's and an ed specialist degree from Alabama State University.
Marcelia Freeman (04:21):
So the point is that she ingrained in us very early that education was incredibly important and that there was no in to it. And I think that that's what I aimed to do every day. Yes, Florida A&M was amazing. I got my undergrad and a master's there, then I went on to Harvard. But the goal is to really learn something every day, whether it's formal education or informal education. Whether it's someone at the office or it's someone at the subway on the corner, learning every day is the important piece of that link.
Marcelia Freeman (04:57):
So learning more about financial services, learning more about the way money flows, the way capital flows. I didn't know what financial services was when I was a kid, but I knew what banking was. And that was incredibly interesting to me. I started out as a teller. My very first job, my very first real job was as a teller. So I could understand what the banking rules were, and how money moved, and all these things. And fast forward it to today, I'm still just understanding capital flows. And it's a part of that long lived learning process.
Marcelia Freeman (05:32):
So I'd say that's really what it's about, less around what school you went to. Although I did happen to go to the very best school in the world, Florida A&M. It's not about that. It's about a journey of learning.
Dhani Jones (05:49):
That's all right. You can keep repeating Florida A&M and I'll just keep repeating the University of Michigan. We'll just battle back and forth in the entire conversation. I'm completely cool with that.
Marcelia Freeman (05:59):
Competition is none.
Dhani Jones (06:02):
Competition is none? Okay. We'll place that on the shelf and we'll just keep moving because I know we'll just stay within that space. But when you're at Florida A&M and you got your undergraduate degree and you got your master's degree, what was the experience like going from an HBCU to the Ivy Leagues? Was there a dramatic difference? Was there culture shock? Was there something that you wish you had in one place that you got the other place? I mean, what was the experience like, I guess in terms of crossing the yard?
Marcelia Freeman (06:35):
Sure. So there wasn't culture shock, because I had worked on wall street for three years before I went to HBS. So that culture was very similar. High competition, high exclusivity, not a lot of collaboration. So I was prepared for that at HBS. I was surprised, but I was prepared for it.
Marcelia Freeman (06:55):
I would say one thing that I love about Florida A&M as I look back, and one thing that to me is like my evangelical message around HBCUs and particularly Florida A&M is excellence with caring. When you walk in, you know you are loved. Everything that is done for you, to you, about you is out of a place of love so that when you walk into the world where you're not so loved, you know you're loved. And I know that sounds so silly, but when I talk to other Rattlers, they understand what I'm saying. And I think that a lot of people that graduated from HBCUs, may have had financial aid, lines were long. This teacher wasn't that helpful for me. They made me run around in circles and chase my tail. The facilities may have not been like a country club like HBS.
Marcelia Freeman (07:50):
But they know that the experience that they had and the people that they were around were always rooting for them. And it makes it so much easier to walk into the world knowing that you are loved and that there's a group of people that's behind you, that's cheering for you, that's supporting you no matter what. And I very much am so glad that I have that. There is a Rattler nation and there's a alumni network from Florida A&M, there is an alumni network from HBCUs out in this world that's here to support me and I'm here to support them every day. And I feel that I would say it feels different than the HBS network. The HBS network is amazing, but I don't think it moves out of love like the FAMU network does.
Dhani Jones (08:40):
And moving out of love, does that convert into opportunities on Wall Street? Or do you find as though there was a need to move to an Ivy League in order to get that accreditation and move into the position that you are today? In other words, you could have gone a business school at HBCU, but you went to HBS. So was there a thinking behind it? Like look, if I want to really do this, I got to go to an Ivy League.
