Lewis, William M. Jr. 1956–
William M. Lewis, Jr. 1956–
Wall Street executive
As head of global banking at financial powerhouse Morgan Stanley, William M. Lewis Jr. oversees billions of dollars in transactions and thousands of employees. In July of 2002 Fortune ranked him as the 13th most powerful African-American executive in the country on their highly respected list of “Most Powerful Black Executives.” His is an impressive resume—until you consider where he came from. Then it becomes downright inspiring. “I grew up fairly poor in inner-city Richmond and I am just about the only one I know on Wall Street with that background,” Lewis told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). “If you had said when I was born that I would go to the nation’s—if not the world’s—finest secondary school and university and work for a firm like Morgan Stanley, obtaining leadership roles in each of my positions, that would have been some pretty steep odds.” Lewis has proved himself adept at overcoming odds throughout his life, and told CBB that he hopes to help other African Americans reach their own goals: “I think my story can be uplifting to a lot of kids.” That is an understatement. With just three African Americans leading Fortune 500 companies and a Wall Street that remains overwhelmingly white, Lewis stands as a beacon for young African-American business executives looking to find their way to the top.
William M. Lewis Jr. was born on April 30, 1956, in Richmond, Virginia, to William and Essie Lewis. Along with a younger sister and brother, he was brought up in the inner city of Richmond, Virginia. Though his father worked as a roofer and his mother as a maid, Lewis recalled to Fortune, “Money wasn’t something we had in abundance.” What he did have a lot of, though, was support. “I received ongoing encouragement from both of my parents to excel at everything I tried,” Lewis told CBB, and added, “I was the first in my family to go to boarding school and university.” He got there due in part to a counselor at his junior high school who introduced Lewis to an organization called A Better Chance. This marked a turning point in his life. “I credit A Better Chance with everything good that has happened to me,” Lewis told CBB, adding, “A Better Chance and my parents.”
According to their website, the mission of A Better Chance is “to substantially increase the number of well-educated minority youth capable of assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in American society.” Since 1963 the organization has helped place gifted minority students in the best college preparatory schools in the nation. At the age of 14, Lewis joined their ranks with a scholarship to prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The exclusive prep school—known by the more familiar name Andover—counts among its alumni many ambassadors, business leaders, movie stars, and high-ranking politicians.
Andover’s manicured grounds and sophisticated academic environment were about as far away as one could get from inner-city Richmond. The school was also nearly all white, and most students came from wealthy backgrounds. Undaunted, Lewis bloomed,
At a Glance…
Born on April 30, 1956, in Richmond, VA; son of Essie and William M. Lewis, Sr. Education: Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, graduated with honors, 1974; Harvard University, BA in economics, 1978, MBA, 1982.
Career: Morgan Stanley, Mergers & Acquisitions, financial analyst, 1978-80, Mergers & Acquisitions, associate, 1982-1988, Midwest Mergers & Acquisitions, department head, 1988, managing director, 1989–, Worldwide Real Estate, department head, Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds, president/COO, Worldwide Mergers, Acquisitions, and Restructuring, head, 1997, Worldwide Corporate Finance, department head, 1999, Global Banking, co-managing director, 2001–.
Selected memberships: Board member, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund; board of trustees, former chair, A Better Chance, Inc.; board of trustees, former treasurer, National Urban League: Morgan Stanley Foundation; Morgan Stanley PAC.
Awards: Ranked among “Most Powerful Black Executives” by Fortune, 2002; named one of the “Top 50 African Americans on Wall Street” by Black Enterprise, 2002.
both in and out of the classroom. “I was involved in lots and lots of things,” he told CBB. He played on three varsity teams—lacrosse, football, and basketball—and was active in several school clubs. However, it was his academic performance that really stood out. He scored top marks across the board, and at his 1974 graduation he was presented with the prestigious Aurelian Honor Society Award. Sponsored by the Aurelian Honor Society of Yale University, the award is bestowed annually on the student who best exhibits sterling character, high scholarship, and forceful leadership. Lewis’s academic excellence also earned him a scholarship to Harvard University, where he majored in economics and was involved in many extracurricular activities. “I played freshman and varsity lacrosse. I was also involved in the Economist Club and The Independent newspaper on the business end. I was involved in several African-American organizations,” he told CBB. His busy life outside the classroom didn’t hurt his grades, and in 1978 Lewis graduated with the academic distinction of cum laude.
