Martina Edwards, the first Black woman broker on the New York Stock Exchange.
By: Elisha Castillo and Jesse Baynes
To many, the art of stock trading seems highly intimidating due to its fast pace and chaotic environment. For Martina Edwards, however, it was second nature. In a white, male-dominated workforce, Edwards made a name for herself on Wall Street as the first Black woman broker on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Nothing in life came easy for Edwards, and everything she achieved was through her vast knowledge and rigorous work ethic. Because several young analysts she worked with were “CEO kids” who had family connections within the industry, she was often asked how she got into Merrill Lynch. Edwards would always answer with a grin, “I interviewed. How did you get here?” This confidence and perseverance has been evident in Edwards far before her broker days, and it continues to carry her in her present day ambitions.
Edwards was raised by a village of love in Beatrice, Alabama, before moving to Montgomery, Alabama. Her mother was one of 16 children and her father was the oldest of six, so growing up surrounded by an abundance of family cultivated Edwards’ compassion, moral values, and respect for others. While she notes the lack of affluence in her community, she embraced the village aspect her small town provided and attributes the conditions in her environment for “[giving] me all of my early values and settings around life.”
There were many factors that contributed to Edwards’ journey to her success, but attending an HBCU was a catalyst. Tuskegee University offered Edwards an Air Force ROTC nursing scholarship to further her education. Attending an HBCU gave Edwards the self- confidence she needed as a young black woman in order to dominate the Wall Street world. Phrases commonly used among HBCU’s are, “Networking is key” and “It’s not only about what you know, but also who you know.” She used these phrases to her advantage. During Edwards’ time at Tuskegee, she learned about an organization called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO). SEO is a nonprofit organization that focuses on placing high-achieving underrepresented undergraduates of color in internships within investment banks. For Edwards, joining this organization would be a life-changing decision as it allowed her to gain an internship with Merrill Lynch (now Bank of America Merrill Lynch).
Towards the end of her 10-week internship with Merrill Lynch, she was allowed a free week to visit another division within the firm. Edwards remarks, “I don’t know if they gave us a list of where we could go, but the NYSE was on the list so I chose to go […] and that really changed my world.” Edwards spent a week working for Merrill Lynch on the floor of the NYSE, and after the close of her summer internship, she got offered a full-time position to return to Merrill – she requested to go back to work for the firm at the NYSE.
When Edwards began her career as a broker, she admits, “I did have the benefit of having other women brokers on the floor, just not another black woman.” In a recent radio interview, she paid homage to Wall Street women influencers such as Regina Feeney, Sylvia Rocco, Carla Harris and Amy Ellis Simon as examples of women who were doing their job well and constantly inspiring her. She explained how the NYSE embodied a “steep learning curve with little room for error,” which pushed Edwards to work even harder and be the best version of herself. She attributes having thick skin and letting things go as her methods of preventing micro-aggressions from deterring her work ethic. Because Edwards did her job so well, she was promoted twice in only three years. The advice she gives to young analysts and associates is, “Do your job well, figure out how to disseminate information very quickly, and just stay focused.”
She left the NYSE to complete her MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill. Edwards would later return to SEO full-time, and explains she helped “launch an alternative investments program focused on 1st and 2nd-year investment banking analysts to help them compete for roles in private equity.” Along with running this alternative investment program, she hosted five conferences in New York City bringing together allocators of capital with diverse emerging and experienced investors. Her decision to go back and work for SEO was prompted by her desire to “give my time, talent, and treasure back to that organization”. SEO is a major catalyst not only for students but specifically for African American students. Like Edwards, some do not come from homes that are knowledgeable about investment banking, which makes it more difficult to get their foot in the door. She states, “the gates are narrow and the bar is high” to get into the industry, so Edwards’ goal with this program was to provide an opportunity for diverse young analysts to gain access to mentorship, training and knowledge, ultimately creating more pathways to the private equity industry.
Coming from a spiritual family, Edwards always believed she had a purpose in life. From the time she was a young girl, Edwards prayed and dreamed of what her calling was. She admits that she “could never pinpoint it” but knew it involved helping people. Edwards’ motto, “to whom much is given much is required” fuels her work. She admits that her trailblazing work would be meaningless if she did not encourage and help others who were once in her position. While working with Merrill Lynch, she participated in mentorship programs to help leverage students that had never been exposed to the stock exchange. In fact, while working on the Exchange, she brought young high school students from the SEO Scholars program to the NYSE for a mock trading night, helping to expose them to the trading and investment world. She describes “being intentional about opening more doors and creating more access for others” as her desire for her legacy.
Edwards is now the Chief of Strategic Partnerships for Access Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE). ACE is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that helps provide loan capital for small businesses to help spur economic growth within the state of Georgia. Since 2000, they have loaned over $60 million dollars in loan capital to small businesses. Edwards loves helping others achieve economic growth, and remarks, “ACE has allowed me to really pull together the altruistic side and be a community quarterback [by balancing] the business and finance side of the house”.
When asked about her mission in life, Edwards responds simply: “Service.” Edwards is also involved with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the boards of Atlanta Beltline (AB67) and Junior Achievement of Georgia. She received the Atlanta Tuskegee Alumni Club Pioneer Award (2019) and was named as an Atlanta Woman of Distinction (2018) by the March of Dimes for her civic engagement.
In everything she does, she looks to serve, invest, and return value. A specific focus of hers is “generational wealth, particularly in the black community.” She hopes to create a blueprint for others who might have an interest in a similar path. While there are still strides to be made in order for Wall Street to be more inclusive, Edwards demonstrates how one courageous step can create an unstoppable impact.