Marcelia Freeman (09:07):
Sure. It was less around HBCU versus HBS. That was not even a comparison point. The reason I went to HBS is maybe a little bit silly. So I worked for two years in the office of the chairman at JPMorgan under Bill Harrison and Jamie Dimon. And at that time, if Jamie Dimon had 10 direct reports, eight of them went to top business schools. Eight of them went to really amazing places for their MBAs. And working in the proximity of greatness, you strive to be great. You strive to be who you see. So for me, it wasn't an option not to go to a top business school to get an MBA because if I wanted to be great, I felt like I needed to be. Now that's my 22, 23 year old mind at work. Is that true today? No, there is a way to be great no matter what your background is. You don't have to have this 'esteemed pedigree.' But in my 23 year old mind, it absolutely had to happen.
Marcelia Freeman (10:10):
So I think that was what drove me to HBS. Jamie Dimon went there and I revered him. Mary Erdoes, who ran the private bank at JPMorgan who I also revered went to HBS, and a bunch of other people did. So for me, it was going along the path that they did so I could learn what they learned so I could be what they are and that I could also be great. And maybe like I said, maybe it's a little bit silly. But that was the thought process. It had nothing to do with, "I'm going to choose this Ivy League over something else." It was, "I'm going to this Ivy League full stop period."
Dhani Jones (10:50):
Ever think about any other Ivy League? Or is Harvard the one? Because in a way, you kind of look towards the esteemed people that you mentioned before and said, "I want to kind of copy their pathway." I think a lot of times, give the world a football. A lot of times people follow a certain player and they just want to do all the things that they do. And I think there's nothing wrong with replication, right? Because there's nothing new essentially under the sun. So why not follow your mentors? Why not follow those? Especially if they're able to kind of provide that path for you. I mean, in reality, there are a lot of challenges that anybody that's going to move up through the world of financial industry is going to face, especially for women and people of color. And it hasn't stopped you from foraging that path. So talk a little bit more about some of the challenges that you faced along the way. I can tell you that I talk to people all the time, and everybody's got some story about some barrier that they had to break through, or maybe some wall that they had to climb over that they said, "That's not a wall. That's just a small sliver. And all I have to do is step along the side or crawl over." But what were some of the challenges that you faced?
Marcelia Freeman (11:54):
Sure. So I think there are lots of challenges for lots of people. I think that part of the challenges are very real in terms of having to be better than the next. I'm sure you grew up with your mom telling you have to perform twice as hard to get half the opportunity.
Dhani Jones (12:14):
No, my mom said you got to be top. She said, "You got an A, you're good with me."
Marcelia Freeman (12:19):
Dhani Jones (12:20):
That's about it.
Marcelia Freeman (12:20):
That's not what my parents said.
Dhani Jones (12:21):
It wasn't really an option of B, C, or D. It was just like, "Come home with an A, and I love you."
Marcelia Freeman (12:27):
So my parents were very similar to that in that there wasn't any option other than to be the very best. But also, so my parents grew up Deep South. My dad's from Montgomery, Alabama, my mom's from Jacksonville, Florida. My extended family's from Columbia, South Carolina. They knew what it was to not get opportunities, to see people around them be amazing, but still not get opportunities. So the message was, "Don't just be the best. Be the best, but understand that you may not get opportunities just because you're better than the next. And strive to be really great, but that might not always be enough." So thinking about that, in my mind, I was always looking to be better than everyone else. My mom always used to say, "Find a rabbit and chase it," until I became my own rabbit, chasing what I was becoming better at all the time.
Marcelia Freeman (13:27):
So I'd say part of the challenge of going onto Wall Street, going into financial services was getting passed over even though you were better than the people next to you. Getting underpaid, even though you were better than the people next to you. So figuring out creative ways to surpass those challenges has been what I do every day, but it's also for myself. But it's also part of the reason I'm such an advocate for people around me. Whether it's younger people, my peers, my seniors. Whether it's people that I know or don't know. Whether it's people in financial services or people outside my immediate ecosystem, people that don't look like me, don't remind myself of myself. That's why I am constantly working really hard for everyone else because of that.
Dhani Jones (14:23):
I like that. People that don't look like me don't necessarily remind me of myself. Is that how you put it?
