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    Paul Trussell on Driving Diversity at Nike and Finance Discourse

    As one of Nike’s senior financial executives these days—“a pretty rare [Fortune 500] seat held, from an African American standpoint,” he says—Paul Trussell hosts the quarterly earnings calls that keep investors and business experts abreast of how the athletic footwear giant’s business is going.

    It’s a switch from the many years he spent taking part in such briefings as a Wall Street analyst asking questions—a role that saw him gain a reputation for his incisive business commentary as an all-too-rare Black contributor on television (with among the highest accuracy ratings at the Benzinga financial news website).

    Trussell grew up on Chicago’s South Side, raised by a single teacher-mom who pushed him academically. He excelled, earning a place in the High Jump program for gifted students, where he learned not to be concerned “about being the nerd,” and then winning a scholarship to the prestigious Latin School of Chicago.

    We weren’t having these conversations at the dinner table around money.

    Taking two buses and a train there every day introduced him to “another side” of the city and a different world. He mixed with kids whose parents were business owners and entrepreneurs, “not folks that I grew up around.” It sparked some intrigue about business “and the value of having ownership in something . . . these were certainly not conversations that my friends and I had growing up on the South Side.”

    Even so, he didn’t have his sights set beyond maybe becoming a math teacher or daydreaming about a gig like ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott’s (“I loved sports, and not just playing and watching sports, but also the numbers aspect—I memorized batting averages, RBI totals and shooting percentages for the Bulls.”) It wasn’t until he went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, helped by an award from the Chicago Scholars program and where he would earn a degree in finance, that he began to think bigger and broader.

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    Learning from a mentor, Lee Gordon (see sidebar), and reading Black Enterprise magazine “really kicked me into gear” in pursuing finance and banking. It was a mix of personal ambition and a sense of mission: “It seemed like it was just my duty to kind of bring this to my family,” he says. “We weren’t having these conversations at the dinner table around money, making money and compound interest, or getting a return on investment. So that was really of interest for me.”

    Broader representation 

    On graduation, Trussell secured a job at Chicago’s Bank One, whose acquisition by JPMorgan Chase took him to Wall Street. Developing his retail analyst skills there, he later joined Deutsche Bank, where, as managing director, he became a frequent go-to authority for business news journalists, noted for his particular expertise on Walmart, Nike and Target. Many of his dozens of appearances were on CNBC.

    Part of what set him apart from others was his different career pathway. “I leaned into who I am, which is what others are not,” he says. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m from the South Side of Chicago. I grew up shopping at Walmart. I had a Family Dollar on the corner of my street. Do you want to talk to that person who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, about the importance of dollar stores in society, or do you want to talk to me about it?’”

    Unexpectedly, Trussell “became a bit of a face for the culture as one of the few African Americans speaking on stocks, making buy, sell, hold recommendations live on television.” People began making contact to thank him “for representing us so well.”

    One of Trussell’s most notable appearances involved discussing Nike’s 2018 ad featuring Colin Kaepernick after the quarterback’s famous take-a-knee protest. The interviewer wanted to know if it was going to be bad for business. 

    Aware this was “a lightning rod topic,” Trussell had surveyed around 1,000 consumers. “And what was clear for me from those results and that research was that for who Nike’s core consumer is, that young consumer, that urban consumer, they were all-in on the ad,” he recalls. “So, I was able to actually answer that question in a very factual manner about what my survey results said, and kind of disagree with the anchor that this would be bad for business.”

    There’s the lack of feeling like the stock market is a place for you.

    The moment encapsulated what Trussell believes to be the essence of good business analysis and commentary—be bold and be opinionated, be willing to “take a risk,” but from an informed perspective based on data. “We did substantial field studies . . . we’re in the stores looking at inventory, counting how many racks are being discounted. We are in the weeds.”

    Trussell took his role as a minority face seriously, noting the significance of a lack of representation. “There’s the lack of feeling like the stock market is a place for you, is something for you to think about and learn and take into consideration in the way you manage money because it does not look like something that we do as a community,” he says. “Without seeing Black faces discuss these topics, it really just may continue to be something that is viewed to just be too foreign, too challenging to understand. And it’s just helpful to see someone that looks like you, that talks like you, to kind of break it down in a way that you feel like you can understand.”

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    He believes there has been some progress, though, pointing to the work of the likes of the Earn Your Leisure team, promoting financial literacy on social media. “It is bringing people together to say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about how we invest in real estate and the stock market, how we make our money make money, how do you become an entrepreneur.’ These are still relatively newer conversations in the Black community, and we still have a long way to go.”

    Wider recruiting 

    One of the reasons the road to Wall Street is “a challenging one to navigate” for minorities is much of the recruiting is done by alums who favor their institutions. “Great schools, but if they don’t have meaningful representation [there], and you as an alum are looking for the mini-you, it becomes really challenging.

     “We’ve had so much work to do to be more inclusive and recruit at state schools or HBCUs to diversify who the recruiters are, whether they went to that school or not, so they have a wider view of talent.”

    While at Deutsche, Trussell helped found and became president of the bank’s Black Leadership Forum, “using my platform to help folks think about their careers, know how to speak up, be comfortable in their own skin, and understand how they can take steps to make their own mark, build their own brand, and contribute at a high level.”

    After almost 20 years as a financial analyst, Trussell switched paths in 2021 when he was offered a position at Nike. “I wouldn’t have made that move for any company, but Nike’s really special to me,” he says. “It’s a company that aligns with my values,” highlighting its commitment to diversity. Now vice president of corporate finance and Nike Inc. treasurer and part of the financial leadership team, he’s “in a position to not just talk about retailers and consumer companies, but to actually help build the future strategy of the company in a meaningful way.” 

    As a member of Nike’s Black Community Commitment Committee, Trussell has been involved in awarding grants to nonprofits supporting young people’s involvement in sports and pursuing academic excellence—including, in a rewarding full-circle moment, the Chicago Scholars program that helped set him on his career track.

    PAUL TRUSSELL: MY WAYMAKERS

    I’ve been very fortunate to have had a number of mentors. I had the opportunity [early on] to work with Lee Gordon [senior managing director and chairman of Mesirow Wealth Management]. He had a significant impact. He read the Wall Street Journal every morning, so I attempted to read it as well; it was a foreign language to me, but I attempted to read about and look at stocks and understood what that all meant. Harold Young, one of the first Black managing directors on Wall Street, was a mentor at Deutsche Bank.

    Someone who mentored me from afar was John W. Rogers; I read about him starting his own company, Ariel Capital. He now happens to be on the board of directors at Nike, so I got an opportunity to tell him, “I’m in finance partly because of you.”

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