Tracey McVicar, Managing partner CAI Capital Management Co.
Tracey McVicar on her journey from Wall Street wizard to inner-city teacher to one of B.C.’s most influential board directors
It took one book to radically shake up Tracey McVicar’s life.
Thanks to Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope, based on the experiences of educator Jonathan Kozol in a South Bronx school, McVicar left 12 years of investment banking during the frenzied technology run-up of the ’90s to teach kids in an inner-city New York City school in 2001. Even though she later returned to finance (she’s now the Vancouver managing partner of private equity firm CAI Capital Management Co.), it’s a career curveball that she describes as “living a dream.”
TRACEY MCVICAR'S FAVOURITES
1. “The ‘new’ Giardino (1328 Hornby St., Vancouver) is as lively as ever and thank goodness it’s back. There was a hole in the city without Umberto.”
2. “Love La Buca (4025 Macdonald St., Vancouver). I love that it’s within walking distance from home and I crave the crispy chicken.”
3. “For coffee meetings, nothing beats the drama or cappuccinos of Caffé Artigiano (1101 W. Pender St., Vancouver).”
While she found investment banking rewarding and enjoyed how the high-performing environment attracted smart people, often with a good sense of humour, McVicar laments the singular focus on making money. The business, says the UBC commerce grad, is “bereft of helping others by its nature. To be really good, you have to be consumed by it and really live it.” She describes an environment where people were hiring Bryan Adams for their weddings, and everybody one-upped each other on their latest luxury vehicle. “I wondered to myself, ‘Just who are you?’ I felt I was going in a direction that wouldn’t be very fulfilling later.”
Turns out “fulfillment” is a recurring theme over our brunch of poached eggs and bacon at Mosaic restaurant in Vancouver’s Hyatt hotel. McVicar—who worked at RBC Capital Markets from 1990 to 1997 and Raymond James Ltd. (and its predecessor, Goepel Shields & Partners) from 1997 to 2001—set up NYC-headquartered CAI in Vancouver after returning to B.C. following 9/11. “Of course that changed everything,” says McVicar, who was in Brooklyn at the time of the attacks although had been due to pick up some computers, donated to her school, at the World Trade Center that morning. “My idealistic dream of teaching in the inner city, earning $28,000 a year, living in New York, was just that—a dream. I realized that both me and the school would be much better off if I went back to finance, back to Canada and donated that amount every year instead.”
However, teaching undoubtedly spurred McVicar to engage more with the community and join boards as if they were a full-time job. From not-for-profits such as Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland and Science World to mega corporations such as BC Hydro and Teck Resources, the 47-year-old Quilchena resident has become one of the province’s most coveted board directors. McVicar also runs an annual Golf for Good charity tournament—in its ninth year—which has brought in more than $1 million. (“You have to be careful because at a certain point people won’t take your call anymore,” she says, with a slight laugh. “Then you’ve got the quid pro quo that if I tap you, then you’re going to tap me or my firm. And I get that—it’s how it all works.”)
The mother of a five-year-old son adopted from Vietnam (who’s often brought to her myriad meetings) is well-versed in board machinations in general. “I know how to study it intently for a short period of time to make a contribution,” she says. “It’s important who is with you at the table because you can get logjammed and I’ve watched enough ‘crazy’ on boards.”
A self-confessed people collector, McVicar admits she carries a binder in her purse with names for the boards she has to reject. Putting down the phone without forwarding five names—and reasons why they are good—is not an option: "It's my job to never let a seat go unfilled without a good person who wants to serve."