Robin Hood Turns to Ex-Paratrooper, Citigroup Veteran as CEO

  • Wes Moore, raised in the Bronx, starts at nonprofit in June
  • He succeeds David Saltzman as head of poverty-fighting group

Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar who served in combat in Afghanistan, is taking an elite command post in the fight against poverty.

New York’s Robin Hood Foundation, the Wall Street-funded nonprofit that works with the city’s poor, picked Moore to be its chief executive officer, said Larry Robbins, the group’s chairman and founder of Glenview Capital Management. He’ll start at the end of June.

Wes Moore

Source: Robin Hood Foundation

Moore’s background includes about six years in finance, a stint at the White House and founding BridgeEdU, a startup to help students transition to college. A graduate with honors from Johns Hopkins University, he landed at Oxford shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11 and wrote his thesis on Islam.

But his time in Afghanistan as a paratrooper and captain with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army stands out in shaping his views.

“I came back understanding and realizing that the greatest opportunities we have in this country will not be won by our air force machinery nor the bombs we can drop,” Moore said. They “are going to be fought and found with our ability to unearth every drop of human potential we have.”

Succeeds Saltzman

Moore, 38, said he takes a holistic view of poverty, and wants to fight it by working with government agencies and other partners.

“Philanthropy alone is not going to fix this," Moore said. “Part of our role is to be a convener, the secretary of the future.”

Moore succeeds David Saltzman, who stepped down in December and has joined the board. In almost three decades, Saltzman transformed an idea he had with Paul Tudor Jones and other hot-shot investors into a powerhouse philanthropy known for seeding new ventures, its metrics and the huge amount of money raised at its annual benefit. Last year, Robin Hood distributed $133.3 million in grants and initiatives for more than 200 nonprofits and provided support valued at $51.6 million to charter high schools.

If there’s a hole in Moore’s resume, it’s that he has no experience leading an organization with nearly 100 employees and annual total costs for salaries and overhead of almost $37 million as of last year.

He did, however, lead 1,800 troops against the Taliban between 2005 and 2006. His “experiences in educational equity, social justice and veterans’ affairs” give him “confidence and credibility,” Robbins said.

Rocky Start

Part of his credibility to take on poverty in New York comes from his own rocky start. The Baltimore native was three when his father died and his Jamaican-born mother moved the family to live with her parents in the Bronx.

He shuttled between private Riverdale Country School and his graffiti- and crack-filled neighborhood -- earning low grades, a record of truancy and a brush with police handcuffs -- until military school whipped him into shape. Others he left behind didn’t fare as well.

“I really feel like this fight against poverty comes from a very personal place for me,” he said. “This is not white paper stuff, it’s something I’ve seen and understand first hand.”

Robin Hood is “about recognizing the basic humanity that resides in every single person and, most importantly, the least fortunate among us,” Jones said in a statement. “Wes is the perfect culture carrier to continue our tradition.”

Moore said he never saw Wall Street as a calling but rather as a place to gain an understanding of the intricacies of finance. He worked at Deutsche Bank in London after leaving Oxford, then served as a White House Fellow for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before joining Citigroup’s investment-banking division in New York.

‘Total Commitment’

Ray McGuire, his boss at Citigroup, recalled Moore’s “total commitment” to the job.

“He excelled at the basics, but also at the strategy,” said McGuire, the firm’s head of corporate and investment banking.

What really made an impression on McGuire was when Moore published a book while at Citigroup called “The Other Wes Moore,” which he wrote in the early morning hours before heading to his job.

“It’s chilling,” McGuire said.

The book contrasts his life of mentors and opportunities with that of a man born not too far from him who’s serving a life sentence in prison. It shows how little things at the right time can make a huge difference: money for tuition, a mentor stepping in, luck.

Moore finds his current mood reflected in the Notorious B.I.G. song “Sky’s the
Limit.”

“There’s a line in it where he says, ‘Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it. And live the phrase Sky’s the limit.’ That’s how I’m approaching this work," he said.

(Adds comment from Paul Tudor Jones in 14th paragraph.)
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