Marcelia Freeman (14:29):
Yeah. It's so easy to see someone and to support someone when they remind you of yourself. I have a mentee, Julian. She reminds me so much of myself, and I will do anything for her. But I think that's the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to work hard for the person that just spent five years in prison. He doesn't remind me of me, but I know he still needs my help. The hard part is to support the people that look nothing like me, that have not passed by my journey, and to figure out a way to use my resources, relationship capital, whatever it is, in order to support them. Not just the people that remind me of myself.
Dhani Jones (15:18):
Yeah. It's about diversifying not only those that you work with, but it's also diversifying your mindset. And some of those tricks of the trade, so to speak and some of those ways to kind of engage with people comes at spending time and really getting to know people. And going back to your Florida A&M days, it's about love.
Marcelia Freeman (15:39):
Dhani Jones (15:40):
Marcelia Freeman (15:40):
It absolutely is.
Dhani Jones (15:41):
You really care about people, right? They can feel it. And they want to work with you. And they know that you're not looking at them and judging them. They know that you're looking at them and you want them to be successful. And there's enough stuff in the way that is a challenge as long as you kind of have this good feeling inside about who they are as people, then you're going to keep moving forward and doing stuff with them. So what advice would you give to other young women of color seeking to get into a career in the financial world? You kind of mentioned some of the obstacles, but what advice would you give them? I know you have that strategy. I know you don't want to give up all of the ways that you figured it out, but maybe there's a little nugget that everybody listening might want to hear.
Marcelia Freeman (16:22):
Yeah. I would give it all away if I could. If I could codify it in my mind and if I could spit it out, I would give it away because I think that's how we are all going to succeed. The couple of pieces of advice that I would have for women, particularly women of color coming into financial services is to pick up the technicals, to be really strong, to be really excellent at what you do, and to not be afraid to dig into numbers. Numbers can sometimes be scary. Concepts can be difficult if you weren't introduced to them 10 years ago by your stock trader dad. But being able to lean into that and become really excellent at something.
Marcelia Freeman (17:06):
Also, not having your head down the entire time. Looking up, engaging with people. But not just engaging with people that you perceive to be able to do something for you. Be able to engage with anyone. I think that as I moved through my career, I could probably say I have a fan club of a lot of different people. And it's not just people that can do things for me, but it's people that I've done things for. It's people that are watching me on the sidelines, and noticing how I treat other people, and not just the important people per se.
Marcelia Freeman (17:40):
So I think that's incredibly important for people that come into the industry to know that you're always being watched. Give people something really amazing to watch whether it's your skills, whether it's your compassion, whether it's your empathy. Be put on note that all of that is incredibly important.
Marcelia Freeman (18:00):
And then maybe the last thing I would say is having a sense of urgency. Whether it's around that project that somebody gave you, or whether it's about your own career. Not allowing, not waiting for things to happen, but making them happen.
Marcelia Freeman (18:15):
And I don't mean being impatient, although I have been called impatient a few times. That's not what I mean. I mean really blazing a path for yourself and not waiting for a mentor, a fairy godfather as someone to give it to you.
Marcelia Freeman (18:31):
I'll give you an example of wanting to be a leader and have a leadership role, but not really being able to find that in the office at work because I look too young or as a salesperson, and people think salespeople can't lead, whatever it might be. Right? So creating that leadership role for me in my community, within my alma mater network. That is the sense of urgency that I'm talking about. I identify what I want. And whether you give it to me or not, I'm still going to get it. I'm just going to figure out a creative way to get it. And I think that sense of urgency is something that has allowed me to move forward. And maybe it hasn't been a very straight and narrow path, but it's been a path that every day, my feet go forward and I'm not going backwards.
