Robbie Robinson ‘98 lives a life of relentless purpose, defined
by meaningful choices that have shaped him along the way through today. The former political science major is currently a Partner at BDT & Company, a merchant bank that provides advice and long-term capital through its affiliated investment funds to help family- and founder-led businesses pursue their strategic and financial objectives. A trusted and respected leader, Robinson also spent nine years at Goldman Sachs prior to his role at BDT, working in several roles including advisory, principal investing and real estate financing. In addition to his work at BDT, Robinson spent last year working exclusively with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, advising them on the creation and strategy of their family office. Also, Robinson is an active supporter of a variety of worthwhile causes. He is the Vice Chairman of the Board of After School Matters, a member of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees and also serves as a trustee of the George Lucas Family Foundation. Reflecting on 20 years since he graduated from Morehouse and the purpose-filled life that he continues to successfully build, Robinson shares his thoughts on a range of topics surrounding his experiences and opportunities, while providing pertinent professional and personal advice.
As you think about the 20 years since you graduated from Morehouse, tell us the story of your career path.
The beginning of my career path was both remarkable and unconventional. Being a political science major at Morehouse, I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year working as an intern at a law firm which was a good experience but also made me realize that I wanted to explore other things. Near the end of my junior year, I was in Wheeler Hall, which at the time housed the Business and Economics Department, and noticed signup sheets for Wall Street internships posted in the stairwell. I decided to sign up for these internships because 1) I knew my Dad wouldn’t let me come home and do nothing all summer and 2) I wanted to try something new. At the time, I didn’t know what Wall Street was and I didn’t know what any of the banks did. I obviously wasn’t a finance major, so I didn’t know an asset from a liability at the time. Still, I thought going to New York would be fun and that spending the summer exposed to something that was entirely unfamiliar to me, I might gain something out of it, not really knowing what that would be. So, I signed up, not fully understanding that those sign-up sheets were mostly intended for the business students. But, because I had strong grades for the first three years, Goldman Sachs took a chance on me as a summer intern. This was the beginning of a major transformation for me. At the time, I was still very curious about going to law school and had just read a book by the famed Reginald Lewis called "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?" Reginald Lewis was a corporate M&A attorney before he went on to become a
buyout investor. So I thought, if I do this Wall Street thing, then I’ll go back to law school and eventually become the next Reginald Lewis. My thinking wasn’t anything more than that. Because Morehouse taught me how to work hard and smart, I ended up performing well at Goldman Sachs that summer and then started their analyst program right after graduation. During my nine-year tenure at Goldman, I became close with one of the firm’s senior partners, Byron Trott, who after 27 years with Goldman decided to start his own business, BDT & Company. As a 30-year old professional at the time, BDT was another eye opening, transformative experience for me. I was eager to take a risk in this new startup where I was employee #10. Now, nine years later, I’m a Partner at this tremendous firm that has built an important global presence. It has been an incredibly exciting journey, one that I couldn’t have predicted.
You were a political science major and took a Wall Street job. How did other business majors react to you taking one of those coveted spots? Throughout my journey, I’ve always been somewhat unaffected by what people think I should do. Instead, I’ve always been clear about what I want to do and stayed true to my own personal truth and conviction. It never dawned on me to be discouraged about signing up for something that wasn’t in my lane. I’ve always been comfortable doing what is interesting and right for me. When