Shundrawn Thomas is the founder and managing partner of The Copia Group, a diverse-owned investment adviser that provides debt and equity capital solutions to privately held, lower-middle-market companies. 

Formerly President and Chief Executive of Northern Trust Asset Management, Thomas has 27 years of high-impact leadership experience. At Northern Trust, he served as a member of the executive management group and collaborated with the CEO, board, and executive team to develop and refine corporate strategy, business strategy, and governance. 

Russ Alan Prince: Why did you decide to leave your position as president of a then $1.3 trillion asset management business and a named executive officer of a public company to launch a private investment firm?

Shundrawn Thomas: I was fortunate to have had an incredible 18-year run at Northern Trust, which culminated in my leading the asset management business for five years. I loved what I was doing and was highly proficient at it, but as I began thinking about the next leg of my vocational journey, I started to ask myself: What is the lasting impact I want to have from a career standpoint?

Whenever I give someone career advice, I tell them: “If you’re making a transition, always run to something, not from something.” So, when I describe why I left the corporate world to start a private investment firm, it comes down to one word: Purpose. I wanted to live my purpose. I’ve always thought about my career as the intersection of my passions, and three key areas soon emerged: 

  • Utilizing my expertise and relationships to help build great businesses
  • My belief that business has the power to drive societal benefits—companies are there to create value for all stakeholders, including communities 
  • The pursuit of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, which, for me, includes access to opportunities and capital

All three of these elements converge in the firm’s name, The Copia Group, which is the root of the word cornucopia, meaning abundance or plenty. While there is an abundance of untapped opportunities in the private markets, there isn’t yet equal access to opportunities and resources. We want to create the broadest amount of inclusion possible, with an emphasis on investing in companies that are owned by women and diverse leaders because we believe that it creates the greatest long-term value for investors, portfolio companies, and the communities we serve.

Prince: The Copia Group provides credit and other financial solutions that limit the dilution of existing equity owners. Why is this valuable and important to all business operators, but especially in the impact space where you are focused?

Thomas: As private investors, we make debt and/or equity investments. But I believe there should be value add by providing tailored solutions that help a company best achieve its goals, and structure those investments to manage risk appropriately on behalf of the investors.

One of the things we talk about is the need for “partnership capital.” We call it that because there are times when business owners may be in a growth stage of their life cycle. They’re successfully executing their strategy, but they need capital—both financial and social—to accelerate growth. 

Our goal is for 50% or more of our investments to be directed toward women or ethnically diverse-owned firms. If you look at ethnically diverse and women entrepreneurs relative to their white male counterparts, they often have considerably less equity ownership. Philosophically, we want to be able to provide capital solutions for companies that are creating wealth and impacting their communities in a positive way.

Prince: Your commitment to diversity and inclusion in the financial services industry is well documented. You were even recognized by InvestmentNews with a Lifetime achievement award for your leadership in this area. How do your personal values and experience inform your business goals? And what should investors know about the growth of diverse and women-owned businesses?

Thomas: We all have values or deeply held personal beliefs. Some people are explicit and articulate about those values while others may not be. But I always say, if you follow people around long enough, you can figure out what their values are. Effective leaders are transparent about their own values, and I value diversity. I have found that when we embrace true diversity, we become better professionals and better people. When we embrace diversity, people feel more included, and engagement improves.

In high school, I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood but went to a diverse high school. I had classmates from different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and I realized what a powerful impact that had on me. I’ve been blessed to have mentors, sponsors, and allies who are “different than me” yet have taken a vested interest in my success. Many of those formative experiences have informed my views on diversity, equity, and inclusion and why I feel so strongly about it in a business context.

I love the industry that I’ve been a part of, but we have limited gender, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. It’s important that we start seeing and believing that diversity is beneficial. When I left Northern Trust, two-thirds of our asset management leadership team were women or ethnically diverse individuals—which was a huge improvement from when I joined in 2008. My predecessor made a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I was proud to advance it further and see a significant enhancement in the culture of the team.

One of the things I’m particularly excited about is that we see a very strong formation of businesses led by women and ethnic minorities. They are starting businesses at much faster rates, which means entrepreneurship is strong. Still, many owners struggle to gain access to financial and social capital, so that is an incredible opportunity for us and all of society.                                                                                                                   

RUSS ALAN PRINCE is the Executive Director of Private Wealth magazine ( and Chief Content Officer for High-Net-Worth Genius ( He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs, and select professionals.