Dhani Jones (19:21):
It's amazing some of the stuff that you're talking about right now, because so many people, they're waiting for someone to tell them what to do versus trying to find a way to do something, or always knowing that they can figure it out. And we're living in a day and time where half the things that you desire are just sort of just ask a question and something else will tell you, namely a device or some sort of technology. But most people won't go and try to figure out a way to kind of take that initiative. And I think that's what is a part of what drives you, and has what allowed you to kind of propel yourself into the many roles and responsibilities. But more importantly, where you are today at Clearlake.
Dhani Jones (20:06):
And if I think about the world of the U.S. financial asset management by women and people of color, there's not that many, right? And the data shows that women-led firms outperform both financially, and also in terms of innovation. It's there. The data is there. And women have that initiative. You have that initiative. Talk to me a little bit about the power of diversity, right? And especially when it comes to innovation and success. And tell me, how are we going to get more people into the roles that you are in and how you are working towards that?
Marcelia Freeman (20:42):
Sure. So you little bit stole my thunder in that yes, the amount of assets in a multi-trillion dollar industry managed by women and people of color is less than-
Dhani Jones (20:55):
You can go ahead and say that again. You can go ahead and say that again. Go ahead and say that again. You say multi-trillion. Go ahead, say it again.
Marcelia Freeman (21:01):
Less than 2% managed by people that look like you or me that are from underrepresented backgrounds. That's a problem. That is financial services not mirroring humanity. And anything that doesn't mirror humanity is a problem. Whether that's incarceration rates, whether that's poverty levels, anything that doesn't mirror humanity I think is something to look at and something to take notice of.
Marcelia Freeman (21:30):
So in financial services, yes. People that manage capital outside of white men, the mainstream equals white men. So I'm going to say it, outside of the mainstream. When you have diverse managers, whether they're women or people of color, the data has proven out that they generate more alpha, full stop period. So if we are in the business of managing capital and generating alpha, generating strong performance for the people that we are managing money for, whether it's a public pension plan, whether it's an endowment, whether it's a hospital system, whatever it might be, we are not fulfilling our fiduciary duty to them if we're not finding the best managers out there that can produce the best performance in a systematic, repeatable way. That's the end of the story.
Marcelia Freeman (22:28):
Now, let me fill in a couple of gaps for you. So what does that actually mean? That means that more institutional investors need to add diverse managers into their portfolio. Not because it feels good, not because it looks good, but because it performs well. And I think that Clearlake has done a great job at being a shining example of excellence and strong performance over time by a diverse owned management firm. There are lots of other examples. I'll talk my own book because I work at Clearlake, but there are many, many other examples. And the more that we can have institutional investors see diverse managers as a tool of alpha versus a social experiment or ESG, the better off we will all be. The better off pensioners will be. The better off students will be. The better off all beneficiaries of institutional investors will be.
Marcelia Freeman (23:35):
I don't know how to make that happen. I was just talking to a couple folks about that last night. They don't work in my industry. They're like, "How can you add more diverse managers? What's it going to take?" It's a very complex issue. It's an easy answer. Add more diverse managers because diverse managers generate alpha. It's a very complicated issue in terms of changing the structures that exist today in order for that to happen. There have to be biases removed. There have to be pathways created. And I think that whether it is for entrepreneurs seeking capital, whether it's for fund managers seeking capital, there have to be new ways of thinking about access to capital. Because the data has proven out that it's in the best interest of all of us to do that.
Dhani Jones (24:28):
I love tools of alpha. That's what you said, right? Tools of alpha. We're going to call it tools of alpha, a deal-making mindset. I love that. That's going to be your book. And maybe if you just let me write the forward on it, but I think that would be an amazing book for you to write. Because the way that you just explained it, I think just unclutters what people try to complicate. And it really comes down to those that you're managing money for, you're trying to make them money. You're trying to make them alpha, right? And they're trying to find the best managers. And those people should be able to kind of find the right people that are going to be able to provide the return that allows you to continue to do that. You said repeatable process. So on this podcast, we talk a lot about the deal making mindset. And what do you think are the key features of operating this type of frame of mind, especially as you focus in on raising capital and growing Clearlake Capital?
