How She Became a Black History Fact

Updated: Mar 1, 2018

Each year the second month of the year calls for the celebration and recognition of the history and present triumphs of Americans of African descent in the United States and beyond. The Ford—Employees African Ancestry Network (FAAN), whose mission is to in-part recognize the value of diversity, takes no shorts in fulfilling February’s promise each year with their annual Black History Month Celebration.

Carrying the theme Forging New Legacies of Leadership, the 37th year celebration brought Ford employees and friends together at The Henry, Autograph Collection in Dearborn, MI for a VIP reception, awards recognizing Detroiters making history and those committed to community service, entertainment by internationally recognized saxophonist Mike Phillips, a strolling supper, and hosting duties by one of the city’s top news anchors, Rhonda Walker, which would all garner at least a 9.876 on the awesome scale of 10, but the magic of the evening was the spray of golden nuggets by one of Detroit’s Black History Facts, Wall Street powerhouse Suzanne Shank, 30-year financial services veteran, founding owner and CEO of Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co., LLC, and the first African-American woman to lead a publicly traded financial institution. Here is where those strewn nuggets lead us…

The Road to Black History Facthood

  • …but can I get a job doing that??!!...Suzanne always had a knack for numbers and a teacher suggested she try engineering – all she wanted to know was, could she actually get a job doing that?! She attended Georgia Institute of Technology and landed a job with General Dynamics as a structural engineer in the electrical division that designed nuclear submarines.

  • I can run this…She made her way to Washington, D.C. working with the Navy for General Dynamics, but couldn’t move on to upper management without an MBA, so she decided that getting her MBA so she could run the whole darn place would be her next step - Wharton School of Business here she comes. She discovered the world of finance at Wharton and decided she wanted one of those hot Wall Street jobs.

  • Not invited to the party…receiving no invitations to the receptions of the big firms she was interested in, Suzanne networked, built relationships and found the right people to connect with. She began knocking on doors until she reached the one she was meant to walk through to begin her stellar Wall Street career in 1987.

  • From drama to dream…She was a top producer at her firm, then a bit of drama ensued; Black Monday happened with a huge a market drop and tons of Wall Street layoffs, and the head of the firm was indicted. No worries for Suzanne though, she became president and she and the company leadership pushed on still rolling hard for their clients, but she eventually moved on because of the indictment.

  • Well, that didn’t take long…soon after Suzanne made her move and started a boutique firm she got a call from the only woman out of 1,368 to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, Muriel Seibert, asking her and partner Napoleon Brandford to join forces to start a firm. Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., LLC was born over dinner and a handshake in 1996. They stayed out of the mortgage game, which fueled their growth during the crisis, creating the top minority and woman-owned firm in the country and they’ve steadily grown, managing over $2 trillion in financing – yup, you read that right!

  • A change is gonna come…Her mentor and partner, Muriel Siebert passed away in 2013, Brandford retired, and Henry Cisneros came on board, birthing Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co., LLC in 2015. They now employ 84 full-time staffers in 18 locations across the nation.

  • More than a (finance) woman to me…Receiving honors from way too many organizations and companies to name, but we’ll just drop a few – Essence, Black Enterprise, Boy Scouts of America, Georgia Institute of Technology, Wharton School of Business – Suzanne is a mother of 2 and is passionately active with several organizations and academic institutions such as Spelman College, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, New York Citizen’s Budget Commission, International Women’s Forum and a ton of others.

How You Too Can Be a Card Carrying Member of the BHF Club

  • Get that "Trillionaire" status…OK. This isn’t 100% necessary, but I thought it was quite bossy and a great lead-in.

  • Be fearless…Having never experienced failure and being quite the achieved young lady as high school valedictorian, editor of the school paper, co-captain of the cheerleading squad, and so on, Suzanne had no qualms about knocking on doors, not knowing if it would be answered, but she had the gumption to network, find the right people and seek them out, which eventually landed her, her first job on Wall Street.

  • Recognize P+O=Success…Stay ready. Preparation and opportunity creates success. Suzanne was always at the top of her game and it was noticed by many, including Muriel Siebert, and that opportunity helped shape a great, meaningful career that made history.

Doing these = You’re on your way!

Forging Legacies of New Leadership

  • Do your part in cultivating young talent. Introduce them to opportunities like finance early in life so they are aware and prepared. Hire young talent and offer opportunities like internships. Be a mentor.

  • Seek positions of power like college boards to affect change, like improving educational and career opportunities and practices for minorities and women.

  • Although Suzanne hasn’t quite found comfort in being a Black History Fact at such a tender age, she is humbled by it and proudly accepts her role model status.

Suzanne Shank. Mother. CEO. Black History Fact!