Chris grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He and his older brother were raised by their mother, who Chris describes as “the most hard working, selfless person I know.” Chris also found inspiration from his older brother growing up, who is currently an ER surgeon practicing in Houston, TX. Talent and tenacity under pressure seem to be an innate quality of the Malone family.
Chris and I sat down at Harvard Business School during the 43rd H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference. Despite the busy schedule we made time for a chat it up session in an empty lecture hall. Chris began his young career with a Finance Degree from Hampton University. His star shined early when he was selected for an upperclassmen internship with Credit-Suisse as only a sophomore. He went on to earn a full-time investment banking position with the company on Wall Street in New York and also spent time sharpening his financial skills in Chicago. Later, Chris worked for the private equity firm, RLJ Equity Partners, founded by Bob Johnson, also the founder of BET and first African American billionaire. What Chris possesses is the powerful combination of confidence and humility. Chris told me, “Growing up, I never thought I would go to Harvard Business School. But I also never believed I couldn’t.” A man that knows anything is possible. Please enjoy insight from a seasoned finance professional in this week’s #ShineHard Conversation.
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What is your passion and when did you know?
Chris: That’s a really interesting question. For me, It’s kind of vague, but it’s simply learning and experiencing new things. A lot of people have a specific passion, “I like sports or I like music or I like fashion or I like science.” I guess for me, I’ve done a lot personally and professionally, and I’ve studied many great and successful leaders and one thing that I’ve learned is that it takes a while to really find your passion. Some people find it at an early age, that’s great! “I want to devote my life to this.” That’s extremely rare. On top of that, I feel like sometimes you have to experience a lot before you find out what your true passion is. If you look at my career, it’s always been about learning something new.
Who have you looked up to Personally and Professionally?
Chris: I looked up to several people. Professionally, one is Reginald Lewis. A lot of people aren’t too familiar with him, but he was the first African-American to acquire a billion dollar company, Beatrice Foods. The next is Bob Johnson, the first black billionaire and founder of BET. Personally, my mother. I was raised in a single parent household. Ya know, she didn’t finish college, she worked very hard. We didn’t know what we didn’t have, but we knew she worked long hours to make ends meet.
How did you get started in the financial industry?
Chris: So after college, I worked at a global investment banking firm called Credit-Suisse. I was an investment banking analyst, lived in New York. I also spent time in Chicago working on, what we call, “leverage buyout” transactions for private equity firms. We raised money, provided financing, provided acquisitions for large global companies.
I was on the banking side advising private equity before I jumped to the “buy side.” What private equity is, is we’re investors. We invest in companies by actually acquiring a controlling stake in a company. We’ll acquire an entire company, although we’re not owning these companies forever, we manage money on behalf of institution investors.
How were you able to get that role coming out of Hampton?
Chris: I was a finance major at Hampton. To get into private equity, most people come from a private investment background. I was the only person from my class that went into investment banking and I had two internships at Credit Suisse. To be honest, I knew after my freshmen year that I wanted to be on Wall St. not knowing much about it, I just knew I wanted to go into business and had an interest in finance and investing.
I knew Wall St. was a pinnacle of business success, I guess you could say. That’s where the brightest and most talented went, so I wanted to be there. Did a lot of research and networked a lot, I got to work with Bob Johnson, and it started leading to opportunities. Did an internship at Credit-Suisse my sophomore year and that’s how I got my foot in the door. A lot of pounding the pavement, but once I was in it was easy to stay in, I just had to perform and do well.
What motivated you to come to Harvard Business School?
Chris: I knew at a young age that I wanted to go to business school. When I came into Hampton I was a 5-year MBA major. Didn’t know much about the degree or what it would do for me. I just wanted an MBA and to get it as fast as possible. I switched my sophomore year once I started learning more. Not knocking the MBA program, but realizing that brands are valuable, network is valuable.
To be frank, you go to law school, you’re a lawyer. You go to med school, you’re a doctor. You go to business school, you get an MBA. A lot of people don’t know what that means. We learn a lot here at HBS. It’s arguably the leading educational experience in the world. I mean, you know, this is your second year attending the conference. I came here my junior year and I was inspired. I left here saying, “I have to go to Harvard.”
What and who inspires you to succeed?
Chris: Number one, my mom. She made a ton of sacrifices for me and my brother so we could do well. I want to do as much as I can to ensure that she continues to be proud. As much as she’s done for me I have to be sure to let her know that what she’s done has paid off. Next, I feel like I’ve been blessed with opportunity and ability and I want to realize whatever potential that I may have. It’s not like I’m chasing success, just any situation I’m in, I just try to do my best at it.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5-10 years? What are you end goals?
Chris: There may be certain things I want to do in my career near term, but frankly man, I just want to be happy. Whatever that may be. Do I have to be some billionaire? No. Would it be nice? I mean, hey! Haha. I came out of college with a plan and it’s been pretty accurate, but instead of it being a straight line, it was more so zig zagging.
Johnny: It’s like that instagram meme, “Success. What people think it looks like vs. what it really looks like.”
What are some challenges you faced working in the financial industry? Any frustrations?
Chris: If you look at the financial industry in general, I don’t know if you want to call it cyclicality but we all saw the financial crisis. The financial industry is certainly different today than it was pre-07′. Laws and regulations have changed the ways banks are operating and how financial services are operating. At that time, It probably would have affected me. They can lay off people quick, you just never know with the financial industry. It’s very volatile. That’s the main thing about it. Another thing about the financial industry is that it’s a “people business,” ya know, it’s not hard assets. You’re competing based on how smart you are, and everybody’s smart! You have to be a student, man, for life. Constantly learning.
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