Marcelia Freeman (25:27):
Sure. So I suppose that part of that mindset is around never taking no for an answer. And not being pushy about it, but actually no is my least favorite word. I hate to hear the word. All throughout my life. As a kid, I used to hate when my parents would tell me no. Now I hate for an investor to tell me no. You could tell me why. You could tell me any other reason, but I hate to hear the word no. And part of I guess my personal deal-making perspective or mindset is around never taking the answer no. It could be not now. It could be for these reasons we won't do it. But just to acquiesce to a two letter word is not something that I ever feel comfortable with.
Marcelia Freeman (26:13):
So really, really moving forward, and pushing forward, and making sure that answers are never no. Whether it's because I can figure out a way to yes, or because it just means I wasn't prepared or we weren't prepared, or it didn't fit is okay with me. But never accepting the word no is probably part of the way that I keep things moving and have been able to kind of take one step in front of the other, whether it's through capital raising, because you hear a lot of nos in capital raising. You have to be very persistent and persevere. But that's part of my deal-making mindset. We don't do nos.
Dhani Jones (26:59):
So if someone does say no, what do you do?
Marcelia Freeman (27:01):
You try to unpack it. You try to understand why. I think part of that, not accepting no.
Dhani Jones (27:09):
What's the first question you ask them if they say no? Like you say, "Hey, we'd love for you to play some capital with us in this next fund." They say no. "We'd love for you to come to this event and talk to our group." They say no. What's your formula? What's the first go-to statement or question that you ask them?
Marcelia Freeman (27:25):
Well, I think it's really trying to unpack it. Why? Why? So I need to understand ... first of all, before we get to that point, I try to understand what it is that people need, what it is that people want. I have this thing that I call the platinum rule. It's not the golden rule. It's the platinum rule. So the golden rule would be treat people like you want to be treated. The platinum rule would be treat people how they want to be treated. Part of that is understanding what motivates them, understanding what is driving them, what is driving their decision-making. And in that, you can understand why you get a no. If you get that no, then you can unpack it and you can really figure out why. Because just a two letter answer is not enough. We need to know why, so we can address it later. Whatever those reasons are, whether they're controllable or whether you can't control them at all, at least you want to know why. So I think that's part of the way I operate in my MO and really understanding from the beginning to the end. Why, why, why, why, why?
Dhani Jones (28:37):
Is the question that most children ask all the time, but most adults are afraid to ask. It's crazy. It's just such a simple word. And maybe it's because some people feel embarrassed at some point because they don't know really the answer, but that's the point of asking the question.
Dhani Jones (29:03):
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Dhani Jones (29:59):
Would you say that through your career, you mentioned before JPMorgan Chase and you were at Invesco, you were at all these different places. Would you say that all these different experiences or as you kind of chartered your career, how did you develop these guiding principles and philosophies? Because you're talking about the golden rule? No, no, no. You're talking about the platinum rule. You're talking about, it's not about a no, right? I can deal with some of the other things. But how did you develop these philosophies? And tell us a couple more, because I think we're writing your book right now.
Marcelia Freeman (30:32):
We're writing my book. I'm not sure if I have anything else to tell you. How did I develop this stuff? I think it's just over time. I'm a very observant person and thoughtful, I think. Really trying to kind of take stock of what's going on around me. Try to understand and not just take things at face value. So I'm constantly evaluating, and reevaluating, and replaying things through my mind, and really trying to understand the genesis of X, Y, and Z.
Marcelia Freeman (31:05):
So I do think that part of it is just me. Being introspective, and understanding what's going on, and plotting my next move. Trying to figure out if something went one way this time, what am I going to do to impact it the next time? Whether it's to make it go an opposite way or to make it go a mile further in the right direction. So being really introspective is part of I think what has helped me along and continues to help me. That's just a natural characteristic of an introvert, just being super introspective. So I think that's part of it.
