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A lifelong learner with an infectious laugh, Melinda Hightower, ’07, heads the multicultural strategic client segment for Swiss investment bank UBS. Based in San Francisco, she is tasked with growing the bank’s US presence among one of the fastest-growing areas of client services: Black, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian and Asian Pacific investors. She’s also recruiting multicultural investment advisers to an industry that’s overwhelmingly white.

Hightower, a Detroit native, likes to challenge herself by pushing herself to do more and by exposing herself to new perspectives. At Cornell University, she lived in the Multicultural Living Learning Unit with students from around the world. At the University of Virginia for law school, she involved herself in the local community, working to ensure ballot access. She learned the wealth management business while at ICONIQ Capital and J.P. Morgan, and now at UBS, she’s forging new perspectives around wealth and success.

“If something gives me pause,” Hightower says of business challenges, “I run toward it.”

There’s a changing face of wealth in this country. We’re trying to understand people’s relationship with money. When we look at multicultural investors, most of them got wealthy by themselves. 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.

The pandemic made it easier to connect with people virtually. I started this role in May 2021. I wasn’t able to travel, so I turned to my call list. I started with 10 folks I wanted to get to know. As I finished a call, I’d ask each to suggest two more people. We’re now back to working in person and traveling again, but I’ve already made so many connections virtually.

Recruiting multicultural advisers is instrumental to our success. Multicultural millionaires want to see diversity on our side. We reach out to midcareer professionals who give advice—accountants and lawyers who might want a change. We say that being an adviser is like being an entrepreneur within a big corporation. You don’t have to go it alone, but you do have to have an independent drive. I’m always looking at multiple pipelines—it takes time to foster change, and I’m impatient.

Melinda Hightower smiling in front of gray background

"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."

— Melinda Hightower

[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. ”

— Melinda Hightower

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.