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‘I Had to Prevail’: Wall Street Exec Ray McGuire ’79 Talks Resilience at Harvard Business School Class Day

Businessman Raymond J. McGuire '79 spoke at Harvard Business School's class day ceremony on Wednesday.
Businessman Raymond J. McGuire '79 spoke at Harvard Business School's class day ceremony on Wednesday. By Frank S. Zhou
By Madeleine A. Hung, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Business School graduating students, affiliates, and families gathered on Baker Lawn Wednesday for the school’s class day ceremony, which featured an address from Wall Street executive Raymond J. McGuire ’79.

McGuire, a graduate of the Business School, the Law School, and the College, was named president of Lazard Asset Management in April 2023. Previously, he served as Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Citigroup. McGuire also ran as a candidate for the Democratic nominee for the New York mayoral race, but he fell short in the 2021 primary.

Entering the stage to the sounds of “Started From the Bottom” by Drake, McGuire began his speech by recognizing his family and friends in the audience, including Clarence Jones — Martin Luther King Jr.’s lawyer, speechwriter, and counsel.

“Looking into this gavel reminds me, as F. Scott Fitzgerald would say, of my younger and more vulnerable days,” McGuire said. “If someone asks me how it is that I made it here. And I tell them, the four P’s: prayer — because this has been a walk of faith — preparation, performance, and paranoia.”

McGuire said he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents who encouraged him to pursue his education because they knew “only the educated are free.”

“As an undergrad I majored in what would inform life on Wall Street — not Economics or Math,” McGuire said. “I concentrated in English and American Literature.”

“See, if you want to learn about leadership and organizational behavior, read Macbeth,” he added. “If you want to learn about the streets — cheating, decision making — read Hamlet. If you want to learn about estate planning, read Lear.”

Upon graduating and beginning a career in finance, McGuire said he had few role models who looked like him.

“Each step of the way, I encountered every imaginable obstacle: embarrassment, classism, and racism,” he said. “I once had a boss that ignored me — didn’t talk to me for six months — never quite understood what was behind being ghosted.”

“While I was lonely, I had not only to endure, but I had to prevail,” McGuire added. “I had no plan B. If I hadn’t performed, the majority would have said, ‘I told you so.’ Forty years later, the record shows that I have competed amongst the best.”

McGuire urged graduates to “make the most” of their opportunity.

“The world you’re in is facing unprecedented uncertainty, and with that comes unprecedented opportunity to make a difference,” he said.

The event included opening remarks from 2023 HBS Student Association Co-Presidents Zoe Matthew and Sebastián E. Negrón-Reichard, followed by student speaker Adán C. Acevedo ’13.

Matthew and Negrón-Reichard said the graduating class demonstrated their resilience by enrolling at HBS amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Perhaps, that is our legacy,” Matthew said. “A generation of leaders who is uniquely prepared to ride the roller coaster of life. Collectively, we have witnessed the heights of success and the depths of adversity.”

Acevedo said his parents were forced to flee their home country during the Salvadorian Civil War, and they immigrated to the United States without speaking the language.

“In the United States, my mother was a housekeeper in the Hollywood Hills, and my father worked on the factory floor of an airplane break company,” Acevedo said. “They are exactly the kind of individuals that I implore you to support and have compassion for in your daily lives.”

Acevedo said the world needs more “leaders with a conscience and a penchant for doing good” rather than “CEOs that know what to say.”

“We are meant to be global opportunity creators, global innovators, and global amplifiers for the greatness of those around us,” he said. “We are meant to not just contribute to the social and economic structures of society, but to change and challenge them to improve and reimagine them until they reflect our highest dreams and aspirations.”

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at madeleine.hung@thecrimson.com.

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CommencementHarvard Business SchoolUniversityCommencement 2023

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