Marcelia Freeman (31:43):
But I guess thinking about what else, yeah. That sense of urgency, taking initiative, being excellent, treating people well, having compassion, being empathetic. Building your empathy muscle, because that's a muscle that can be built. You're not necessarily born with it. You can work on it, if you find it doesn't exist so much in you. I think these are all things that I live by every day and really try to push forward in everything that I do. Whether it's being an angel investor, whether it's being a capital raiser, whether it's being an auntie. All of these things, I'm trying to practice every day. At the end of the day, I'm just trying to get into heaven and trying to figure out how I do right by people and do right by myself in order to get there. That's what's going on over here. It's not much more complicated than that.
Dhani Jones (32:39):
Preach. Preach. Write that book. That's what I'm talking about. And I think that the other part about it is in your day to day, you mentioned before about some of your angel investing and talking about capital raising. It's about sustainable investments. So what's your perspective on sustainable investments? I mean ESG has become popular, but you kind of mentioned how you kind of moved away from that. I mean, how do you look at the investing landscape? And how should investors ensure that they're investing in a sustainable asset?
Marcelia Freeman (33:15):
Yeah. I do think sustainability is the key, right? So it's not just about climate, and the climate risk, and everything that goes along with the E pillar of ESG. It's not just about DE&I and social. And it's not just about governance. It's really about investing in a comprehensively sustainable way that can carry on for generations and whose impact can be felt for generations.
Marcelia Freeman (33:43):
I'd say in my own personal book, yeah. I invest with companies of all different kinds, in all different sectors, with all different kinds of people. But the ones that I hold near and dear to my heart and the ones that I put my shoulder into helping a little bit more and put my resources behind not just capital are the ones of folks that I know are underrepresented in this space. So there are three investments that I think about more often than not. [inaudible 00:34:14], which is a fintech company. Sportmarket and Playbook Five, which are both sports tech businesses.
Marcelia Freeman (34:21):
I understand that those companies, because they are run by Black founders, because they don't necessarily have the same access to capital as other angel investments in my portfolio. I just try to work harder for. And I think that's incredibly important when you identify a gap in terms of access to capital or access to opportunity, fixing it. It doesn't have to be a big campaign. You don't have to shout from the rooftops. You don't have to create a program. You don't have to do all these formal things that a lot of folks are doing, which are great. But I don't have to do that. I just have to activate my network, activate my brain, activate everything that is in my proximity in order to support those folks and those companies. And I think to me, that's what sustainable investing is about. It's about using my own resources or the resources I have access to, and supporting people who have experienced that gap. And it's not just with angel investments. Like I said, it could be with anyone. It doesn't have to be in tech. It could be in a lot of different ways. But investing in people, whether it's through a company or otherwise. Investing in people to close gaps, to me equals sustainable investing.
Dhani Jones (35:45):
But a lot of times people don't even give access to their community, to those that they're investing in because they expect whomever that person that they're investing in to just do the work. I don't feel like you're saying that you're a passive investor. You're actually saying that you're active and you're proactive. Maybe if the founder asks you for help. Or more, look. If you want me to be part your deal and I'm going to invest in it, then this is what comes along with it. Where does that originate from? I mean, you mentioned love, you mentioned Florida A&M, you mentioned going to heaven. You mentioned just being a good person. But there's got to be some fundamentals behind that, because a lot of times people just pass capital on and they just say, "Okay, well I'll see you in a couple years. Hopefully you've done something with it."
Marcelia Freeman (36:32):
Yeah. So I would say that definitely is part of what I do. I am not always a super active investor. Some folks I just invest with and they have capital and if they need me, they could call me. But they usually don't. But it's usually being proactive and being active is really related to me seeing a need. And I'm the kind of person I just can't pass by if I see somebody that needs help, if I see somebody that needs guidance, if I see somebody that needs a hand. In many types of scenarios, not just investing, I can't pass by. I can't do it may. I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's a control. I don't know if it's A type personality. I don't know if it's that goal of getting to heaven. I don't know what it is, but I can't pass by without helping.
