Q&A: Marcos Rodriguez Talks On Toigo –

Palladium Capital Partners’ Marcos Rodriguez was recently named the new Chairman of the Board of The Robert Toigo Foundation. The foundation, which has been around since 1989, provides financial support to minority MBA candidates, mentors those students, and provides a network of Toigo contacts throughout the financial services industry. The Toigo Foundation (formerly, The Financial Services Fellowship) started with 7 fellows and has grown to more than 400 alumni today. Marcos Rodriguez took some time out to talk to Buyouts about the current initiatives of the Foundation.

Congratulations on your new appointment as the chairman of the board. Could briefly describe the ultimate goals and purpose of the Toigo Foundation?

The foundation was started 16 years ago by Robert and Sue Toigo. They started it out in California, and the goal was to really change the face of the financial services industry. It has always been a tough industry to break into for minorities and women. It’s human nature; people want to hire people that are like them, and even if you can get in the door, without mentors it can be a difficult industry in which to move ahead.

The foundation had the help of the major pension funds, such as CalPERS and CalSTRS, from the beginning, and there’s a very active base of members… As far as its fellows, Toigo seeks out the best of the best, and from there the focus is to provide the skill sets and network to help them advance. Today Toigo has become a brand name, and provides businesses with a great screen to a talented pool of highly motivated men and women.

How did you first get involved in the organization?

I was originally introduced through Adam Karr and Tarrus Richardson, who worked with me at JLL (Joseph Littlejohn & Levy). Five years ago I joined the board at Toigo, and just recently I was asked to chair the organization.

As the new chairman, are there any new initiatives that you want to put in place?

There are quite a few things. First off, what Doug Fleming (of J.P. Morgan Asset Management) has done preceding me has been tremendous in terms of taking the foundation to the next level. My job as chairman is to make sure we get the most out of our board and alumni and to help our fellows make the most of their Toigo contacts. I also want to help improve the pipeline of prospective minority students, and I think that’s key. [Firms like] Goldman Sachs, Carlyle Group, or Blackstone can’t hire a minority if the business schools aren’t churning out new candidates. It’s a challenge that we’re very cognizant of. I also want to make sure that the board and alumni are empowered to get the best out of each and every one of them.

As a firm founder and managing director in the private equity industry, how have you been able to use the Toigo network?

The Toigo connection gives us a great recruiting mechanism. We have a Toigo alum starting work here in August. For private equity, there are a lot of talented individuals coming through the Toigo alumni network that are finding jobs at some of the largest domestic funds and at a number of the large pension funds. There is a tremendous network from coast to coast, and as each alum finds success they’re extremely generous in giving back to the community, lending a hand and reaching out to the next generation of fellows.

At the recent Toigo Gala, there were quite a few private equity firms that attended the event. Overall, how well do you think the private equity industry has embraced diversity in its workforce?

It’s got a long way to go. We’re starting to see funds that make it a priority, but you could probably count on one hand the number of firms in this industry that are led by minorities, and of those, the capital under management is fairly tiny compared to the total private equity industry. What needs to happen is to get more Toigo alums and other minority individuals into private equity. It’s an apprenticeship business. It’s like being a blacksmith. Just as you need to learn how to heat up the horseshoe and bang it into shape, private equity is an industry that requires people to learn from actually doing.

At the Gala, there was also talk about starting a Toigo Endowment Fund. Can you discuss that a bit?

What Toigo does now is raise money on an annual basis through donations, but our goal is to have a campaign to do that over time. The alumni launched that effort.

Any chance private equity will be included in the asset allocation of the endowment?

Well, we’re not sure of that, but considering the number of private equity alums, I’m sure it will be a hotly debated topic.

In 10 years, where would you like to see the private equity industry in terms of diversity?

The population of Latinos and African-Americans alone is over 25 percent. If you look at the population under 30, that number becomes significantly higher. It shouldn’t be about just hiring talented minorities. To overlook it would mean you’re leaving out a huge portion of the U.S. economy in your business plan. Lately, we’ve seen a lot of Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and women taking leadership positions and starting their own firms. What Toigo wants to do is help facilitate this and get people together that are committed to changing the face of Wall Street.