This is Working for Me Melinda Hightower, ’07
The managing director and head of multicultural strategic client segments at UBS loves to run at intriguing challenges—such as changing the face of wealth in the United States.Photos by Margo Moritz
- January 13, 2023
- Financial Inclusion
"What were their wealth journeys? Why do they need an adviser? What’s the benefit of a second set of eyes? As we answer those questions, we grow our platform and make the financial-advice industry more inclusive."
[Former Morningstar COO] Tao Huang, ’99 (XP-68), urged me to go to business school to better understand the industry and deepen my skill set. The course at Booth that most intrigued me was a strategy class taught by professor Marvin Zonis. [Zonis, professor emeritus of business administration at Chicago Booth, passed away in 2020 at the age of 84.] I wasn’t a strategy expert, but through the class, I learned the long-term implications of strategy. I learned The Chicago Approach™—to step back and let data guide me to a solution.
It’s time to diversify, and shift wealth. In the top high-net-worth community, two-thirds of the wealth comes from stock market investing—but among specifically multicultural people of the same means, only one-third comes from equities. That’s why the wealth gap persists. My job is to show, over the long run and during periods of volatility, that investing in equities can be as comfortable as buying and holding a home for 30 years. We’re all investors! Nervous? I say just start. Dip your toe in the water.
I grew up understanding both sides of a debate. My father was a United Auto Workers member at Ford Motor Company. My mother was a senior negotiator for the City of Detroit, handling labor relations with unionized police and firefighters. I listened and understood you can have multiple views on the same issue. I was a choir kid who grew up singing and playing the piano. My love for debate was nurtured at Cass Tech, a performing arts high school whose graduates include Diana Ross.
For five years, I worked with tech founders and their family foundations at the tax practice of law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Then I got a call from ICONIQ Capital, a Bay Area wealth management firm. They’d heard I was analytical and calm doing high-stakes work, with legal and accounting chops. Could I learn portfolio management? It was a leap of faith on both sides. They brought me up to speed at a place that caters to titans.
At J.P. Morgan, I ran my own book of business. My clients were largely Bay Area wealth creators in their 30s. This wasn’t inherited money. Wealth wasn’t the point; wealth was a tool to build a more equitable society. They wanted to move quickly, and they needed a partner. A light bulb went off for me: we needed to tailor wealth management from the outside in.
“A light bulb went off for me: we needed to tailor wealth management from the outside in. ”
San Francisco is a city of big thinking. I have really settled in, although I do split my time between SF, DC, and Atlanta. It’s home. It’s laid-back but purpose driven. It’s a place where large-scale change can happen. You talk to San Franciscans, and they light up. They’re optimistic. And it’s one of the few urban places where the outdoors is nearby, from the beach to Muir Woods to Lake Tahoe.
Podcasts soothe me. I’m thinking of starting a podcast on the subject of wealth journeys. There’s a difference between being wealthy and being rich. Wealth is the satisfaction of having enough. I want to reframe the conversation and take a stab at stereotypes. In the Black community, is it only athletes and entertainers who achieve wealth? There’s a wide range of journeys. I think we can all have wealth.
I use sports and concerts to connect with clients. I bring a lot of clients to UBS Arena in New York, where the Islanders play. I’ve been a sports fan since I was a kid. During high school, I’d go from class straight to Detroit Tigers games. My family sustains me—and we are fans of all the Detroit sports teams.
Paris is my happy place. I’m looking to travel more widely, but I go to Paris once a year. I love fashion, art, and design—I have a particular love for Hermès. I use fashion as an expression of my style, vision, and perspective.