Marcelia Freeman (37:19):
So when I see people in need and I know I can affect a change, I'm there Johnny on the spot. And I hope that I will be able to do that forever and ever, and not become so busy or so entangled in other things that I can't make time to be that helpful person. Because we all need it. We've all gotten help throughout our careers, or our lives, or whatever it might be. And if you are in a position to really help someone change their lives, their livelihood, their trajectory, shame on you if you don't.
Dhani Jones (38:00):
And one of the places that you serve and you help is at Florida A&M. I mean, you're on the board of directors for the foundation. And you're giving back and you're paying it forward all the time. Why is that important specifically to the school? I mean, I know you're talking about helping people. But in the school, you gave a commencement address. You said, "I don't care that you had to wait in line for financial aid. It's not about that. It's about those who come after you and creating a clearer path for them." So talk a little bit more about that idea of being a leader for future generations, and blazing a path for others to follow.
Marcelia Freeman (38:37):
Yeah. So we all ride on the coattails of someone. So extending the legacy that folks created for us into further generations I think is the right thing to do. But also investing in a school that has been underinvested in by the state, by whoever to me is also important. So investing in the students of Florida A&M, investing in the infrastructure of Florida A&M, investing my time and resources, and kind of capital, relationship capital into making the path brighter for someone else, I think is in line with everything else that I do. So I don't know why I wouldn't do it at Florida A&M given my admiration for the school, given my admiration for everything that has come out of Florida A&M and HBCUs in general.
Marcelia Freeman (39:34):
My dad went to Tuskegee. My mom graduated from Alabama State. We've got a long legacy. Actually, my grandmother went to Benedict. We have a long, long legacy of HBCUs. And I think Florida A&M is thankfully the one that I connect with the most and have the most admiration for. That really making sure you're investing, I'm investing in the legacy of HBCUs is important. So Florida A&M gets everything that I have. Everything.
Dhani Jones (40:05):
They got $100,000 from you too. I heard that you did that in your commencement address. You said, "Let's see what you got. You can't break me. Help us secure the bag and the future of FAMU."
Dhani Jones (40:15):
So what prompted you to do that? I mean, there's been other gifted financial savants that have done amazing things that have contributed fair amounts of capital to the university. Why make this contribution? Why make this dollar for dollar match if you will, for the students?
Marcelia Freeman (40:37):
Sure. So it's two-pronged. One is when they asked me to do the commencement speech, I thought to myself oh my gosh. All these other people have done commencement speeches and they've given their wisdom, or big gifts, or whatever it might be. And I was thinking gosh, what am I going to give. Being a competitor, I got to do something. So really making sure that I was giving from my heart, but also giving substantially. I was trying to set an example. And I was following the example of a lot of folks that have come before me. That's number one. But number two, why would I make it so public? And that was to be an inspiration, but not to be an inspiration to necessarily students. Although I hope it does inspire existing students and young alumni to give. But it's more so to raise awareness of Florida A&M among my network, among people who maybe don't know what Florida A&M is, maybe who don't know what an HBCU is. Really elevating the profile within the people that I know and the people I have access to, to make sure that they were aware of Florida A&M and all the good that could be done with donations. So part of it was that.
Marcelia Freeman (41:58):
And then when I say inspire, I also mean that out of that address and out of that challenge, we raised almost $400,000 not of my money. Of other people that gave. Of new alumni that gave for the first time. Of students that gave for the first time. Of people that are now friends of Florida A&M that didn't know Florida A&M or never thought about giving for the first time. So we created a bunch of new donors out of that. And whether the dollar amount was big or small, creating new donors, creating a new fan club of Florida A&M I think was the real accomplishment there. It wasn't about the dollars. And $100,000 as you know isn't much of anything. It really isn't in the grand scheme of things. I mean, MacKenzie Scott is sprinkling around millions of dollars all over everywhere. $100,000 isn't moving the needle. But what is moving the needle I think is creating this new fan club and this new donor base of people that are supporting the dream and supporting the efforts at Florida A&M by giving dollars, and by following the story now and forever more.
