The year 2020 was a tipping point in multiple ways across cultures, economies and attitudes that drove people toward self-reflection and sometimes vocal and violent expressions of frustration and anger. It will go down in history as the year a global pandemic shut down nearly everything and inadvertently cleared the way for a narrower focus on racial inequities and the system that’s accused of perpetuating them.
Against that backdrop, the efforts of Shundrawn Thomas might seem almost subtle, but they are not. In fact, little about Thomas, the president of Northern Trust Asset Management, is subdued, although his demeanor and general presentation suggest otherwise. Without preaching or even getting agitated, Thomas talks about “the unfortunate deaths of people of color not being a new thing” even though it drew a lot of attention in 2020.
“I can track the story of my own life in the years leading up to that point,” he said. “The difference last year is it was occurring in the midst of a pandemic that created an environment where you have everybody’s attention.”
When Thomas was promoted to president of the $1.2 trillion asset management division in 2017, he became the first person of color elevated to the top tier of management at Northern Trust Corp.
Thomas, 47, has worked in financial services since 1994. He joined the Chicago-based asset manager 18 years ago, and moved up through the ranks by doing exactly what he would suggest to anyone trying to find success at any endeavor.
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