Stumbling upon your calling and finding a love of finance
Tracey McVicar was destined to be a dentist. At least, her parents thought that was the plan. She enrolled in the Faculty of Science at UBC in 1986 but stayed only one week. She knew instinctively that science wasn’t the right fit.
She thought a move from Sciences to Arts would be too drastic for her dad to wrap his mind around, so she decided to pitch a move to the business school instead.
“He appreciated the pitch,” McVicar recalls laughing. “Even though I was trying to run away from sciences, not towards commerce, I found my calling and I’m very lucky it worked for me. My marks got better every year because I got closer to what I was really interested in, which was finance.”
McVicar went on to work as an investment banker for 12 years following her graduation from the Bachelor of Commerce program at UBC Sauder (then called the UBC Faculty of Commerce). She began her career at RBC Dominion Securities Inc. and later worked at Raymond James Ltd. and its predecessor company Goepel Shields & Partners.
‘A personal reality check and reset moment’
After more than a decade in the industry, McVicar experienced what she describes as a “personal reality check and reset moment.” She decided to move to New York City and volunteer in a neighbourhood in the poorest congressional district in the country: Mott Haven, Bronx. At the time, Canadians with an undergraduate degree could take a six-week course to become a teacher in an inner-city New York school. She began volunteering for non-profits coordinated by a local church and spent her time with kids participating in the after-school and summer programs.
Roughly seven months into her new life, and before she could take the teachers’ course, 9/11 happened. McVicar, returning from a trip to Los Angeles, had landed at JFK International Airport at about 1:00 am on the morning of September 11th – one of the last flights to arrive in the middle of the night before the chaos of the morning began. She headed home to get some rest, until the sound of “incessant, never-ending sirens” alerted her that something was wrong.
McVicar says the experience changed her approach to every aspect of her life: business, family, friends and community. It also revealed a different side of New York City.
“While you can feel very anonymous in the city, in the weeks following 9/11, nobody was anonymous, everyone was really bonded,” says McVicar. “People were skittish and you saw a city and country come together.”
An academic foundation 30 years later
Recognizing that it would be much more complicated for a non-American to become a teacher in the post-9/11 era, and at the encouragement of her parents, McVicar decided to move back home to Vancouver just one week later.
Today, McVicar is a Partner at CAI Capital Partners, a Vancouver-based private equity firm that partners with founder-owned businesses in the Canadian lower middle market. Though it has been nearly 30 years since her time at UBC Sauder, McVicar says she still uses the lessons she learned as a student.
“You can’t put a value on the academic foundation that I received at UBC Sauder. I use the principles of finance and business every day,” says McVicar. “You don’t come out of high school understanding discipline, the value of thought and knowledge, and information and research.”
Just as UBC was a formative force in her life, McVicar has returned the favour and played an influential role at the university. She serves as a member of UBC Sauder’s Faculty Advisory Board, advising the Dean and faculty in the development of new initiatives and ideas in support of the school’s strategy. She also dedicates her time to mentoring students as a counselor for the Portfolio Management Foundation program.
She was honoured as a 2019-20 recipient of the Alumni Builder Award for her “long record of support, dedication and distinguished leadership in support of transformational experiences for UBC Sauder School of Business students.”
“I’ve never received an award from UBC and my time there was so important, so this one is very, very special,” says McVicar. “The school was such a big part of my life, it laid the groundwork for everything that came after, and I wish I could give the school an award for helping me.”
Having been with CAI Capital Partners since 2003, it is obvious that McVicar has found her calling. She says she’s passionate about working with founders of companies because of their openness to receiving advice.
“Being in a partnership with a firm like ours, we bring something they truly don’t have – it’s experience and advice, in addition to money,” says McVicar. “Once you’ve got the product down, customer service down, and all the building blocks of your actual operating business in place, you turn to the balance sheet to grow your business beyond your own experience as a founder.”
When it comes to offering guidance to students and young graduates, McVicar’s advice is a simple, one-word answer: read. Her personal favourite? A biography of Warren Buffet called The Snowball that tells the story of how the world-famous investor looked at business at a young age.
“Read books about business – learn from the past and not only will you gain experience beyond what you’re doing currently, you will be able to make conversation,” says McVicar. “Senior people are interested in what others are reading and the most successful people in the world read a book a week. It broadens your world and your perspective.”