Dhani Jones (43:22):
Yeah. Maybe I need to think about how I can affect change at the University of Michigan. I've considered it in different ways, but never really found what's the ultimate way to kind of see my contribution, move things forward.
Marcelia Freeman (43:42):
It doesn't have to be the ultimate. Right?
Dhani Jones (43:46):
Right. But you think about it sometimes in terms of people are making incredible contributions, right? And I like the point that you made. It's not about the amount, it's about the intent and it's about setting the example so that more can follow. And I love the way that you engage the students to see and say to them, "Look, I'm going to do this, and I want you to continue to do that too. And that's going to build a legacy of FAMU."
Dhani Jones (44:13):
So I really appreciate all the stories, and insights, and the philosophy, and the book that we have essentially written on our podcast today. And the way that we always end the Pathfinders is talking about meals and deals. And I know that you have plenty of meals and deals, and this could be places that you've been, food that you've consumed, bars that you've been to, conversations that you've had. And I know you travel a lot I'm sure with all the different endowments and all the different places that you are raising capital. So tell us the story of your favorite deal and maybe celebratory meal.
Marcelia Freeman (44:54):
Sure. So I don't know if I have one. I'll give you the honest truth. I do a lot of wining and dining. Whether it's trying to find answers to questions and having it over a coffee, or a meal, or a glass of wine, I do a lot of that. And I don't know that I could identify what's my favorite. But what I would say is something that sticks out in my mind is I'm the person that is asking people to come have dinner with me, or have a meal with me, or spend time with me essentially. And recently, I got invited to a closing dinner that we had at Clearlake at Nobu Malibu. And it wasn't because it was the place. It was because I got invited. It was because I was included. And a closing dinner, because I never get to go to deal closing dinners. I'm not really a deal person. I make my own deals. I don't really do deals, deals.
Marcelia Freeman (45:49):
And so the fact that Jose and Behdad, our two co-founders saw it fit to include me, by including me, recognizing my impact in helping to shape that deal, helping to fund that deal, being a part of that deal and the firm. That has to be in the recent past, the most special kind of invitation that I've received, because they saw me and they included me. And that doesn't always happen. That has never actually happened. So for it to happen, I felt so incredibly special and I felt recognized. And like I said, I felt seen. And I think that's a big part of why I work really hard every day at Clearlake because they see me, they acknowledge me. And to be seen is a very, very powerful thing. I haven't been seen a lot in my career, even though I'm the only one and it's impossible not to see me. I would say that is notable, very notable. A very notable deal and meal that happened most recently.
Dhani Jones (46:55):
Well, it's one of my favorite spots. I think it's an incredible place. But I think the fact that your organization, that your company acknowledges and sees also contributes to the overall success of the organization. And that's the power of diversifying those that are working alongside. And it's not the someone's working for you. It's the partnership that's established that makes the long term and the most amount of impact. So I just want to say thank you so much for joining us today, because you've inspired me and you've also given me so much philosophy and so many different insights that's going to contribute to not only myself, but hopefully everybody else that's listening. So I just want to say thank you.
Marcelia Freeman (47:42):
Thank you. This was a lot of fun. I was very nervous about it before we started, but conversation with old friends. It was great.
Dhani Jones (47:59):
A special thanks again to Marcelia Freeman for being with us today. It's really amazing to see the work she's doing blazing a path for others to follow in the world of financial services, and deal-making private equity, and investing. And if you're enjoying the Pathfinders, please make sure to leave a review so more people can find the show. Until next time, I'm Dhani Jones. And this has been the Pathfinders presented by Ansarada.