Upon graduation Lewis joined Morgan Stanley’s New York City headquarters as a financial analyst in their mergers and acquisitions department. One of the most powerful financial services companies in the world, Morgan Stanley has a reputation for recruiting talent right out of college and retaining those employees right up to their retirement. Lewis’s career would follow that pattern. After a two-year leave in which he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School, Lewis rejoined the firm’s mergers and acquisitions department as an associate in 1982. According to Fortune, his goal at that time was to become a managing director within eight years. He beat that goal by one year. “Making managing director in 1989, just seven years out of grad school, that was my proudest moment,” he told CBB. “It was the shortest amount of time anyone had done this. And I was the first African American to do it.” On the way, Lewis had also become head of Morgan Stanley’s Midwest mergers and acquisitions department, based out of Chicago. In that role he advised corporations and wealthy investors on all aspects of mergers and acquisitions. Among the deals he helped broker was the $545 million sale of Coleman Company to a private investor.
After achieving the position of managing director, Lewis took on a series of high-powered roles at the firm. He served as co-head of the Worldwide Real Estate Department as well as president and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds. Both mergers and acquisitions and real estate fall under Morgan Stanley’s Advisory Services Division of Investment Banking for Institutional Securities. Lewis also served as co-head of the company’s Worldwide Mergers, Acquisitions and Restructuring Department. He next landed the position of head of the Corporate Finance Department, also under the realm of Advisory Services.
By 2001 Lewis had proved himself to be an astute leader in all three divisions of Advisory Services. He had advised on financial deals that totaled in the billions of dollars, and counted among his clients such corporate giants as Phillips Petroleum, Whirlpool Corporation, Hammermill Paper Company, Sara Lee Corporation, Union Carbide Corporation, Outboard Marine, and Overnite Transportation. Morgan Stanley repaid Lewis’s contributions to the firm by appointing him head of its Worldwide Global Banking Department in February of 2001. The appointment made him one of the most powerful leaders in the company, and as Morgan Stanley—with 58,000 employees in 28 countries—is a leader in its field, Lewis became one of the most influential people in the high-yield world of finance. He held this position until the fall of 2002, when he was joined by a co-chief, Richard Kauffman. Of his high-profile position, Lewis told CBB, “This business is incredibly challenging and exciting, but it is also extremely hard work, sorting out how we maintain our competitive leadership in a global setting.” He added, “But I’m having fun because I like hard work.”
Lewis’s ascent to the heights of Wall Street drew a lot of interest, not only from the financial press but also from the African-American press. “Wall Street has long been recognized as the capital of free market America and the seat of global financial power,” noted Black Enterprise. “For African Americans, ‘The Street’ is also a powerful symbol of the continuing struggle for full and equal access to economic power.” Lewis was more blunt, telling Fortune in 2002, “There is nothing close to black power on Wall Street. Period. Full stop.” Lewis and a few other African-American executives have been working to change that image. In addition to the Fortune list, Lewis was named by Black Enterprise as one of the top 50 African Americans on Wall Street. Of this recognition, Lewis told CBB, “I view it as an obligation to make myself available, not just as a role model, but to anyone who can draw inspiration, or aspiration, from my experience, particularly given my background and the obstacles and adversity I had to overcome.” Lewis fulfills this obligation by working with a number of charitable groups, including serving on the boards of A Better Chance, the National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Reflecting on his childhood dreams, Lewis told CBB, “Since I left Richmond at 14, I always wanted to do extremely well.” He has more than succeeded, not only for himself, but for those who will be inspired to follow his footsteps to financial power, on Wall Street and beyond.
Fortune, April 9, 1990, p. 109.
New York Times, September 5, 2002, p. C4.
“The ABC’s of Getting Ahead,” A Better Chance, www.abetterchance.org/News_Articles/98.99_archives/art-Gettingahead9.20.98.htm (June 3, 2003).
“Most Powerful Black Executives, Fortune, www.fortune.com/fortune/blackpower/snapshot/0,15307,13,00.html (June 3, 2003).
Phillips Academy, www.andover.edu (June 3, 2003).
“The Top 50 African Americans On Wall Street,” Black Enterprise, www.blackenterprise.com/AboutUsOpen.asp?Source=AboutBe/l002pr.html (June 3, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on June 5, 2003.
"Lewis, William M. Jr. 1956–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lewis-william-m-jr-1956
"Lewis, William M. Jr. 1956–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved March 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lewis-william-m-jr-1956
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